Art can be characterized as possessing aesthetics as one aspect, technical and theoretical aspects as another. The latter include literature, visual arts, graphic arts, and performing arts and are not limited to a single creative field. For years, horror has been a genre that is vastly seen in art. And even after decades of changes and innovations in the art field, horror still flourishes and seems to be getting attention from the majority. And what is the reason behind this curiosity and eagerness towards horror in art?‌ 

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Art work by Sarah Sitkin_©Sarah Sitkin

The Nature of Horror

An individual is exposed to various aspects of horror from an early age. This discovery could be through a piece of art or a film their family accidentally watched. Whatever the cause, horror as a genre is a guest that you were not expecting but somehow starts living with you despite your inconvenience. The roots of horror go back through centuries, but also it has its modern perceptions. There is a lot of play with an imagination that converts fears and the unknown into art forms. Thus, offering a dark and twisted but memorable experience to the audience. 

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The scream_©Edvard Munch

Throughout history, many artists have used horror as a medium to create spellbinding scariest masterpieces. While some art pieces are entirely for horror and scare factors, others are meant to provide symbolism. These include mortality, otherworldly and everyday life with conflicts. Of Course, all this discussion would lead to the highlight of this topic. What exactly is horror?

Horror as an Aesthetic in Art

Horror revolves around exploring your deepest fear. It is when you see or feel something graphically uncertain and unexplainable. It brings out the emotional and psychological response to a situation. For nearly a decade and a half, perhaps especially in America, horror has flourished as a major source of mass aesthetic stimulation (Carroll, 1987). This is evident from timeless pieces of art and works in literature that still have millions of fans worldwide. Alternatively, horror can be considered an art that forms an unease in the viewer and strikes as a temptation in a very unusual way.

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While horror could appear grotesque and gory most of the time, it could also be sublime and subdued. One of the famous artworks that could explain this is the ‘skull of a skeleton with burning cigarette’ by Van Gogh. At first sight, this early work of Van Gogh might not seem eerie. It was initially made as a piece to be humorous. But if you take this art in today’s context, it could foreshadow a lot of meanings. This uncertainty itself could evoke a creepiness in the audience but very indirectly. 

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Head of a Skeleton with a Burning Cigarette _©Vincent van Gogh

Horror Art for Adrenaline Rush

In order to avoid misunderstanding, it is necessary to emphasize that by “art horror,” we are referring narrowly to the effects of a specific genre (Carroll, 1987). Horror is essential in all art forms because it has always been with us. From telling fairy tales to children to night camp stories, every incident is filled with horror elements. Therefore, it is only normal to find these in the various forms of art to express different emotions and feelings. It is an artistic expression that can be easily captured by the artists and could always be relatable to the people. 

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Art work by Sarah Sitkin_©Sarah Sitkin

The main factor involving horror in art is that it leaves a question in your mind. And this question and your curiosity stay with you, maybe for hours, days, and even years. In short, it always stays in the core of your mind and doesn’t settle. These narrative aspects and unsettledness of this type of art pave the way for an adrenaline rush. Hence, it can be said that people find horror in art as a way of escapism and coping. This brings out a weird conclusion of why horror art is popular. But also, what else explains the love and attention the horror genre receives in the world of art? 

Significance of Horror in Art

When horror in art and horror in a film is compared, there are no external factors to stimulate your feeling in art. In cinema, there are soundtracks and building of suspense to make the audience jump off their chairs. But when you consider an art piece, there is only an image with no explanation or conclusion. The meaning of the horror element depends on the people and their perceptions. But the significance of horror in the art can be seen in many prominent works of literature and artworks. 

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Art work by Sarah Sitkin_©Sarah Sitkin

One example is the ‘picture of Dorian Gray’ made by artist Ivan Albright in 1943. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde is an essential work of fiction consumed by even today’s generation. The tale is about a man who sells his soul to keep his youth forever. Therefore, this tale depicting caution and mortality brings a dreadful aspect of a man’s greed and corruption. 

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Picture of Dorian Gray by Ivan Albright _©The Art Institute of Chicago

But if we have to talk about art from a grotesque aspect, then ‘Saturn devouring his son’ by Francisco Goya is a great example. This particular piece of art was made in the 1800s and is terrifying. Of Course, there is nothing more gruesome than art where a man eats a child. Nevertheless, this art depicts the famous myth of Saturn consuming his children to prevent his forthcoming doom. 

Saturn devouring his son _©Francisco Goya


Fear and terror are often ruled out as terms that bring out negative emotions in humans. However, the psychology behind horror in art explains fear as an essential element. People constantly acquire it, and it might even be considered a pleasurable experience. Art can move and inspire people in many ways. Horror in art not only depicts meaningful symbolism but could also be used to represent societal issues. There is no limit to how horror can be perceived in art forms, which defines its importance in art. After all, who would have lived a life without experiencing dread from a scary art? 

  1. Carroll, N. (1987). The Nature of Horror. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, [online] 46(1), pp.51–59. doi:
  2. DeGiorgio, J. (2018). 10 of the world’s creepiest paintings. [online] Musement Blog. Available at: [Accessed 22 Oct. 2022].
  3. Park, M. (2018). The Aesthetics and Psychology Behind Horror Films. [online] Available at:

Apart from being immersed in books and fictional worlds, you can find Akshaya being engrossed in the world of literature, art, and architecture. As a graduate of architecture with a deep passion for writing, she aims to merge the worlds of creativity and create fresh ideas to implement in her works.