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The Skeleton and the Artist

anatomy art death halloween skeleton skull Oct 29, 2021

Author: Charla Maarschalk

The skeleton is often viewed as a symbol of death. 

A few years ago I started painting skeletons in my work. When I took the art pieces to shows I was asked why I painted skeletons because, well, skeletons are morbid. Yet the ones asking the questions thought my work didn't emanate that feeling of 'death' and wanted to know what my purpose was. 

I'm here to redeem our skeleton and reveal its multidimensional purposes. 

The skeleton has function
In the womb where we are formed the skeleton is formed first. The spinal column protects the spinal cord, the skull protects the brain and on it goes. Its function is vital to our survival.

Not just that though, it is also the thing that makes us stand tall. Without it we'd be jelly. It's the first thing formed and the last that remains after we die. 

The Skeleton informs our art practice
In art the skeleton becomes a very important area of study for us portrait artists and figurative artists. The face and figure feel incredibly complicated when we attempt to recreate it. It feels complicated because it is in fact complicated! The good news is: we can demystify it by studying the layers that lie beneath the surface. 

In university I studied anatomy for an entire year, 6 hours a week in class plus out of class work time. We spent 3 whole months entirely on learning the skeleton.

It was life changing for my art practice.

I learned that studying the structures that hold our body up made me a better artist. I could troubleshoot my drawings when I knew how the landmarks on the body worked and how the bones moved and twisted with different poses. The skeleton became vital information for me to become a better artist. 

Why am I talking about all this?
The more I study and learn the functions of our bones the more I want to redeem how we see and understand the skeleton. I hate that it's a symbol of death in modern western society. Yeah, I'm not a fan of Halloween but for me its more than that. Because it has so many negative connotations in this culture we tent to push it aside. We might even look at it as cheesy and meaningless. But it is none of those things.

Our Skeleton is beautiful and important and as artists it's vital to our practice. 

Inspired and want to know more?
This topic is one that we discuss a little more indepth on our podcast. If you feel like you want to dig into this idea a little more you can watch on YouTube.

Bold School has some quick study classes designed around understanding the anatomy of the skull. Check them out here. 

Son of Dust, 2016, Charla Maarschalk



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