BOOK REVIEW: The Art of Darkness by S. Elizabeth

The Art of Darkness: A Treasury of the Morbid, Melancholic and MacabreThe Art of Darkness: A Treasury of the Morbid, Melancholic and Macabre by S. Elizabeth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars Page

Release: September 6, 2022

As the title suggests, this book collects a diverse group of artworks that share the common theme of the macabre. While most of these works are paintings, a few photos and sculptures are included. It’s also predominantly Western (European and North American) art, but some exceptions exist, notably several Japanese works are included. Where the collection really shows its breadth is in the styles of art and eras included. The works range from more than half-a-millennium old to some produced within the last couple years, with the expected variations in styles and media, given the centuries covered. The collection is also varied with respect to the popularity of the pieces and artists. You’ll likely see some familiar works (e.g. Fuseli’s “The Nightmare,” Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” and Dalí’s “The Face of War.”) However, most of the works were new to me. (Granted, I’m a visual arts neophyte.)

The pieces are arranged into four topical divisions, each containing three chapters. The subjects include realist content such as: bodily ailments, crime, dark takes on nature, and architectural ruins. However, much of the book delves into surreal and supernatural subject matter, including: nightmares, hallucinations, gods, monsters, ghosts, and magic.

The book lets the art do the heavy lifting, but it does have brief chapter introductions and captions for each piece that includes not only the title, artist, and (if known) the year the art was released, but also some interesting tidbits about artwork and / or artist. These write ups are concise, intriguing, and well-written, and offer some fascinating insights. The book also presents numerous quotes from poets, artists, and other intellectuals.

I learned a great deal from reading this book and discovered some new favorite artworks, art that is beautiful or grotesque but often a combination of both — but always evocative. If you’re interested in how artists depict the darkness in the lives and souls of humanity, you should definitely give this book a looksie.

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Stormy Shore [Common Meter]

Sitting on cold, volcanic rock
upon a stormy shore,
Watching waves crash, hearing naught but
wind, and crying for more
in a scream that cannot be heard
over nature's harsh din
as I feel the snap of gusty 
wind, through cloth so thin
that it can't hold back nature's force
to draw the heat from bone,
and, feeling under this black sky,
I am now all alone. 

POEM: Foul

they stole her soul

put it in a hole


covered it with steaming shit

from the demon’s latrine pit

but they fouled up

it woke the pup

who knew a soul could vaporize


in a steam cloud it would rise


that breathed in by Cerberus

it’d make the beast more murderous

[National Poetry Month: Poem #11]

The Moors of Your Mind: A Halloween Poem

Butoh artist, source unattributable

Butoh artist, source unattributable

in the moors of your mind
where lurk the moles of souls unkind
spying out your darkest dreams
amid the hum of silent screams

awakened hip deep in the mud
as chest-high waters rise in flood
you struggle but it pulls you down
in a boat, up drifts a blood-soaked clown

his hand grips a shiny new bone-saw
his other hand, a twin-hooked claw
your only hope; that you’re still dreaming
but wouldn’t you waken from your own screaming?