How often do you think about Death? What about the After? Now, compare that to how often you think about Life. Except for the most zen of us, I bet Death is up at least three to one on good, old Life. Me? I’ve usually thought about Death three times before I’ve had my first coffee. And no, I am not dying. At least not faster than most.
Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating ever so slightly – but really, not by much. I think about Death all the time. And not my death, but Death. It’s everywhere. We all do it at least once. It is Inevitable. We both know this.
Will Curiosity Kill Us?
So why do we think about Death more than Life? We are alive so maybe we take this whole l-i-v-i-n’ thing for granted, and prefer fixating on the great unknown. Maybe you’re religious and you have all the answers. Maybe you're scientific and you know your answers are better. Or maybe you’re like me, and just have no freaking idea what happens next.
Wherever your head (or heart) is at, odds are great that you don’t really know the answers. Few of us can claim to have experienced Death and returned to talk about it. Orpheus and Flatliners be damned, I don’t think it’s even possible.
"Strange, is it not? That of the myriads who
Before us pass’d the door of Darkness through,
Not one returns to tell us of the Road,
Which to discover we must travel too."
- The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám
And our culture? It is fixated on Death, too. No, I’m not talking about guns in schools or global hegemonies. I’m talking about the culture of humanity. Death is one of our biggest mysteries. It is something to be feared, avoided, embraced, cursed, delayed, vilified, cheated, worshiped. And you don’t have to look hard to know this. Death – and whatever comes After – permeates our art.
Art Imitates Death
My good buddy HAiL, or as you may know him, ChatGPT, tells me that art about Death has been around for thousands of years. While the earliest known artwork about Death is difficult to determine with certainty, one of the oldest examples is the “Dancing with the Dead” scene, which was found in a rock shelter at Cogul, in Catalonia, Spain. The scene is believed to date back to the Neolithic period, around 8000-5500 BCE. And I don’t need HAiL to recall ancient Egyptian artworks that depict Death – you know, sarcophagi, mummies, and tomb paintings?
The Grateful Dead’s Last Trip by DjjD and Midjourney.
And there are myriad other examples across our recorded history. One of my favorite “historical” pieces is The Dance of Death (1523-25 CE) by Hans Holbein. Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum best describes this series:
In a series of action-packed scenes, Death intrudes on the everyday lives of thirty-four people from various levels of society — from pope to physician to ploughman. Death gives each a special treatment: skewering a knight through the midriff with a lance; dragging a duchess by the feet out of her opulent bed; snapping a sailor’s mast in two. Death, the great leveller, lets no one escape.
The Knight by Hans Holbein.
And one of my favorite modern Death pieces is The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991) by Damien Hirst. The title alone is a masterpiece but, once you see this artwork, it is incredibly easy to forgive Mr. Hirst for being so bloody rich.
Death and the Undead, from Life to the Metaverse
So what does any of this have to do with NFTs? Well, unless you’re completely new to NFTs, I bet you’ve seen quite a few that touch on the themes of the Inevitable. Skulls, X’d out eyes, zombies, and Genuine Undead are all over the metaverse. We may be early, but Death was here waiting for us.
And this is where I get personal. I heard of NFTs sometime in 2020. I knew some about crypto, but all I knew about NFTs was that they were jpegs that people were spending way too much money on. One pot-fuelled night during COVID lockdown, I bought my first NFT. I thought it spoke to me. Turns out, I was just high.
Fast forward to the crypto crash of 2022. To me, jpegs were on sale and I dipped my toe in the degen pool. I wasn’t really getting it. I dabbled but was anything but hooked. And then, Death came to me.
My mother was diagnosed terminal. She had cancer and had been fighting it for years, but her latest treatments were not working. She made the difficult and personal choice to stop fighting and withering away so she could enjoy her last few months of Life. She passed in July 2022. I was devastated, but also relieved. She had been in so much pain. And she was no longer the person I remembered. Death was her release. But I was adrift.
A few weeks later, by pure chance, a friend told me to check out the Genuine Undead. I was instantly hooked. The 24 x 24 pixel art was – and remains – the best PFP pixel art that I’ve ever seen. And then there was the ethos, the community, and the rise of the Undead. I dove into the deep end of the metaverse and I’ve never looked back. And I owe it all to pixel art featuring undead beings. I couldn’t help but grok that all my thoughts about Death had led me here. When I was grieving for my mother, I found solace in this art. And my curiosity about Death has brought me to this exhibition. Don’t tell me that there are no connections in this universe!
Genuine Undead #1941 by Anonymous.
Come Cross the River Styx
Over the next several weeks, I aim to introduce you to some amazing artists that have created and minted art embodying the Inevitable. This journey won’t always be easy. Some of it will reveal my Life experiences with Death and the After. And some of it may make you want to turn on all the lights at night. But hopefully, it all makes us think. And more importantly, I hope it makes us better appreciate what we have.
What is Undead, cannot die. Stay genuine.
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