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Submitted on
March 21, 2012
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The Dead Places

The Visual Delicacy of Decay

It’s easy to think of art in terms of what is instantly pleasing to the eye, artworks which
evoke a feeling of joy and hopefulness and blissful peacefulness or ecstatic exultation.

This is the consideration of art as something that helps propel us forward through life – to out future great
deeds, our career victories, or dreams of coming big events. But there is a peak to every life. At some point all
people, and all places, and even all ideas have to begin the inevitable decline that is the other balancing half of a lifetime.

...the abandoned house by SAMLIMHouse of God by Matthias-HakerBroken Record by thebrokenviewBallroom by Matthias-Haker

There is a special beauty to be found in the representation of this less obviously attractive part of the evolutionary
process of living and being and dying. There is even a certain sense of righteousness when this less-serviced end of art’s
spectrum makes its presence known, fighting for its rightful place against the absolute inundation of joyful “the best is
yet to come” art that has become such a smothering façade (mostly because of television and commercialism in general incessantly
selling, selling, selling the promise of perfection on physical, emotional, sexual and financial status). But the art of
decay persists, the flipside of the dominating happy façade.

We are drawn to portraits of aging faces, in paintings or photographs, and they compel us to try to read between
the lines of weathered and withered faces, making us wonder at the many life experiences that must have been experienced
by someone with so many years marked by such deep lines impressed into an aging face. Likewise, there is also something
that transfixes us at the sight and contemplation of a dying or dead town, or a factory, or even a long disused cemetery.

There is something even more powerfully effecting upon us about not just a single life in the process of departing our world,
but in entire communities of beings taking leave, with only the shells of their now abandoned daily lives left as evidence that
they once lived, loved, worked and thrived in a certain place... once upon a time. There is an instinctive mourning for not only
ourselves and our inevitable passing, but for the inevitable slow vanishing of our entire way of life.

It is the balance ultimately that is key to understanding our fascination with depictions of life’s corruption and decay.

From zombie movies to portraits of once glamorous and impossibly beautiful 1930's movie stars – it’s the equaling out, aesthetically
and spiritually, that attracts us.

All begins with the miracle of birth and a climb toward some vague idea of our “best us” – onto the sudden realization that
we’ve somehow passed the peak of whatever could have been and facing existence on the “other side.” Now it’s not the dreams of
youth that have come before, but the mystery of existence and after-existence as death’s door approaches.

Entropy of Love by kimdedEntropy by euraiAbandoned by FuineFairevaold by dechobek

For some artists, thankfully, this is not a cause for decades of panic and despair, but a call for finding the same sort of
“answering” or “balancing” beauty to be captured in the autumn and winter of people, places and things, the complementary stuff
of the yin and yang of existence that is just as valuable and just as enlightening as the previously captured moments of all of
those springs and summers.

Questions for the Reader


Does the contemplation of photographs or paintings of abandoned buildings bring you a sense of “oneness” or “wholeness” in
life?  Or does this art sadden and depress you?


What thoughts and feelings do you have when you see a photograph or watch a movie featuring a beautiful and attractive 20-something
actor or actress – and then you see a photograph of that person as they look today, aged 80 or 90?


When viewing artworks centered on “decay,” do you think the artist is trying to “bring you down” or depress you or trying to
make you feel bad about being happy in a world of sorrows and our own impending deaths? Or do you think most artists are trying
to explore the poignant aspects of the cycles of life, and the ultimate “leveling” of all things? Could the artist be trying to
bring you a “peaceful” feeling about life and eternity?


Do you prefer to surround yourself with art that is only happy and joy-inspiring? Or do you prefer a balance in your artful
things between the happy and the angst-provoking, even the “remindful despairing?”

Add a Comment:
Djake Featured By Owner Mar 23, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
I'm reminded of an exchange between the children and Mrs. Darling in one of the recent Peter Pan movies, where Mrs. D is explaining why she admires their father. She tells the children that he has had to put away many dreams for the family. When asked where he put them, Mrs. D replies:
"He put them away in a drawer; and sometimes, late at night when the children are asleep, he takes them out and admires them; but, as time goes by, it grows harder and harder to close the drawer again. That is why he is brave."
I find that images of decay tend to have this same wistfulness. If there's one thing that humans love as much as beauty, it's nostalgia - that memory of joy that once was.
Added to that, I've always liked the sublime sense of peace in images of decay. When something is left to itself, it tends to settle into an equilibrium with its surroundings. Gravity, erosion and other factors seem to "blend" an object with its environment inexorably; and an object (or person) in decline, seems to be more in tune with the world, somehow. The struggles are over, things mellow a bit and the subject becomes more and more at one with the atural processes around it.
To0dles Featured By Owner Mar 23, 2012  Hobbyist Photographer
wonderful piece! everything in life comes to an end but not an end as such just a new form.

