Project 1: Exercise 5 – Finding out more

‘Nature morte’

I used the on-line Bridgeman Education Library to find images relating to the theme, and I searched for images using the phrase Nature Morte. I found a vast selection of mostly paintings on the theme and was surprised how many of them featured fish as a part of their arrangement.

Chosen examples:

‘Still Life with Mackerel, pumpkin and bread’, Claesz Pieter, date unknown’

‘Still Life, 1731-33 oil on canvas, Chardin, Jean – Baptiste Simeon’ 

Sketches of the original paintings:

My sketch of 'Still life' by Chardin, Jean-Baptiste Simeon.

My sketch of ‘Still life’ by Chardin, Jean-Baptiste Simeon.

My Sketch of 'Still Life with Mackerel, Pumpkin and bread' original by Claesz, Pieter, 1597-1660.

My Sketch of ‘Still Life with Mackerel, Pumpkin and bread’ original by Claesz, Pieter, 1597-1660.


Khan Academy Video about Damien Hirsts piece:

The Piece

The title – The title helps you as viewer see it as art rather than an creature which could be placed in the natural history museum.

Represents art that’s open to interpretation. We bring our own association’s to it.

Facing death on multiple points – the shark could kill you, but the shark is dead, are we facing our fear of the shark or fear of death.

Area’s open to interpretation:

Does it matter what the artist intention was?

Formaldehyde – struggle to keep the shark intact. Is this a nod towards us as people not being able to hold onto youth, beauty, life forever.

He could’ve chosen to represent the shark i.e. paint it but he brought it as a physical, flesh based thing. So you’re faced with the creature decaying before you.

Hirsts other works:

Other animals used – sheep’s cut in half and in a smaller tank.

There are multiple versions of the shark as the original shark dissolved – does this dilute it’s value or just serve to reinforce the title and the notion of time being a force we wrestle with?

References to other artists whose work is concerned with mortality

Duchamp – ‘a work of art is completed by the viewer’

Modern art concerned with philosophy – sometimes can make the viewer feel like they’re being teased or part of a grand joke?

References to ‘time’

Art as ‘trans-generational’ . Mummification as an ancient form of trying to preserve or stop time. Use of chemicals and plastic surgery – all an attempt to delay affects of time.

History of art – artists across time have sought to come to terms with mortality or transcending or the afterlife. Shows image of ‘ophelia’ painting.


Has the contextual information about ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’ altered my view or response to it in any way? 

Hearing the discussion in the Khan academy video certainly helped me gather my thoughts and consider what had I brought as a personal interpretation to the piece.  It helped me feel like the piece was open to interpretation more than perhaps I had realised initially.

Having a broader sense of the world context i.e. time and place that the piece was brought into and a sense of the history of artists having grappled with the subject of ‘mortality’ perhaps makes the piece seem less shocking or obscure. So in that way it helps to me consider the piece as more than just a work of shock tactics. I still wouldn’t want the piece in my living room!

I think it’s also worth noting that after that video I still had significant gaps in my understanding of Hirst as an artist. These gaps I think meant that I couldn’t place the piece in any context of his work or him as a person. The guardian article below provides a lot of contextual information and certainly opens up the piece further.

Damien Hirst Review in the Guardian by Adrian Searle, April 2012

I also found this series of images from the Tate Retrospective on Damien Hirst in 2012 helpful, just to get a semi-realistic view of a selection of his work. Interestingly enough I think the Shark isn’t the stand out or most shocking piece when it sits alongside all the other art works. I think context, particularly stripping back some of the context when you have such a big name might be helpful if the aim is for the viewer just to consider what they see before their eyes.

In Pictures: Tate retrospective of Damien Hirsts work in September 2012

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