Exercise 5 – Finding out more

Exercise 5 asks first to find two still life examples including fish and make quick sketches of them, and second to gain some more contextual information about Damien Hirst’s piece The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living.

Example 1

Author: Claude Venard (French 1913-1999)

Title: Still Life

Date: 1955-6


Still Life 1955-6 by Claude Venard 1913-1999

Fig. 1


Sketch 1


Example 2

Author: Gino Severini (Italian, 1883-1966)

Title: Natura morta con ruderi e pesci (Still life with ruins and fish)

Date: 1930




Fig. 2


Sketch 2

Both sketches were made on my Ipad using Art Rage application. This is my first try with this app and I must say that the use of tools is very natural. I don’t like much the Ipad hard glass surface for drawing but it’s a convenient app to use when travelling like I am doing.


Conversation about Damien Hirst’s piece on Khan Academy website

I very much enjoyed listening to this conversation and I think that many interesting points were touched upon.

– The title in itself is perhaps a work of art, even detached from the real piece. This is important because it underlines the conceptual aspect of this work, even though the strong physicality of Hirst’s shark does not really allow for a pure conceptual reading of it: and this piece is at the same time conceptual and brutally real. There is a sort of clash between the concept and the physical piece.

– The theme of the inevitability of death runs through art history, all art is ‘in many ways … a coming to terms with mortality’. And this work is a contemporary response to this theme. Vanitas paintings are an example of such type of art.

– Contemporary art is more open to interpretation than art in the Renaissance and the viewer contributes with his ideas and emotions to the meaning of it like first underlined by Duchamp.

– This is a second version of the original shark in formaldehyde realized in 1991 which decayed and was replaced in 2006. It’s open to question if the artist intended it to be so or if dissolution was not designed. Or maybe the artist was well aware that decay can be only posponed and he was just trying to do that, as ancient Egyptians with mummies or all of us when we fight against aging and death with all possible means.

– Much modern art is conceptual and philosophical in its essence, rather than being an aesthetic and formal experience, at the point that today traditional museums might be replaced by museums of philosophy.

This conversation has deepened my first understanding of the piece but along the same direction. What it really makes me think is how open to questions pieces of art like these are and how they can evolve and change in our minds if we consider their different facets and possible meanings. Contemporary art looks ambiguous in its interpretation and never really ended but I am wondering if perhaps also in the past it might have been so on different levels. After all, living in Rome I am surrounded by Baroque art that seems very complex indeed and layered too.

Lastly I read the Damien Hirst review by Adrian Searle for the Guardian and it added to the feeling of almost mind-boggling ambiguity of intentions. The review was written in 2012 on the occasion of Hirst’s exhibition at the Tate and it raises many questions about Hirst and his art: to which extent is it really innovative, and if it was innovative at the start is it still so or is now mosly business-driven. I have the feeling that also on these points is difficult to reach a final answer. Perhaps only time will tell!

List of illustrations

Figure 1 Venard, Claude Still life (1955-6) [oil painting] At: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/venard-still-life-t00256 (Accessed on 06/08/16)

Figure 2 Severini, Gino Natura morta con ruderi e pesci (1930) [tempera on cardboard] At: http://pinacotecafaenza.racine.ra.it/stampa/vallunga/vallunga.htm (Accessed on 06/08/16)



Sal Khan, Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker, Damien Hirst, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, in Smarthistory, December 8, 2015, At: http://smarthistory.org/damien-hirst-the-physical-impossibility-of-death-in-the-mind-of-someone-living/ (Accessed 06/08/16)

Searle, Adrian (2012) ‘Damien Hirst – review.’ In: The Guardian [online] At: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2012/apr/02/damien-hirst-tate-review (Accessed 06/08/16)


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