The Most Macabre Works Of Art You'll Wish You'd Never Seen

May 15, 2017

|Daniel Morales Olea

Its horror and its beauty are divine.
Upon its lips and eyelids seems to lie
Loveliness like a shadow, from which shrine,
Fiery and lurid, struggling underneath,
The agonies of anguish and of death.

"On The Medusa of Leonardo da Vinci," Percy B. Shelley

We've always been intrigued by fear. It's an emotion human beings have always felt, but with time we've learned to channel it in many ways. This feeling comes from our survival instincts, and it's not just linked to avoiding death, but also darkness because it awakes the most twisted side of our imagination. It could be a humanoid shadow out of the corner of your eye, an eerie sound coming from an unexpected place, even the wind outside that sounds like a scream. Whenever we deal with the unknown, our mind gives it a face or tricks us into thinking there's an entity behind this phenomenon. 

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Art has created many versions of fear, devoting a great time to portray all those natural nightmares we have, those symbolic representations of evil, sin, and decay.

Nowadays, art can help us understand the context of humankind's history and the esthetics that rule our conception of the world. However, in the past paintings had a more didactic purpose. In the Middle Ages, paintings aimed to educate those who couldn't read and write. That's why it's common to find religious symbols and narratives in medieval paintings, among which there's a special interest on terrifying figures and demons. These creatures were meant to warn spectators about the horrors sinners would endure for eternity. 

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"The beautiful has but one type, the ugly has a thousand. The fact is that the beautiful, humanly speaking, is merely form considered in its simplest aspect, in its most perfect symmetry, in its most entire harmony with our make-up. Thus the ensemble that it offers us is always complete but restricted like ourselves. What we call the ugly, on the contrary, is a detail of a great whole which eludes us, and which is in harmony, not with man but with all creation. That is why it constantly presents itself to us in new but incomplete aspects." 
Preface to Cromwell (1827) - Victor Hugo

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The ugly and the grotesque have been used to represent the world's evil, to show all those elements that are that are far from the morality that's generally reserved to the divine. When Victor Hugo wrote these words in the nineteenth century, a whole new appreciation for the ugly began. It stopped being a negative feature, but an opportunity to find new dimensions, far from common dichotomies such as black and white, or good and evil.

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The passing of time and all the artistic currents have devoted to give other meanings to ugliness and evil. There are works of art whose only purpose is to disturb the audience. For some time, fear in art has acquired a more social tone rather than a religious one, as it did in the past. We no longer see supernatural beings explaining the punishments God can bestow on us. Now, we face figures that embody our reality: armed conflicts, an artist's childhood traumas, human's decay, and others horrors.


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Art has become grimmer. Although classic artworks –as a legacy of ancient beliefs– can be quite disturbing, artistic expressions have become a shocking reflection of the worst sides of our reality. 

Fear goes down our spine. Its power is such that we can feel it on each pore of our skin. It makes us breathe anxiety, nervousness, and terror. Art is capable of awakening this emotion in many different ways. That's why the previous pieces and many others have taken visions of terror to portray humanity's history.
How will horror evolve in the years to come?

You might be interested in: 
The Lucifer Effect And Humanity's Evil In 10 Works Of Art
The Painter Who Sold His Soul To The Devil And Was Exorcized

Translated by María Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards
Daniel Morales Olea

Daniel Morales Olea