We Need Life Even When It Is Dead (When It Became Art) – The Irony of Art’s Existence


Alberto Giacometti, ‘Head-Skull”, 1934 (view from the side)

If skull is a remnant of the head (its post-mortem) and also part of a living human being, if skull is a remnant of the face when face is part of a dead body, and also its anatomical base (when both are still alive), Giacometti’s head-skull makes the relationships between head, skull and face in life and death – as if alive.

“Head-Skull” is a portrait of any work of art if such a phenomenon could exist. It is well known that the features of human body in the work of art (here head-skull, head-face and skull-face) become as if alive, as if living again in the work of art by triggering our memory and contemplation and inviting/accepting our psychological projection – answering us in the language of this projection. This resurrection is not ontological – it is into the existence without being.

“Head-Skull” like all the other works of art provides an artificial (artifact-al) existence for life. But the difference of Giacometti’s “Head-Skull” from them is that he makes this fact its topic – its semantic organism. “Head-Skull” is the living face of any work of art, the very smile of art. It shows the ambiguity of work of art as a soft-ware for as if resurrection of life.

What can be taken as an ironically smiling grimace of head-skull-face of Giacometti’s sculpture is the very mimic of the work of art, behind its “content” and “style”. It is what unites life and death of the face, head and the bones and penetrates their unity. In other words, if an alive face of a corpse could be possible (if nature could afford it) – it would exactly be this smiling grimace (the as if mimic of life resurrected as art by the Sisyphus magic of the artist. The irony of this grimace is the very irony of art’s existence.

We take art as life because we don’t have a choice. We want to continue to live with our dead ones and our experiences after their death. We want to continue to live with life even after it is dead, after it is ready to become art. We resurrect life/death/art (head/skull/face) by accepting it as a vibration of the work of art. And life/death/art answers with Giacometti’s “Head-Skull’s” ironic smile which we usually ignore when we are enjoying a work of art.


Alberto Giacometti, “Head-Skull”, 1934 (frontal view)