Exercise 5 Finding out more
Find two examples of still life work which includes fish and in each case note the title, artist and date. Make a quick sketch of the pieces.
‘Mackerel on a Plate’, William Scott, 1951-2
‘Still life with Fish; Nature Morte aux Poissons’, Bernard Buffet, 1954
Notes on the Khan Academy discussion of Damien Hirst’s The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living:
- The importance of the title to the piece. Maybe more important than the piece itself? Without the title, what would we think of the shark if it were placed in a natural history museum?
- Real shark killed and suspended in formaldehyde.
- “When artists make things in the 20th and 21st century, they’re more open to interpretation than art in the Renaissance.” The public plays a big role in interpreting a piece and giving it meaning.
- The fact that it is decaying gives it another layer of interpretation for some people. But probably not the artist’s intention, as the formaldehyde is something used to preserve permanently.
- “…art for its entire history has tried to transcend human death.”
- Interaction between a concept (title) and something physical (shark).
- Contrast between traditional art (focus on aesthetics and hand-made creations) versus contemporary art (focus on concept and philosophical questions).
- “…in art now, almost nothing is off limits.”
I understand the point of view of the speakers, as to how the combination of the title and the shark combine to create a successful philosophical artwork. However, I am still very skeptical towards modern art precisely because of this. I still believe that the intention of an artist or the philosophical questions a piece might present alone are not enough to deem something as art.
I understand that Hirst’s shark presents you with questions about death and mortality, but I can also think of those questions by seeing a dying flower, reading poetry, thinking about my late grandparents, trying to understand religion, or even by a dead shark washed up on a beach.
What impresses me the most in art is that it shows me how different artists have seen and interpreted the world around them, what their opinions, priorities and thoughts are all about as well as their connection with history and culture, all backed up with solid techniques and aesthetics (e.g. Hokusai, Diego Rivera, Goya, Lempicka). In contrast, I feel that many examples of contemporary art are trying to teach me how and what to think about without backing their messages without successful illustrative techniques. I am trying very hard to understand it with an open mind (it is very difficult).