2. Part One - Contemporary Art · 2.a. Project 1: Art and Ideas

Exercise 4 – Looking at Context

Damien Hurst’s ‘The Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’

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  • Write down a few words giving your first reaction to the piece
    Sadness, fascination, wonderment
  • Do you have an emotional response to it?
    Firstly I feel sad. Sad that the shark is dead. Then I feel slightly fearful. I wonder if the shark was killed specifically for this piece. But the more I look at it, I feel fascinated and awed. I want to look at it closer and properly examine the shark. So yes, I would say I do have an emotional response and quite a conflicting one at that.
  • What do you think it’s about?
    Honestly, when I first saw this piece I didn’t get it. My answer to this question would have been ‘nothing’. But looking at it a little more and thinking about the title and my response to it, I think, I do now. This is a shark, a predator, poised to attack. At first I thought it was about looking at thing we fear, how to see a shark like this in the wild would be like staring death in the face. But having it suspended in time, having the opportunity to closely examine it, fear, death, makes way for the potential beauty there. But when I thought about the piece along side the title, that doesn’t make sense. But I felt I was on the right track. Then I looked once more at the title, ‘The Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’ and I think this piece explains exactly that. Being stood at the sharks head, having it coming towards you, to kill you, that’s death. We all know it’s coming for us, we can sometimes see it coming for us (taking loved ones, terrible deaths the we hear about on the news) but we still feel that detachment, like it won’t happen to us. Like the box the shark is in, e can see death heading right for us but it can’t quite reach us. That understanding of death can’t quite be comprehended in our minds. We’re protected by the box. It’s still scary but because we are still alive, we just can’t quite imagine death.
  • What do you think about the title?
    Again, at first I thought it was just a pretentious, ‘arty’ title. But the more I look at it the more it made sense with the piece.

Edwaert Collier’s ‘Still life with a Volume of Wither’s Emblemes’

Tate; (c) Tate; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

  • Write down a few words giving your first reaction to the piece
    Overwhelmed, listless, dull
  • Do you have an emotional response to it?
    Not really. There is a lot to take in on this painting. A lot of little details which you notice the more you look at it which I like and the painting itself is really well done. The attention to detail and the flow of light and shadow make it feel almost like a photo than a painting but I just find the image dull. The colours are very dark and depressing, although it probably fits with the time it was painted, and for all it’s full of beautiful objects, I find myself not lingering too long.
  • What do you think it’s about?
    At first I thought it was just Frippery, but I ended up Googling George Wither and found the book from the painting, ‘The emblem book’ and read that George Wither had written verses to go with the illustrations, so I wonder if this is supposed to be s collection of George Wither’s possessions. His very own ’emblems’, maybe the items are things he enjoyed most in life.
  • What do you think about the title?
    I think the title is a bit of word play which is very clever. The use of the word ‘volume’ like a volume of a book but also volume as in amount or collection and if this is a picture of George’s possessions, life works nor just life passions, referring to them as ’emblems’ like his famous book is a nice term for them and enraptures his most famous works.
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