Death as subject matter in the work (post-1985) of selected European, American, and South African artists in relation to attitudes towards death in those societies
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This dissertation investigates how death as a subject matter in the work of contemporary artists living in European, American, and South African societies, relates to attitudes towards death in those societies. It examines how attitudes towards death have changed over the centuries, and how death is perceived in these societies today. It examines how the treatment of death in art today. differs from other periods because of these attitudes. Chapter One, Section One examines three major shifts in attitudes towards death In Western history, as outlined by Philippe Aries, a leading writer in the field. Chapter One, Section Two looks at death as a subject matter in Western art history, from ancient Greece to the mid-twentieth century. Categories discussed include funerary art, religious art, art and medicine, death personified, historical and analytical, personal, political art, and death and consumerism. Chapter Two, Section One examines attitudes towards death in contemporary Westernized societies, focusing on the medicalization of death, funeral rituals and disposal practices, and attitudes towards death in South Africa, specifically within the cultural framework of white, English-speaking South Africans. Chapter Two, Section Two examines death as a subject matter in the work of selected contemporary artists in America, Europe, and South Africa, and how it relates to attitudes towards death in those societies. Artists examined are Damien Hirst, Christian Boltanski, Joel-Peter Witkin, Andres Serrano, Donna Sharrett, Gerhard Richter, and Jo Ractliffe. The paper concludes by outlining the main arguments of the research and conclusions reached.