Something more goes to the composition of a fine murder than two blockheads to kill and be killed, a knife, a purse, and a dark lane. Design, grouping, light and shade, poetry, and sentiment are indispensable to the ideal murder. Like Aeschylus or Milton in poetry, like Michelangelo in painting, a great murderer carries his art to a colossal sublimity.
Thomas De Quincey
“On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts”
Titian, Rubens, and Van Dyke, it is said, always practiced their art in full dress.
The artist of death had similarly prepared himself. Dressed in evening clothes, he sat for two hours staring at a wall, focusing his sensations. When darkness cast shadows through a curtained window, he lit an oil lamp and put the equivalent of brushes, paint, and canvas into a black leather bag.
Far from being tedious, the attention to detail was pleasurable, as was the opportunity to reflect upon the great composition ahead.
Does a great work of art require a great subject? Does the murder of a queen create a grander impact than that of a common person? No. The goal of the art of murder is pity and terror. No one pities a murdered queen or prime minister or man of wealth. The immediate emotion is one of disbelief that even the powerful are not immune to mortal blows. But shock does not linger whereas the sorrow of pity does.
Pity. Tears. Those were the requirements for fine art.
The artist swung the mallet. His arm was muscular. The mallet had a broad striking surface. It rushed through the air and struck the shopkeeper’s skull. The force of the blow made a dull cracking sound, comparable to when a pane of ice is broken.
As the shopkeeper groaned and sank, the artist struck again, this time aiming downward toward the slumping body, the mallet hitting the top of his head. Now the sound was liquid.
The overhead lantern seemed to brighten.
A fine art.
He established a presence at the music hall, pretending to be just another theatergoer who wanted mellower entertainment after the bloody climax of The Corsican Brothers. Then he hired a final cab and went home, wondering if Titian, Rubens, and Van Dyke had ever felt as satisfied by their fine art as he did.
Murder as a Fine Art
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