An exploration of the skull as a dominating factor throughout visual culture

Gatt, Rachel (2014) An exploration of the skull as a dominating factor throughout visual culture. BA dissertation, University of Portsmouth.

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    The skull has played many roles throughout the evolution of human culture. Humanity has used the skull as a symbol of death and fear, spirituality and faith,mystery and witchcraft, intellect and luck, protection and even life. In the past, it has been used throughout myths, legends, literature and religion, and over the years, its symbolism has been twisted and shaped to accommodate different roles in society as it rapidly becomes more of an iconic representation in a post-modern world. However, before the skull was infiltrated into society as a symbol of rebellion youth and fashion, it had an extremely significant effect on science and medical treatments. This resulted in a great influence in the way science developed during the 18th and 19th century, and as a result, continued to affect certain aspects of technology.
    Even though the image of the skull is such a powerful and common occurrence throughout so many periods in time, there is not much attention given to the concept of it as a singular object. Many a time, the symbolism links to other aspects within the time period, or certain beliefs that link to the skull, however, even though a great amount of valuable research has been recorded about the symbolism and influence of the skull, there has not been a undeviating focus on the object as an entity of its own.
    “Repurposed and recast by artists, illustrators and designers, this morbid motif has found its way into the visual vocabulary of urban life, a smiley face for a gothic generation, its macabre and mystic meanings reappropriated by a disaffected youth as a timeless symbol of anarchy, rebellion and revolution…” (Faye Dowling, 2011, pp. 7)
    This dissertation looks to focus upon the influence that the skull has made throughout certain influential time periods dating from the 15th century up to the present, where the skull has continued to have a powerful impact on society in today’s world. The first chapter will revolve around the skull as a symbol of mortality, playing on the fleeting moment between life and death. With the main focus on religion and art, the image of the skull is a repetitive occurrence representing mortal life and the materialistic possessions that are given great importance. The second chapter retains the aesthetic value however diverts from the symbolism of the skull and brings to light the scientific use of displayed through visual aids. In this chapter, the effect of the skull on scientific development by the use of diagrams, studies and art is highlighted and observed as a means of acquiring education throughout certain periods in time. The third and final chapter targets the concept of identity that is brought about by the skull, the influence on culture, as well as the power it has had over society. The final outcome of this dissertation is to evaluate the importance of the skull as a singular entity rather than as an addition to historical and cultural considerations.

    Item Type: Dissertation
    Departments/Research Groups: Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries > School of Art and Design
    Depositing User: Beth Atkins
    Date Deposited: 08 Aug 2014 11:12
    Last Modified: 28 Jan 2015 12:39

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