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"And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all." --"The Masque of the Red Death (1842) - Edgar Allan Poe

It was a dark and stormy night.

"On the march to the front, Danchuk imparts to Lt. Boles her beliefs about darkness. She believes that darkness can be kept - a black, juicy harvest actually plucked from the night. That darkness can be sculpted into huge furry vaults and complex corridors. That little piles of darkness can serve as useful road signs for the weary traveller, or for anyone who swims in that dusky fluid."--Archangel (1990) by Guy Maddin

Edgar Allan Poe was a representative of the darker strains of American Romanticism
Edgar Allan Poe was a representative of the darker strains of American Romanticism

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Darkness, as polar to brightness, is understood to be an absence of visible light. It is also the appearance of black in a colored space.

Humans are unable to distinguish color when either light or darkness predominate. In the absence of light, perception is achromatic and ultimately, black.

The emotional response to darkness has metaphorical connotations in many cultures, ranging from gloom, evilness, backwardness, cruelty, death or suffering.



Visual arts

As a painting technique

Artists use darkness to emphasize and contrast with light. Darkness can be used as a counterpoint to areas of lightness to create leading lines and voids. Such shapes draw the eye around areas of the painting. Shadows add depth and perspective to a painting. See chiaroscuro for a discussion of the uses of such contrasts in visual media.

Color paints are mixed together to create darkness, because each color absorbs certain frequencies of light. Theoretically, mixing together the three primary colors, or the three secondary colors, will absorb all visible light and create black. In practice it is difficult to prevent the mixture from taking on a brown tint.

As subject matter

Primarily a product of the 20th century, dark art is an art style defined as that being "dark" or unsettling in nature. Called and classified under many names such as gothic, horror, metaphysical, nightmarish, and disturbing, it is actually a culmination of techniques and styles. It has been presented in many forms by many artists, illustrators and film-makers. It continues to grow in popularity as a part of the horror genre and gothic, music and publishing culture. Today, it a part of our mainstream culture, crossing over into multiple mediums including advertising, television, film, and marketing. While it has roots in horror, it has been presented in collage, surrealism, abstract, motion graphics, grunge, expressionism, and largely digital art.


light and darkness

As a poetic term in the Western world, darkness is used to connote the presence of shadows, evil, and foreboding.

The first day of the biblical creation narrative begins with darkness, into which is introduced the creation of light, and the separation of this light from the darkness (as distinct from the creation of the sun and moon on the fourth day of creation). Thus, although both light and darkness are included in the comprehensive works of the almighty God — darkness was considered "the second to last plague" (Exodus 10:21), and the location of "weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:12)

The Qur’an has been interpreted to say that those who transgress the bounds of what is right are doomed to “burning despair and ice-cold darkness.” (Nab 78.25)

In Chinese philosophy Yin is the complementary feminine part of the Taijitu and is represented by a dark lobe.

The use of darkness as a rhetorical device has a long standing tradition. Shakespeare, working in the 16th and 17th centuries, made a character called the "prince of darkness" (King Lear: III, iv) and gave darkness jaws with which to devour love. (A Midsummer Night’s Dream: I, i) Chaucer, a 14th-century Middle English writer, wrote that knights must cast away the “workes of darkness.” Dante described hell as “solid darkness stain’d.”

In Old English there were three words that could mean darkness: heolstor, genip, and sceadu. Heolstor also meant “hiding-place” and became holster. Genip meant “mist” and fell out of use like many strong verbs. It is however still used in the Dutch saying "in het geniep" which means secretly. Sceadu meant “shadow” and remained in use. The word dark eventually evolved from the word deorc.

As a metaphor

Dark culture

human nature

A fascination with dark culture and the dark side of human nature is evident in descriptions of innate cruelty, psychopaths and in accounts of true crime. In this sense, dark culture parallels horror.

An interest in dark culture began for the first time consciously by the Decadent movement. Paul Verlaine wrote in Les poètes maudits at the end of the nineteenth century that he loved "this word decadence, all shimmering in purple and gold. It suggests the subtle thoughts of ultimate civilization, a high literary culture, a soul capable of intense pleasures. It throws off bursts of fire and the sparkle of precious stones. It is redolent of the rouge of courtesans, the games of the circus, the panting of the gladiators, the spring of wild beasts, the consuming in flames of races exhausted by their capacity for sensation, as the tramp of an invading army sounds."

The interest in dark culture is continued in present times. American cultural critic Mark Dery's describes his preference as :"Aesthetically ... I'm interested in the unlit, unfrequented corners of society, the nethermost regions of the self: freaks, forensic pathology, true crime, conspiracy theory, cannibalism, madness, medical museums, Art Brut, weird science, sexual deviance, soft tissue modification (by tribal peoples and postmodern primitives), creature features, alien abductions, insects, Situationism, Surrealism, science fiction, the gothic, the grotesque, the carnivalesque -- in short, extremes and excess of every sort. I want to induce, in my reader, the vertigo that comes from leaning too far over the edge of the cultural abyss." [1]

Dark Ages

Dark Ages (historiography)

Films and novels often use the term "Dark Age" with its implied meaning of a time of backwardness. For instance, the popular movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail humorously portrays knights and chivalry, following in a tradition begun with Don Quixote. The 2007 television show The Dark Ages from The History Channel called the Dark Ages "600 years of degenerate, godless, inhuman behavior".

Dark Romanticism

Dark Romanticism

Dark romanticism is a literary subgenre that emerged from Romanticism popular in nineteenth-century Europe and the United States. Key writers of the darker strains of Romanticism include E. T. A. Hoffmann in Germany, Lord Byron in England, Edgar Allan Poe in the United States and Charles Baudelaire in France.

Dark Romanticism is connected to the gothic novel. The 'gothic' sensibility flourished in most European literatures. Every European country had its own terminology to denote the sensibility of the gothic novel. In France it was called the roman noir ("black novel", in Germany it was called the Schauerroman ("shudder novel"). Italy and Spain must have had their own, but I am unaware of their names as of yet. In nineteenth century France there also flourished a literature of horror on a par with the English Gothic novel or the German Schauerroman. It was christened 'le roman frénétique'.

Black comedy

black comedy

Black comedy, also known as black humor is a sub-genre of comedy and satire where topics and events that are usually treated seriously — death, mass murder, suicide, sickness, madness, terror, drug abuse, rape, war, etc. — are treated in a humorous or satirical manner. Synonyms include dark humor, morbid humor, gallows humor and off-color humor. A seminal anthology in this category is Anthology of Black Humor (1940) by André Breton.

See also

Related terms

black - hidden - night - obscure - occult

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