The heroic and the criminal, the beautiful and the ugly: suicide reflected in the mirror of the arts

Karolina Krysinska, Karl Andriessen

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Some of the nineteenth-century suicide art themes continued into the next century but, “(. . .) in the 20th Century, representation of suicide became truly problematic. In the godless remains of Europe after World War I, suicide’s meanings were primarily linked with depression; subsequently suicidal representation took on certain ambivalence, as if life itself were deemed pointless. It was in Germany, and above all in the anxious images of Expressionism, that the extreme motif of suicide was most prevalent in the first part of the twentieth century” (Brown, 2001, p. 201). In Cutter’s classification, images of suicide created in the twentieth century (at least until the 1960s which was the last decade discussed in his book) can be grouped into three major, partly overlapping themes: depressive (1887-1927), ambivalent (1930-61), and suicide as a “cry for help” (1938-67). e depressive theme presented suicide in a morally neutral manner and considered apathy as the main motivation behind the act. e viewers’ reaction was a feeling of regret, sadness, and pity. e other two themes, ambivalence and suicide as a “cry for help” present suicide in a morally neutral manner and see the motivation behind the death either as explicable (ambivalent theme) or obscure (“cry for help”). e ambivalent theme stressed the shock value of the art, evoking mixed reactions in viewers and drawing their attention to the painful sense of unhappiness experienced by suicides and their ambivalent wish to live mixed with the desire to die.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMedia and Suicide
Subtitle of host publicationInternational Perspectives on Research, Theory, and Policy
EditorsThomas Niederkrotenthaler, Steven Stack
Place of PublicationNew York NY USA
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9781351295246
ISBN (Print)9781412865081
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes

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