Megalithic art has often been treated as a unitary phenomenon, related to the spread of farming across Western Europe. This approach does not do justice to the very different ways in which tomb decoration was employed by particular communities. This article focuses on the megalithic art of Orkney, much of it recorded for the first time during a recent field survey. This is normally interpreted as a local variant of the style of ‘art’ found in Neolithic Ireland, but on close examination it has much stronger links with the abstract motifs found in local settlements. Whereas the megalithic art of Ireland may have celebrated the passage of the dead to another world, in Orkney it was used to emphasize their continued involvement in the affairs of the living.