General ArtPainting

Death, Art and Gratitude

Everyone dies. It’s both a blessing and a curse. Without death there would be no  evolution, no variety in life, no impetus to progress. Without death none of us would be here, but that’s not much consolation when facing our own inevitable ends.  Our brains are so powerful that emotional pain hits us just as hard as physical pain, and the loss of a loved one can cripple us like the loss of a limb. As a species the very thought of the End drove us to invent the idea of after-lives where those we love live on, silently watching from “a better place”.

As non-believers and skeptics death’s sting can feel even more sharp when presented with the thought that we will absolutely never see our friends and family again once they’re gone. That the memories we’ve created are the sum of the lives we’ve lived. That someday we too will die. When faced with such propositions I can find little blame in my heart for anyone who would rather hide in myths than face reality. So what comfort is there for the unbelieving?

We still have life. We have each other. We have tomorrow and we have the lessons of those who have come before. Our lives echo the lives of the billion generations that preceded us from the first spark of life. We get to contribute to the future in any way we like, and for me that’s enough.

To be here, to make art, to share your thoughts and learn from you all is more than enough, it’s heaven.


Cloë is a carbon based food tube who enjoys a peaceful existence on Earth in the 21st century. In order to put food through her tube she works hard drawing things that will make other food tubes happy enough to give her green paper. Green paper isn't very good to eat, but you can usually trade it for better tube food. You can follow her on her Blog or on Twitter

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  1. Here is something that has stuck with me for a few years now. It’s from a thread on Skepchick from 2009, by commenter extraordinaire, Zapski:

    “In seriousness, I as an atheist think that there is no soul in the dualistic sense. However, I think that what is essentially us leaves our bodies at all times, every time we interact with others. Like raindrops in a pond, the ripples we make affect all the other drops, and all the ripples that hit us, are changed by our ripples, etc.

    Humanity has one giant soul-soup in which we all make bigger or smaller ripples. What I say shapes you, what you say shapes me. When I recall something you said or did, or if some action of yours consciously or unconsciously affects me or my actions or ideas, that is your “soul” having its effect.

    Carl Sagan (for example) made a big splash in the soul-soup. Many of us are shaped by his words and actions.

    Religion has it backwards: Your soul doesn’t leave your body at the moment of death, it stops leaving your body, and echos in the lives of others.

    We are the heaven in which our dead reside.”

  2. Excellent quote! I was also reminded of Christopher Hitchen’s line from The Portable Atheist, “Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more.”

  3. I think the positive materialistic view already presented is the best one. When I sometimes wish for the mythic life-everlasting I can’t help analysing the idea.
    What is it that makes life worth living? Overcoming adversity, developing, changing the world, working for improvement, breeding or at least influencing the brood of others. Where’s the room for that in a perfect eternity?

  4. Cloe – Well said.
    Brian G. – I too like that comment, one of the best, really.

    Two fascinating non-religious takes on heaven.

  5. Thank you Cloe for a magnificent first post. Beautifuf, thought provoking and generating fantastic comments, what more could we ask for?

    Eternity is not a human thing, there’s nothing in the human experience that even comes close to infinity. We can glimpse it in tangent through the ancient light of unimaginably distant stars, but even those faint sparks cannot convey the truly infinite. We can get a taste of it in the sweetness of a fig. But the deep time needed to fold a tree’s flower in on itself and shape an insect to match is still just the briefest of blinks in a true eternity.

    So too is perfection not a human thing, be it perfect joy or perfect pain. We are a sea of emotions with currents and tides in ever-changing proportions. In the days after my father died I still had occasions to laugh. On my wedding day I still had moments of grief and my daughter’s birth was an almost equal mix of joy and terror. This is human.

    The fairy tale afterlife of Christian mythology could not be experience by anything we would recognize as human.

    So where do we imperfect, finite humans turn to for a glimpse of those unattainable qualities? For myself, I shun the offers that spirituality and religion make. Their concepts of infinity and perfection, despite claims to the contrary, are not based in the reality of human abilities and experience . I have to turn to art for this because I don’t have the math skills needed to perceive scientific models infinity and perfection.

    Art, both in its creation and appreciation is not, and cannot be eternal. Even a properly fired and glazed ceramic which could resist decay for thousands of years will eventually be swept away by the great recycler of continental subduction. Even if it managed to escape that fate, the death of our sun will put a full stop on the end of any physical artistic creation. Never mind things like live music, the ultimate in ephemeral artistic expression.

    The best I think we can hope for is eternity’s poor cousin: timelessness. Art can give us that cessation of the conscious passage of time. That moment where it causes our emotional state to bloom and fill us to the point where our reptile brain has to remind us to breath. That moment where we are as close as we can be to experiencing a single, perfect emotion. This is our glimpse of perfection and eternity, where we dwell however briefly in a timeless now. It’s rare, it never lasts long, it’s most often unrepeatable, and it is so very, very human.

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