Apocalyptic Art: Why We Love the End of the World

Depictions of Armageddon are nothing new—painters and sculptors have been obsessed with the idea since mankind first took up the brush/coal/poisonous berry and put their thoughts and feelings into a visual representation. But as of late, I’ve noticed the end of the world seems to be on everyone’s minds. Various popular art exhibits have focused on that theme and the film and television industries are certainly having a field day with apocalyptic fare (see NBC’s “Revolution” or last year’s Melancholia and Take Shelter). Lori Nix, James Hopkins, and Ricky Allman, just to name a few, have been creating art that is a meditation on death and impending doom.

Why is the obsession proliferating throughout art now? There have been many periods of time that seemed like they would be the last—many eras which were dark (the Dark Ages come to mind…) and even more when hope was never more than a glimmer in the eyes of humanity. Human beings survived the Bubonic Plague, the Great Depression, World War II, nuclear hysteria, and seven Saw movie sequels. We’re strong, aren’t we? So why is art reflecting such morbid hopelessness right now?

Part of it probably comes from the whole Mayan 2012 end of the world prophecy that says it’s all over on December 21. Beyond the probable buyout of guns, liquor and duct tape on December 20, this prophecy has affected the way people think, act, and express themselves creatively. I even know of two couples who were going to get married next June, but moved the date up to December “just in case, you know?” It’s not an uncommon phenomenon. And if it’s informing our decisions on when to tie the knot, it only makes sense that it’s contributing to our artistic sensibilities.

The other part is, of course, the economic recession that’s dominating the sociopolitical landscape of many countries. People are unemployed, underemployed, working too many part-time jobs and feel as though things aren’t getting better at any noticeable rate. With a veritable tidal wave of bad news bombarding viewers every single day, who can blame them? Twenty-four hour cable news networks aren’t built on fluff pieces and soft news; they’re built on danger, risk, intrigue, and yes, impending doom. Nothing sells like a good old-fashioned apocalypse.

All this still doesn’t explain the abundance of apocalyptic art at this moment in time versus similarly dark times, especially those in the earlier part of the 20th century. Beyond a small group of poets labeled as apocalyptic, most artists in the 1930s and 1940s weren’t dealing with end time themes to the same degree and scope that artists are today.

A possible explanation is that the feelings of doom generated by World War II or the Great Depression or even further back to the Black Death were feelings that you could take action to alleviate. Worried about Hitler? No time to make art; enlist and fight. Concerned for your well-being during the Grapes of Wrath era? No time to make art; move your family and find work if you can. The Black Death? Well, it pretty much was actively killing everyone you know, so get rid of the smell and try not to touch rats.

There was something tangible that everyone could do to stave off the coming Armageddon. But now? What can you really do to fight back against a recession? It’s not so horrible that you need to move to more farmable land, but it’s bad enough that you have to confront it. What can people do about the Mayan prophecy? Absolutely nothing (assuming it’s true…). It’s out of everyone’s control and we don’t even know what it would entail. Should we buy life rafts? Fire extinguishers? Pineapples? There’s no concrete danger, so there’s no concrete action to take against it. So given all this information and a glut of doom and gloom, what do we humans do?

 

We create art.

“Adopt the pace of nature; her secret is patience.”

–Ralph Waldo Emerson

Turtle Pee: Biologists Have a Urinary Eureka

There are many biological studies out there that come and go without receiving the notice they deserve. Many are of great importance to the human race, wildlife, and the planet in general.

This is not a study to go unnoticed. The National Geographic post about biologists discovering a species of turtle that urinates through its mouth is too fascinating and odd not to repost. Plus, the research could benefit those who have kidney failures and require dialysis, albeit in a slightly unsavory manner…

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/10/121012-turtles-urine-pee-mouth-science-animals-weird/

Total Recall: Reuse to Reduce

We’re living in an increasingly digital world, and it’s becoming easier every day to cut down on your personal paper usage. But that doesn’t mean you have to stop at electronic bank statements and canvas grocery bags (you’re doing that, right?). It’s time to step it up to the next level of paper recycling and really dive into pragmatic sustainability with five easy ways to reduce paper waste by reusing it.

Recycle paper at least twice:  It’s a great idea to recycle everything from   unwanted receipts to less than perfect resumes, but why just toss them right into the recycling bin? You can use them at least once more before taking that step—who needs notepads when you have the back of a receipt? Why print out something that’s just for you on brand new paper? Recycle that paper once or twice before you officially give it up to the folks in waste management.

Forgo the packaged stuff:  Not only is unpackaged food fresher and therefore healthier, it actually takes less of a toll on the planet. So instead of heading towards the aisles filled with boxed, wrapped products, pick out some fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, and anything else that doesn’t come fancily packaged in tree-based materials. Don’t forget to byob (bring your own bag.)

Rags over paper towels:  I used to be an avid paper towel user. Spilled milk? Paper towel. Freshly fried bacon? Paper towel. Nothing happened at all? Paper towel. Leave the paper towels for public restrooms – at home, you can have an army of dish rags at your disposal. Keep some designated for specific uses if you want, but all you have to do is wash them – you’ll save money by just buying a dozen of those every 10 years instead of purchasing paper towel rolls every fortnight.

Got kids? Ditch diapers:  Not all diapers; just the disposable type. Cloth diapers are the wave of the future…via the past. They may seem antiquated, but they’re significantly cheaper than traditional diapers, which you’d be buying for years as the parent of a young child. Cloth diapers save forests worth of trees and grandma will be proud of you for using such a traditional waste disposal method.

Wrap gifts in newspaper:  Yes, it’s fun to make presents look aesthetically pleasing, but why not also make them informative and educational? Instead of buying paper covered in snowflakes, reuse paper covered in presidential debate opinions. Size permitting, you could use beautifully photographed editorials out of magazines. People will see you’re resourceful, environmentally-minded, and also well-read. Of course, if you’re already getting your news from electronic sources, you could always wrap gifts in old tax statements.

These certainly are not the most extreme things you can do to cut down on paper usage (making your own chewing gum to avoid buying it packaged falls under that category). However, if you’re looking to go beyond the initial steps to reduce your paper consumption, try these five tricks before you raise the stakes to a life without toilet paper.

Image courtesy of bplanet through freedigitalphotos.net.