Category Archives: Project 1 – Art and ideas

About Hurst’s piece ‘the physical impossibility of death in the mind of someone living…


Listening to the Khan academy discussion about the shark in formaldehyde, ideas of death  are exchanged, looking back at the centuries of art which deals with morality, transcendence, and the afterlife, using Millais’ Ophelia as an example.  Her listless body floating peacefully.

Time is not only relevant within the inevitability of death, but also in the living.  The perimeters of art, and what is considered art, has changed drastically over the century. Duchamp’s words were quoted “A work of Art is completed by its viewer”.  How differently would Hurst’s work be interpreted in the past, and once the shark decays for the second time, will it be viewed differently in the future, or will he have to make another one, and another?  Did Hurst intend on portraying the impermanence of Art?  Was this a mistake, or happy coincidence? Perhaps a way to contemplate the fact that you cannot stop time, no matter how hard you try.

Death and decay in life and in Art are inevitable, even with the help of science.


Ex. 5 – Finding out more /p.1

‘Nature Morte’dscf0024
Drawing of Gustave Courbet, The Trout, 1871
Drawing of Jacob Gillig, Freshwater Fish, 1684

When considering contemporary art, you have to understand art history.  This is true about Damian Hurst’ work, where he incorporates death into many of his pieces.

Momento mori and Nature morte have been common themes over the centuries.  Many artists used still life to depict this idea.  Here are two artists who use dead fish in their paintings; Gustave Courbet, and Jacob Gillig.

I was intrigued by the first painting, The Trout, when I came across a quote from Robert Hughes:

A Gustave Portrait of a trout has more death in it than Ruben could get in a whole crucifixion

The momentum of the fish laying still on the cold rocks depict a certain coldness.

The other painting I chose to draw was Jacob Gillig’s Freshwater Fish.  I loved the fluidity of the composition, which is in the form of a pyramid. The bend of the fish’s body snaked into each other, like a line of energy, with a centerpoint of a line to direct it downwards.

I never thought to sketch art pieces, but it does make you look closer at each detail, as perhaps the artists did.


Ex. 4 – Looking at context

Damian Hirst’s  – The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of someone living, 1990.

I remember seeing this piece, alongside many others, at the a Tate modern exhibition quite a few years ago now. There were so many animals in formaldehyde, I did not know what to make of it. Clever, I thought, perhaps innovative, and certainly well displayed. But what of death and decay. It was confusing seeing an animal fully intact, but dead. Often you see taxidermy, but they are so obviously dead.  This was different, it was real.

I feel torn by this piece, both emotionally and spiritually.  Death is so final, yet it feels like perhaps it doesn’t have to be.  The impermanence of life.  It’s sad, but beautiful at the same time, that such vitality of a creature can remain, although dead.

I think this piece is about our perception of death,a very hard concept to realize. It entices all sorts of emotions, whether you have lost someone close, or you love animals, and feel sorry that they have died, especially in the name of art ( I don’t know if that’s the case).  Is there a greater purpose, or just science.  The preserving of this animals bring up other ideas of trying to stop time, and decay, or in human’s, getting older.

The title hits me hard.  It hasn’t been a month since I watched my mother in law die. Her body so cold like stone, with no more life force inside. So still, yet you can’t help but think you’d see her chest move, or feel like adding more blankets.  Last week I found my cat dead on my doorstep, she ingested rat poison. Her normal pliable body lay completely stiff as a board, but strangely still warm, because of the heat of the morning.  These two images are embedded in my mind, the way we see death in our own life.

Edwaert Collier – Still Life with a volume of Wither’s ‘Emblemes’, 1696

When looking at this painting the first word that comes into my mind is “altar”.  An alter which represents someones life, loves, passions, joys, and treasures.  The contrast of light on the forefront of this painting illuminates the presence, as the dark sinister background, with the skull, shadows over.

It makes me feel quite joyful, a life well lived, with many pleasures of life, fortunate to behold. The richness of the colours and use of texture, especially the suppleness of the tablecloth, the reflection of light in the gloss of the wood, and the shiny grapes and metal, make it look for life-like.

