Suicide continues to be a difficult act to prevent because of the taboos surrounding death and the stigmas attached to self injury behavior. The use of visual material by established artists will facilitate efforts to communicate necessary information by providing viewers with a socially acceptable context in which to learn about good prevention practices. Experience has shown that use of visual art in suicide prevention provides a publicly acceptable and generally favorable atmosphere in which the topic of suicide can be discussed with a wide variety of groups. More information is available in the book "Art & The Wish to Die".
The images accompanying this section were originally intended for use by the mental health professions who are interested in programs for prevention of suicide. However, these are also suitable for any one who wishes to know more about suicide. This portion will provide information about the slides, the artists who painted them, and explanatory notes, such that no specific mental health or art history background is required. A fuller account is available in Art & the Wish to Die
Works of visual art dealing with themes of suicide can be grouped by chronological epochs.
|Before the 1400s the Church was the major
patron of all art. Suicidal themes were restricted to acts of biblical
figures. The most popular was Judas, Samson, Saul, and his Swordbearer.
Less popular were Abimelech, Achitophel, and Zimri.
The act of suicide was usually shown matter of factly, the rationality was described in the Bible, and the emotion was left to the reader or viewer.
||About the Fifteenth Century, artists began to paint secular
subjects, classical myths, still life, landscapes and portraits in what
became known subsequently as the Renaissance. These and later artists depicted
the act of Suicide with the suggestion that it...
Justification: was an expression of virtue, courage or faith.
Rationality: was a reasonable motive in an otherwise insolubly social dilemma.
Emotion: was tragic, but appropriate to the situation; thus sympathy and admiration are aroused in the viewer.
||As art evolved and artists became less dependent on the
church or nobility for patronage, they began to express more critical attitudes
about contemporary folkways. These artists portrayed the act of suicide
with the suggestion that it ...
Justification: was an expression of evil associated with a sinful life.
Rationality: was still a reasonable motive, but for hedonistic or immoral goals.
Emotion: was still appropriate to the situation but extreme; thus in the viewer contempt and rejection are aroused.
||Overlapping the previous groups are the Nineteenth Century
painters who reflected the social changes of the industrial revolution,
the breakthrough in science, and especially the beginning of modern notions
about unconscious and irrational motives to explain abnormal behavior.
These artists portrayed the act of suicide with the suggestion that it
Justification: was not the issue for the artist; who painted as a neutral observer.
Rationality: was unreasonable by common sense standards.
Emotion: was sad, verging into a romanticized depression.
||The portrayal of suicide in visual art begins to approximate
the clinical symptoms of depression: slowing of speech and movement; Loss
of appetite, reduction of sexual drive, and former interests; sleeplessness,
feelings of guilt and worthlessness; morbid bodily preoccupations. The
artists portrayed suicide with the suggestion that it...
Justification: was a "sick" response to, and protest against, inhumane social conditions.
Rationality: was unreasonable only because the act was exaggerated and ineffectual.
Emotion: was a clinical depression, while in the viewer, poignancy is aroused by the conditions.
||As people become less important, more victims of the environment,
and more alienated from life-renewing experiences, death becomes more tempting
as a means of denying the intolerable. The universal simultaneous wish
to die and wish to live are reflected in the works of the artists during
this period. They portrayed the act of suicide with the suggestion that
Justification: was a pathetic effort to change an intolerable awareness of deprivation.
Rationality: was unreasonable since the deprivation was more in the mind of the victim than actual.
Emotion: was ambivalent; alternating between hopeful and hopeless; with the victim as needer of help, and the viewer as a giver of help.
"THE CRY FOR HELP" SUICIDE
||The contemporary professional artists have gone beyond the
non-representational to the new image, however, arbitrary or dehumanized.
We are still too close to the works of recent years to form any dependable
judgments. They tend to emphasize...
Jusitifcation: as an automated response to trauma or perceived deprivation in an increasingly dehumanized environment, mediated by computers
Rationality: Although many artists invite participation, the viewer now tends to respond in terms of detached, humor/pathos, or frustrated feelings or just plain confusion.
Emotion: as ambivalent emotions swing between hopeful and hopeless, with the victim as still a needer of help. It is meaningful as an implied "cry for help" by victims who are unable to act effectively in saving themselves.
The preceding evolution through time is recapitulated by the three themes of :
Art & the Wish to Die is available for purchase.
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