Death and Art (and David Bowie)

Inspiration: the things we make (games, writing, music, digital art, or whatever your personal medium may be) are affected not only by our lives, but by other people.

Last year, I grieved the deaths of several people whose art and life inspired me, including (but not limited to) Leonard Nimoy, Robin Williams, and Terry Pratchett. And today, my voice is one among millions grieving for David Bowie.

But this isn’t really about David Bowie. This is about death and grief and inspiration and creation. Because death is a universal experience, and grieving our dead is a universal experience, and it happens again, and again, and again.

One of the things that moves me most today is all the people sharing art – not just Bowie’s music and videos, but all the pieces of art he inspired during his life. And I think of That Dragon, Cancer , created to remember Joel Green, and I think of the visible influence of Rebecca Meyer in Ferrett Steinmetz’s Flux, and I remember working on the Halcyon Hills memorial in GemStone IV, created to honor Karen Hillyer (GM Aelsidhe) among others.

And I think of Paul Allen Panks, who was simultaneously one of the most prolific game authors and one of the most notorious trolls in He died unexpectedly at age 32, and, given his erratic behavior, people initially questioned whether his death might be a prank. Grief was perhaps not the right word – but his death hardly went unnoticed. We talked about him and we looked at his games and we reread his posts because we wanted to understand him. We wanted to figure out what his life had meant to us, now that it was over.

When someone dies, we say: Here is what we made. Here is who this person was to us, what they meant to us, what we want to show you. And we pass around what they made, and what we made, and what other people made, so people will see and understand.

We build circles of expression and self-expression. We communicate with art. And this, too, is a universal experience.

I have Spotify’s “This Is: David Bowie” playlist running as I write this. I can see my friends are listening, too. And we’re putting on sparkle makeup, and passing screenshots from Labyrinth around, and booting up “Ziggy Stardust” on Rock Band. It’s grief and celebration all in one.

And after today, people will make new art about Bowie. Some of it will be about his death and some about his life, and some will be personal and some will be impersonal, and some will be obvious and some will be subtle, and some will be heartfelt and some will be mercenary, and it will all be part of his legacy.

RIP David Bowie. And someday, all of us.

bowie prince jenn

(Image by Jen Lewis.)

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  1. I wasn’t really active in the IF community at that time, but in reading the posting on Textfiles and the subsequent comments, it doesn’t sound like Paul was a troll. He may have been socially inept, but I don’t think he was willfully trying to bait people into arguments. But perhaps others have a more accurate view on his behavior.

    • It can be very hard to tell the difference between trolls and sincere people whose actions and assertions are completely at odds with the community (for whatever reason). Panks was certainly at odds with the community he participated in, and regardless of whether he was actually trolling or not, he was often perceived and treated as if he was.

      These days, I think he probably wasn’t. But death has a way of softening all the edges. I’m not sure what I thought at the time.

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