Why are Skulls Such a Universally Attractive Artistic Concept?

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Skulls have been featured in works of art for thousands of years. While some of us may label such depictions as somewhat macabre, the fact of the matter is that these very same images form an innate bond with human nature. While there are indeed times when this imagery has been used to convey impending doom (such as during thee Black Death), they represent much more than man’s mortality alone. This brings up an important question. Why has nearly every culture on the planet used skulls in its artwork in one form or another? Additionally, what appeal does the skull have in modern times?


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Much More than Death Alone

Skulls are traditionally associated with death (or at least the prospect of death). So, they tend to evoke a very visceral reaction from the viewer; regardless of any potential language barriers. This is arguably the reason why pirates chose to place the skull and crossbones on their flags. However, we need to keep in mind that skulls can represent much more than the finality of death.

Many cultures also associate skulls with change and transformation. This is likewise the reason why the Day of the Dead (a holiday celebrated in Mexico) heavily embraces the presence of skulls. While some western societies might find this strangely out of place, Mexican folklore centers around a celebration of death as opposed to viewing it as the ultimate finality in life. This is the very same reason why the tarot card representing change (for the better or for the worse) is also displayed as a skull.

In Fashion and Pop Culture

Skulls have taken on a “life” of their own in modern times thanks to the interpretation of countless modern artists. Skull tattoos are now quite popular and very few wearers will associate these images with death. In the same respect, even famous artists such as Banksy who are considered to represent the counterculture movement have embraced the presence of skulls. While the new Banksy artwork is primarily focused around celebrating life, it is not out of the question to assume that he (or she) will once again use this motif in the future.

Whether referring to jewelry, clothing or similar accessories, skulls have indeed found their place within the world of contemporary fashion. Of course, their significance will ultimately be determined by the individual as opposed to the collective consciousness. Some may view skulls as a means to express rebellion while others prefer to interpret them as a method to highlight the fact that our time on this earth as limited. Regardless of what emotions such imagery will evoke, it is one of the most powerful means of expression known to mankind.

Countless artists have used skulls to convey a specific sentiment in the past and this trend is not likely to fade any time soon. Whether symbolizing change, mortality or simply as a means to embrace a slight departure from the norm, skulls are potent artistic devices to employ.

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