IS DARK ART/FICTION HORROR?

Artist: Cavaggio

This topic of conversation comes up often and circles into debate after debate. I’d like to settle it with civility for those who do not understand dark fiction and art.

Dark art is associated with the occult or Satanism thanks to Hollywood…but that’s not a bad thing. Hollywood used dark imagery the same way artists and authors do: to convey an emotion or a complaint, to express dread or fear. In times of repression, dark art was used to express freedom of thought through images when freedom of speech was an unavailable tool.

Delving into shades of black allows artists to play with light in surreal, mysterious ways. They can hide things while illuminating others, and the painters of the era took advantage of this new theory to expose painful experiences of their time, making them contemporary artists.

While the dark art movement can be used as a tool to address modern issues, it can also be used for issues of the macabre like death, or mental illness.

In the Middle Ages, images were used to represent death and punishment for sins to remind everyone of their daily duty. And because most low-born, or common folk, could not read these images would burn the messages in their mind.

The controversy of dark art is that it can provoke, or invoke, feelings from the viewer. Art is subjective. What you see is what you’ve interpreted from the images laid out before you. While the artist’s intent is there, the eyes that behold the scene will interpret and process the scene in their own way. If the scene has religious connotations, the viewer may feel their beliefs are being attacked and decide the message is blasphemous. The beauty of dark art is the freedom and ability to use art as a medium to expose thought, feelings, memories, and experiences with others.

With regards to dark fiction, the same rules apply. Approaching a dark subject matter allows allegory expression of pain, complaint, opinion, repression, fear, and more. Dark fiction feeds off the doubt and fear we have against all things “pure” because it’s a natural way of life. There is a season for everything. A season for living, for dying, for loving, for loss… there is always an equal and opposing reaction. If light is beautiful, then so is darkness. Just as light can be blinding, darkness can take away sight.

We are born from darkness into light, and return to its embrace. Fear is a learned behavior.

So is dark art/fiction considered horror? The short answer is this: horror is considered dark art/fiction but not all dark art/fiction is horror.

While this is not a comprehensive essay on so things “Dark Art/Fiction” I hope it helped give you a starting point to explore without fear.

5 thoughts on “IS DARK ART/FICTION HORROR?

  1. I really liked this piece, but I wish there would have been more to it, more on the argument of horror being dark art/fiction and how dark art/fiction is not always horror. I think this is definitely a good start.

    I believe you can watch any television show and see horrific things. For example: The Walking Dead is clearly intended to be horror. However, Grey’s Anatomy is not intended that way. There is a common bond between the two shows: they kill of characters indiscriminately. I think Grey’s Anatomy is The Walking Dead without the zombies. There is a lot of ‘horror’ in GA, sometimes even more so than TWD because in one you expect characters to be killed at any moment. In the other, you don’t. The question is which is which?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We’ve spent so many hours talking about this and would/could probably spend many more, willingly driving into this subject because you’re right. We look at television shows like Grey’s Anatomy and we call it “drama” but there are elements of horror in it, like the gun shot episodes with an active shooter. Or the plane crash. I think, my point was exactly this. Darkness is everywhere. Horror can fit into the category of dark, but not all dark can fit into horror.

      Where would you draw the line Bergen m between what you consider “horror” and “dark” subject matter? If someone showed you a scene, what criteria would you use to say how you’d categorize it?

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      1. You make your point very well here using my example. I think that is the only thing that was missing from your post—the example as to how dark and horror are similar but not the same and how you can place one in a box that belonged to the other but cannot do the same with the other and the one.

        Let’s look at the word horror as defined by any fine dictionary: an intense feeling of fear, shock, or disgust.

        Sticking with the same references of Grey’s Anatomy and The Walking Dead here. The two shows have all three of those elements (fear, shock and disgust). However, TWD’s intent is to have you afraid your favorite character could be killed off by a zombie or an unruly person. In GA, the storyline is meant to be dramatic but there is also a LOT of lighter fare in the show, including episodes done in musical style. GA also has the fact that these doctors save lives on almost every episode. Some of the episodes are meant to drive home some very serious current events (right now they are focusing on the virus and the MC currently has it).

        I would consider both of them dark dramas—that is clear to me, though I don’t think GA started out that way. I would only consider TWD horror though, thus fitting it in both categories of dark and horror. I think the distinction is intent. By intent, I mean the literal definition of the word: Intent = purpose. TWD intends to scare it’s audience or make them feel shocked or disgusted (Negan and Lucille’s Glenn and Abraham scene comes to mind). I do think GA intends to shock its audience from time to time by mixing things up and killing off one of their main characters from time to time, but I don’t believe their intent is to scare or disgust people.

        Both shows make you feel something, which is why I think they have lasted so long where as other shows have not. GA will outlast TWD because you can only do so much with a zombie apocalypse storyline.

        Both shows have horrific events in them, one steeped more in reality (GA) and the other steeped more in fantasy (TWD). However, to me, the difference between something that is clearly horror and something that is dark (but not horror) is intent.

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  2. This reminds me of a paper I wrote in college. I argued that every type of fiction was horror at it’s core.

    Characters drive story, and fear drives characters.

    Let’s look at a any rom com. Why are they popular? What connects with people? If you strip it all down, it’s the fear of being alone. Never finding your soul mate.

    Even comedies are built on fear. There is a hilarious scene in Something About Mary where a character gets his balls caught in his zipper. Something every man fears. We relate to that comedic situation.

    In every story worth telling, at it’s core, is fear.

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    1. I agree. Except on it being horror. I think any story without the element of light and dark is unbalanced and unrealistic. Even fantasy has an opposing side. In rom-coms you also deal with some king rejection, co-dependencies, and sometimes unrealistic storylines designed to exaggerate the small idiosyncrasies every relationship goes through. Because we are human, and imperfect.

      The Greek tragedies are an excellent example. Drama, suspense, thrill, dread, taboos … all used to draw the audience in, elicit a strong emotion, and seduce them with the adrenaline/morbid curiosity all of us harbor inside.

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