Monday, October 27, 2008

Laurie Lipton

Death has been represented for centuries as a skeleton. Its origins began to appear in the early fifteenth century incorporated on tombs in a genre known as "Dance Macabre" or dance of the dead. This ghoulish representation was not meant to be a comfort, but to warn and frighten people about death. Along the borders of this procession of skeletons was a conversation between death and man. Death always calls out in a threatening tone, and man answers in remorse and despair, crying out for mercy. The message was simple, all will die, none can escape.

There is a contemporary artist who's work often has skeleton's present. Taking her inspiration from the hyper-realistic paintings of the fifteenth century Flemish paintings, she has mastered the technique using monochromatic tones with just pencil and paper. Often viewers react either with horror or laughter.

Laurie says of her work that "Art began as a repository for all my negative emotions. I was a perfect, cute little girl in a perfect, cute little suburb in New York and didn’t know what to do with all the dark, fearful s*** that was swirling round in my head. If I hadn’t found an outlet, I would have exploded like a firecracker".

This piece "Death and the Maiden"(2005) was inspired by the death of her mother, who died in hospice. Like most of her work it is both endearing and horrifying at the same time. While working on this painting she recounts having listened to Offenbach's "Tales of Hoffman". In this opera, there is a scene in which Antonia sings a duet with her dead mother. Music often has a powerful way of mixing with life events, and inspiring even greater creation.

The pieces with skeletons are done as a way to remind us that death is among us. Laurie writes, "my culture runs from it[death], screaming. We encourage youth, beauty and the illusion that we have all the time in the world and will never, ever end. We frantically face-lift, botox, throw vitamins, creams and money at death. Death only happens to other people. Only losers die..." This piece is entitled "Family Reunion" (2005) . It reminds us, like the theme of fifteenth century dance macabre, that all will die.

If you want to look at more of Laurie Lipton art, check out her official website. All images here are copyrighted to Larie Lipton

Other good links to conversations with Laurie are at Music is Art and Bienart

Monday, October 27, 2008 by Amy Clarkson · 0

Monday, October 20, 2008

"Go On" by Jack Johnson

The mellow surf folk of Jack Johnson can make you feel relaxed to the point where you listen to the lyrics and may miss the point completely. This happened to me with the song "Go On" from his most recent album "Sleep Between Static" released in early 2008. (Song from iMeem below is not the album version, YouTube Video is not the official video)

The song was on my iPod along with many other Jack Johnson tunes for my trip to Australia so when I picked up a Rolling Stone with Jack on the cover, I was surprised to read the story behind this song.

Jack and his family had cared for his wife's cousin Danny Riley, a 19 year old who died from a brain tumor in October of 2007. The album itself has a dedication "In Loving Memory to Danny Riley." In caring for him Jack found many parallels between caring for a dying loved one and raising his own children. "It's about learning how to let go of someone you love," he says, "watching them swim away."

As a father of toddlers, I could see so much how in raising them I am slowly having to let go, which parallels so much of what hospice tries to help teach families and patients as they face death and dying. After learning of the meaning behind this song, a young man I was caring for died. As the family was preparing for his funeral services, the songs dual meaning for parents losing their child seemed appropriate to suggest to them. They took the song and made a wonderful video tribute to him.

**UPDATE 7.21.2009** I was contacted by the family of Danny Riley and wanted to add his website and note that they started a foundation ot help children with cancer through music appreciation and experience. Danny himself was a talented musician as you will find when you listen on the site.

Other songs on this album with palliative oriented lyrics include: "Adrift," "All at Once," "Monsoon" and "Losing Keys"

"Go On" by Jack Johnson from the album "Sleep Between the Static" (2008) from Brushfire Records.


In my rear view I watch you
Watching the twilight behind the telephone lines
With nothing to prove or to assume
Just thinking that your thoughts are different than mine
In my rear view I watch you
I gave you your life, but you gave me mine

I see you slowly swim away
As the light is leaving town
To a place that I can't be
But there's no apologies

Just go on, Just go on
There are still so many things, I wanna to say to you
But go on, Just go on
We're bound by blood that's moving, the moment that we started
The moment that we started

I see perfect little eyes, watch the shadows of the clouds
And the surface of the ocean out the window of a plane
I get nervous when I fly I'm used to walking with my feet
Turbulence is like a sigh that I can't help but over think

What is the purpose of my life if it doesn't ever do
With learning to let it go live vicariously through
You can do the same it's the least you can do
Cause it's a lonely little chain if you don't add to it

So go on, just go on
There's so many things I wanna say to you

Go on, just go on
We're bound by blood and love from the moment that we start

Just go on, just go on
There are still so many things I wanna say to you

Just go on, just go on
We're bound by blood that's moving from the moment that we started
The moment that we started

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Monday, October 20, 2008 by Christian Sinclair · 3

Monday, October 13, 2008

Bird Hits a Window

Have you heard people talk about this? At the hospice place where I work, I sometimes hear a nurse, or even a family member say, "A bird hit the window this morning, I'm sure mom's getting ready to go soon." In fact, it's not unusual to have a day when several rooms have a constant barrage of tapping from birds flying into the glass.