I thing this painting, again, is looking at the inevitability of death, but at the same time is celebrating life.

The word emblems in the title refers, I suppose to the symbols in the painting. You cannot take these material objects with you to the afterlife, only in life can you hold such pleasures.


Ex.3 – Reading about art

Reading through the excerpts of Art History: The Basics, clarified some doubts I’ve had about contemporary art.  The idea of the Hans Christian Anderson story about the “Emperor’s New Clothes” which were indeed non-existent, but we’re said to be invisible only to those who were unfit, or stupid.  No one was brave enough to say he was naked, save a small child.  It feels like the art world is trying to tricks us, sometimes, into believing or seeing something that doesn’t exist.

Looking back on what I thought art was, I do like Gombrich’s explanation.

“There really is no such thing as art. There are only artists”

The external world doesn’t get a say as to what is art, but an artist does.  Artist are then supported by an institution of art.

I’ve started a glossary of new term which I will add to throughout this course,

You can see it here : Modern Art Terms

Ex.2 – What is art?


What is Art?

Art is primary found in Museums or galleries curated by trained professionals, but there are sub categories such as street art, which is reached by a larger demographic of the population.  Artist live their life around their chosen creation, it’s not only about what is produced, but who has produced it, the history, and meaning.

How do we know what is Art?

I don’t know what is art, unless someone who is training in the art world tells me so.  I don’t feel as though I have the education to decide this questions.  There is so much imagery on social media especially, it is quick and easy to create these days, with so many tools available.  For me an artist should be well established in the ‘art world’ with years of dedication.  It’s not enough for someone with no experience to take a pictures, or paint a picture and call it art.

Craft is another question. There are artisans, of course, carpenters, weavers, and glass blowers, but primarily they are shown how to copy, and unless it’s unique, I don’t believe it is art.

Who decides what is Art?

I suppose trained professionals, such as art teachers, curators, and art critics.

Is it enough to just to display a found object and say ‘this is art’ because it’s in an art gallery?

I guess this depends on who you are.  If you are an established artist, with years of experience, proven to created master pieces, with a good story to match, then yes.  I remember seeing an exhibition at the Tate, it was made of discarded clothes and objects. It made you look at the throw away culture in which we are all apart of.

Duchamp said he wanted “to put art back in the service of the mind”. What do you think he meant by this?

Honestly I have no idea what he meant.  I can guess that he wanted to simplify the idea of art, making it available to everyone.

Is technical skill an important quality in an artwork?

This is one of the most important questions for me.  Yes. Yes, I honestly believe that to become an artist you should have explored as many realms as possible through creative investigation, curiosity, and passion.  How do you know what is possible if you haven’t tried and failed, learnt, and discovered.  I do not like the idea of ‘studio assistants’ but do understand why they exist.  I was totally dismayed when I found out the Grayson Perry doesn’t make a lot of his pots, and that the tapestry was created a team of weavers.  For me it’s the hours that make a work, work.  It’s the preparation, and planning, the journey.

Do you think art needs to be emotional?

Yes.  It needs to make you feel something, even if it’s betrayal to what you expect art should be.

Does art have to be unique?

I’m not sure if it’s possible for art to be purely unique.  I think all art is digested, or regurgitated, with vague similarities to an original.  We are bombarded with so much imagery, it’s hard to know if our ideas and even our own anymore.


Duchamp’s Fountain in a few words

“Anything can be art, if it’s in an art gallery.”

I suppose Marcel Duchamp’s porcelain urinal was quite shocking in the 1950’s, I’m not sure it would have the same effect today.  I find it beautiful, because it is old, and hand-made, and probably couldn’t be replicated today, because those pottery skills have been lost.

Postmodern art is about asking what can be art, and I suppose it started here. Everyday items hold meaning, and can be conceptualized, by using  the correct art vocabulary.

Carl Andre’s work, the Equivalent VIII, 1978, questions the same idea of everyday object holding different meanings when situated in a gallery/museum setting, instead of a urinal, Andre uses bricks.

I believe it’s important to ask all questions, and feel all emotions when looking at art, even if it’s confusion resulting in frustration, and potentially anger.