A memento mori is a work of art that reminds us of the vanity of life and the inevitability of our eventual demise. These reminders of mortality have historically taken the shape jewelry with skull motifs, watches and clocks with various reminders of our own time running out, paintings depicting the fleeting objects of life along with skulls, and sculptures of showing half a face or body in youth and the other in old age or death.
In recent times, even as our culture seems to be drifting away from the acceptance of death, youth culture abounds with images of skulls and skeletons. While once this death imagery was edgy and controversial, the domain of punk rockers and heavy metal bands, it has gone mainstream along with tattoos to the point that it is not unusual to see skull motifs on the clothing and toys of even the youngest girls and boys.
Above, a half skull sculpture
Below, A memento mori tattoo
Memento mori are not just the gloomy reminders of death or the rebellious symbolism appropriated by youth culture however. They inspire us, as originally intended, to count our days and to make the most of the time we have. Reminders of our impermanence can give us perspective on our trials and our struggles and our accomplishments. whether we look to a reward in heaven, a disintergration of the self into oneness with the universe, or simply to apply our limited energies to our highest priorities, these works can help us lead a fuller, more satisfying life.
Keith Richards' well known Memento Mori, his Skull Ring
is just a modern expression of the Rosary bead shown below
On Sunday, the consistently thought provoking blog on art, medicine, death and culture, Morbid Anatomy, brought to my attention the introduction of a memento mori designed as an application for the Ipod. This App, known as Vanitas, a common title for memento mori pieces of the past, was designed by Tale of Tales, and features a wonderful variety of items to remind us of our fleeting existance, along with a wonderful soundtrack from cellist Zoë Keating. While the technology used in this app, and the way people interact with it may be new, the value of the lesson is timeless.