I was surprised to see how entrenched this symbol of the bird is in our culture. In case it's a new idea for you let me explain:

"Bird flies at the window, Death knocks at the door" is a phrase that has been repeated by kids for centuries. The roots of this reach far back. Because of their ability to fly, birds have eternally been connected with the heavens/afterlife. Birds aren't just associated with death, but life as well, as in the common story that a Stork delivers new babies into this world.

There really is no culture exempt. In Egypt, China and Japan the Phoenix symbolizes rebirth, from ancient myths of the bird constantly being reborn. In Syria, Eagles are on tombs to lead the souls in the afterlife. In the Jewish and Christian culture, it is the dove that represents the soul. Both the Celts and Greeks believed the soul would reappear as a bird after death. There is an Islamic tradition that believes that dead souls remain as birds until judgment day, whereas the Hindu's use birds to symbolize the form the soul takes in between earthly lives.

With so many cultures viewing birds as the representation of human souls, you can guess when a bird suddenly acts strangely, we take notice. Before there were glass windows, the superstition was that if a bird flew into your house and perched on someone's chair, then a death would occur within that home in a year's time. Now, not too many birds make it inside, but all it takes is the unusual event of a bird trying to get in, hitting the glass pane, and then when an untimely death occurs the two events become connected.

Such was the case for Lucille Ball, who at the age of 3 recalled that a bird flew in her house and became trapped the day her father died. She was so convinced of this superstition that she refused to stay in hotels that had bird wallpaper or pictures of birds on the walls.

Some may wonder is one type of bird more ominous with this superstition? It seems there are several to worry about. In the Cherokee tradition it is a red bird that provides the connection with the deceased. The Red Bird Center provides the story behind this belief. The other birds to be leery of if they are trying to fly in your house are the sparrow, the robin and the raven.

Anyone with stories of their own?


Pictures used: "Bird in Hand" Victor Schrager has an entire collection of these here
"Start to finish" from Two Dresses Studios here

Monday, October 13, 2008 by Amy Clarkson · 40

Monday, October 6, 2008

Death and Disney

I remember when I was 4 or 5 years old going to the movie theatre with my family. I watched as Bambi ran toward the thicket away from the hunters and then turned around looking for his mother. My little 4 year old brain had no idea what was going on. I remember whispering to my mother in the theatre "What happened to Bambi's mommy?"

Does anyone else get teary eyed when they see this scene? Maybe I was just a slow child but I think there was a reason a four year old wouldn't get what happened in this scene. The death scene in Bambi is very subtle. They never come out and say, "Bambi's mother died" and they never show anything close to a death. How was young Bambi even to understand what happened? "Your mother can't be with you anymore." So, she had to go out of town? The response of my nephew (who was 5 at the time) was, "She's ok, right Mom. She's just hurt but she'll be ok." Denial.

Now compare that scene to this more contemporary Disney death scene.

Big difference. In The Lion King, nothing is subtle. You watch as Mufasa plunges to his death. In a totally heart wrenching scene you see the dead Mufasa as Simba tries to wake him up. Nothing left to the imagination. On a positive note, the grief response in The Lion King is much more appropriate. Poor Bambi gets just one tear then he has to turn around and walk away. You've had a whole 2 minutes to grieve, Bambi. Now it's time to move on.

This big shift in how death is dealt with in Disney films happened around the 1970's. Movies that were made before that (Bambi 1942) tended to have more implicit death scenes. After the 1970's, (The Lion King 1994) death scenes were more explicit, showing the actual death and/or the deceased. Maybe the thought was to shelter children from violence and death. Which approach is better?

In one study, Disney movies were taken at random and their death scenes analyzed. They found 23 death scenes in 10 movies. In these scenes, they looked at several different things including who died (antagonist vs protagonist), how the death was depicted (implicit vs explicit, permanent vs temporary), the emotional response, and the cause of the death (accidental, justified vs unjustified). While the study had relatively small numbers, they did find some interesting things. 39% of deaths lacked any emotional response. Although most of the deaths overall are portrayed as permanent, half of the protagonists that died come back in some way.

As the study points out, death in Disney movies is not all bad. The Lion King has been used as a tool to help teach children about death and grief. Movies can be used as a more comfortable way to bring up difficult discussions. But they could also send confusing messages to children about death and grief.

References: Cox M, et al. Death in Disney films: Implications for children’s understanding of death. Omega. 50(4). 2004-2005. 267-80.

Monday, October 6, 2008 by Amber Wollesen, MD · 4