brilliantly done!
vanmall Featured By Owner Mar 23, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Art like this always makes me appreciate life a bit more, I don't know why. Maybe because I see some kind of history in these things. I always try to image what it used to be like and what happened. It brings me happiness and sadness at the same time. Happiness because it is usually really beautiful in some strange way but sadness because I feel abandonment.

I think that different artists have different ideas behind their art but I do believe that mostly they just want to portray the life cycle and how things move. How something that once was new and full of life is now just a memory to some. It makes me think about the things I do and how important they are to me. Because things that I might seem to find important right now won't be so important many years later.

I like to keep a balance between happiness and things like this.

I don't know if it makes sense to anyone else but that's how I feel about these things.
An-iB Featured By Owner Mar 23, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Well in my case these kind of pictures make me happy and sad at the same time. Happy because such beautiful and peaceful places exist and sad cause they were once more beautiful yet crowded.
They are relics of the past which remind us of what we have done.Most are abandoned arhitectural treasures.
As for the artist.. well if i were to photograph something like this i would do it out of curiousity and the will to share such lost wonders of the past.
arphot Featured By Owner Mar 23, 2012
I see cool old stuff that has a story. I love to know those stories.
makepictures Featured By Owner Mar 23, 2012
People enjoy comparing themselves to what they are presented with by cultural ephemera such as novels, films or visual art. And people enjoy being shocked by fear - - I don't but many do. Images of decay allow the viewer to elevate themselves above or away from them simply by considering where they are at the moment of observing the image. At the same time, an image of decay will allow an exploration of a potential senario without the requirement of acting it out - - just yet. In this sense, images of decay, both of places and of people, are very entertaining. It is this entertainment factor that makes the subject a perennial.

You do not mention cultural differences in the seeing of what you have tagged as decay. Some cultures that revere the aged, both old places and old people. I would expect that the notions I suggested in my previous paragraph would be completely alien to the expectations of those raised in reverential cultures such as China.

On deviantART there is also the classic juxtapositioning of beauty against decay. We see in street photography a young couple in front of a ruin or in nudes an extraordinary body in a dilapidated room or an old bum slumped in front of a fancy store in Paris. It is a cliche and so unremarkable; but at the same time a conceit repeated over and over again. Its a manipulation that I, as a viewer, will get drawn into over and over.

Decay in photojournalism is often story telling with deep poignancy and in the best cases it reveals the conditions that the rest of society sweeps away under a rug. Photographs of London and New York slums forced social change at the turn into the 20th Century. The work of photographers and painters and illustrators in showing conditions of decay in nature have contributed to saving lands, ecosystems and species and continue to do so. They say in these works: look at this and cry.... and many have.
Rekalnus Featured By Owner Mar 23, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
I'll find seeing decay subjects to be both wholeness, completion and sadness. especially when its objects that were once highly valued and well-known.

often it depends on the day and time as to what genre I'll explore, some days are just not for dust and decay, and others are.

I see a lot of it up front here in Arizona where there are ruins from the First Nation tribes, the ghost towns of the newer arrivals and the old Route 66, and now the places where airplanes come to die.
GillianIvy Featured By Owner Mar 23, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
I find a certain beauty to 'decay' though I do not fully consider it that. Went you see a human structure in ruins, filled with Earth's life reclaiming it, it is a feeling of recovery for me. That despite the harms we may do this planet, it may yet recover.

It is a mix of beauty with a feeling like a graveyard. Slightly creepy. Life and death. History and future meet.
Lawenta Featured By Owner Mar 23, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
I agree fully with that first part. Where most others see a sad end of a building or other human-made structure, overgrown by weed, I see a new beginning, the resilience of life. I've once watched a document about Prypiat. They took it as a tragedy - the whole city abandoned, slowly turning to ruin - yet I couldn't stop smiling. Seeing how quickly the nature is reclaiming the city despite the radiation filled me with incredible hope.
GillianIvy Featured By Owner Mar 23, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Exactly! I see a weed creeping through the crack of asphalt and I smile. Nature will prevail.
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