Fact: inspiration can come from anywhere. For our agency, one source is definitely Creative Mornings. A morning lecture series that brings together creatives from a variety of industries to discuss a common theme, it happens once a month in 177 cities around the globe. We’ll be posting a recap each month, so check back here or come join us!
A Quick Recap: Creative Mournings
When we first heard that the global theme for November was going to be Death, a few of us were excited while others like myself were a bit ambivalent. To go from themes like Compassion and Pioneer to such a loaded topic felt like a very sharp turn.
However, that’s not to say we weren’t all intrigued to hear the Philadelphia speaker, Evi Numen, an artist, curator, independent researcher and—wait for it—death doula. Aptly titling her lecture “Creative Mournings,” she discussed how people have used art as a means of processing grief from centuries ago to the present day, and how humanity’s relationship with death has changed over time.
According to Numen, during the Victoria era, death was much more palpable in people’s daily lives due to the shorter life expectancy. As a result, people began creating Memento mori art. Latin for “remember you have to die,” memento mori was any kind of artwork created to remind people of their mortality and the fragility of human life. People also used art as a means of memorializing their loved ones and in doing so, coping with the loss. This is evidenced in not just traditional paintings, but also craftwork as well as hairwork, which involved creating things like pendants and bracelets that contained intricate patterns of the hair of a loved one.
However, the sentiment behind all these forms of artwork was the idea of accepting the inevitability of death to motivate you to live a good, meaningful life—an idea that is still very much applicable to the present day and modern art. Amid showcasing art she created or curated, Numen explained how the concept of being “death positive” has been at the heart of what she does after experiencing her own loss at age 20. In effect, she hopes people can change how they think about death since it will ultimately affect how they live.
Matters of Life and Death
As Numen mentioned early on in her talk, the topic of death is still taboo because of all the weighty and emotional strings attached. Everyone evidently deals with death differently so speaking about it so openly can feel uncomfortable because of the inherent vulnerability.
As a self-admitted neurotic New Yorker, I’ve definitely had moments where the thought of dying or losing someone close to me gives me anxiety and my defense mechanism is complete avoidance. So to hear someone talk about being “death positive” felt almost bewildering. However, the notion of dealing with trauma via creativity resonated with me. Although I’m no artist, I’ve certainly found solace in writing to deal with losing loved ones in the past and when you think about it, the idea makes sense: producing something new in the face of loss in order to move on.
Although I don’t necessarily see myself “embracing” death any time soon, I do think it’s important to remember that acceptance is essential for any kind of loss, whether it’s the loss of time, the “death” of a great idea or the actual loss of a person. And part of that acceptance is doing what we can to live well, whatever that means to us.
In the end, I think Ernest Hemingway says it best:
“Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.”