LIFE, DEATH AND BEAUTY: art as a way of accessing grief

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Chapter positions contemporary art’s ability to affect understandings of issues around death: how artists have interpreted death throughout history; how objects and images impact on people's ideas about death; the role art can play in mediating issues of life and death (Leader 2008). The exhibition project Life is Over! if you want it (Mackenna, T and Janssen, E 2009) is the framework for the proposal that a socially-engaged, discursive art practice that physically contextualizes issues can facilitate private mourning processes. The different socio-cultural significances of death in the distinct developments around assisted suicide in the Netherlands and Scotland are referenced. This art practice is positioned as an ethics of participation through encounter. The point at which the ethics itself is identified as an artwork (Rancière, Neil 2010) is explored in relation to the artist’s authorial identity, and the foregrounding of curatorial intent as an artistic strategy that impacts upon institutional responsibilities. Differing from standard gallery and museum practice, art here is regarded as social, human / humane education, by seeking to provide a collective, active point of departure for those who encountered the work. Spending time together cohabiting a question was the central reason for the project’s creation, value emerging from public durational art-making that is open to participation, sociality, and hospitality. (O'Neill / Doherty 2011). Art as a way towards change is proposed as a possibility for the medical profession/physicians approaching medicine and human caring, emphasising the innate healing capacity in people, factors that modify the healing response, and their interaction in the therapeutic encounter and relationship (Reilly 2010).
Contributors to the book include sociologists, art historians, art practitioners, criminologists, grief counselors, anthropologists, media, film, drama scholars.
Chapter was new writing derived from paper in conference Envisaging Death: Visual Culture and Dying, University of Birmingham/ National Health Service West Midlands, 2009.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEnvisaging Death
Subtitle of host publicationVisual Culture and Dying
EditorsMichele Aaron
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge Scholars Publishing
Number of pages19
ISBN (Print)978-1-4438-4926-5
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2013
EventEnvisaging Death: Visual Culture and Dying - Birmingham, United Kingdom
Duration: 26 Jun 2009 → …


ConferenceEnvisaging Death: Visual Culture and Dying
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Period26/06/09 → …
Internet address


  • Life and Death
  • grief


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