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Dissertation : Abramovic/hirst. Rechercher de 50 000+ Dissertation Gratuites et Mémoires

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An examination of contemporary art through the works of Damien Hirst and Marina Abramovic

(Examining Metaphysical Questions about Death)

Extended Essay

Visual Arts


Marina Abramovic and Damien Hirst are part of the contemporary art movement, and through their works they explore what can be classified as metaphysical questions, such as the meaning of death. The exploration of the artists’ works is analysed by their approaches and views on matters that humans (consciously and unconsciously) try to grapple with on a daily basis. This extended essay keeps focus on the role of contemporary art in today’s society, as well as the mediums and structures that it contains and respects.  

The arrays of Abramovic’s works we will treat are the following: Rhythm 0 and Rest Energy. The exanimated works of Damien Hirst are: For the Love of God and The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living.

Hence, the investigated research question is: « An investigation of contemporary art through the works of Damien Hirst and Marina Abramovic ».

The pieces bring up questions such as “Can we cheat death?” “Is it possible someday to live forever or to preserve a body and bring it back to life? How close are we to death on a daily basis” etc. Having examined those four works, I can conclude that contemporary art is about a psychological- rather than a physical aspect. This art movement tends to ignore classical, traditionally superficial beauty and tends to value simplicity. To support the conclusion, the meaning and impact of beauty and aesthetics throughout the history of art will serve as a guide.

The most helpful and important sources I have used and relied on throughout my essay were museum guides and notes I’ve taken at the Louvre and the Centre Pompidou in Paris, at the Tate Modern and Tate Britain in London, the MOMA and the AMNH in New York and Buffalo Museum of Science in Buffalo, NY.

Table of Contents

Abstract        2

Introduction        4

Art and Beauty        5

A New Chapter / Mindset        6

Mediums, Styles And Forms         7

Marina Abramovic Rhythm 0        7

Marina Abramovic & Ulay Rest Energy        8

Damien Hirst For The Love Of God        9

Damien Hirst The Impossibilidy Of Death In The Mind Of Someone Living        10

Comparison of Both Artists        11

Conclusion        12

Bibliography        14


Standing in front of a contemporary Andy Warhol piece at the “Hamburger Bahnhof” in Berlin, I couldn’t help but notice people saying things such as, “I could do that too” and “How is this considered art?” At the souvenir shop at the Tate Modern in London, I even encountered a book titled “Why your five year old child could not have done that. – Modern Art explained” which confirms that contemporary art has become an actual issue in the 21st century. Indeed, that question comes to my mind when looking at Duchamp’s “Fontaine”, a “readymade” urinal, which raised similar questions when it was first presented in 1917. It motivates the question as to what makes art to be considered art? Then again, what is contemporary art about? Therefore my research question is: “An investigation of contemporary art through the works of Damien Hirst and Marina Abramovic.” [pic 1]

Specifically concentrating on contemporary artists such as Marina Abramovic and Damien Hirst allow an in depth-analysis of the examination of the artists and their works, which behold metaphysical topics such as death. By concentrating on the matter of death I can fully explore those questions, as well as the existential crisis in the life of a human surrounded by technological and scientific progress.

Exploring and explaining the former beauty standards that have marked the history of art will serve as a guide to support the main explorations on Abramovic and Hirst as well as to show how contemporary art differs from other art movements. This will allow understanding as to why a new way of thinking is required in order to decode contemporary art. Then, both artists will be compared and finally, I will be able to draw a conclusion from the different explorations I made.


Throughout the history of art, artists have been pursuing beauty and perfection in their works.

The ancient Egyptians counted as one of the most admired artists of the past. The perfectly executed preservation of the dead was part of their culture and beliefs. Mummifying corpses took various steps, always done in order and with precision. While visiting the famous “Mummies Of The World” exhibition in New York, I found that every Egyptian mummy was presented as truly special, exclusive and as superficially satisfying as possible.

By copying from the Egyptians, the Greek perfected the art of sculpture. To achieve idealized human body characteristics they relied on measurements and mathematical formulas. I took a closer look at the exhibited (Greek) sculptures at the Louvre and noticed how detailed they were. There was no sign of imperfection to be seen. 

Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is a world famous painting from the Renaissance. The techniques he used to portray realism go back to the Greek, as well as his diverse scientific observations. He studied the human anatomy and formed a mathematical system, which allowed him to develop realistic proportions. Da Vinci’s life and work represented the humanist ideology, which means that he was a realist who based his ideas on thought (such as the Romans and Greek), instead of following the medieval academic lecturing system. Abramovic and Hirst also follow the same mind-set.

Vanitas[2], a painting style from the 17th century, has the main objective to let still-life paintings express themselves through symbols. Symbolism can be found in every single object depicted; fruit and time for example vanish by nature. Death is constantly present to remind the viewer of its own human condition on earth. This could be associated with Hirst’s For the Love of God, which will be encountered by further notice.

Hegel, a German philosopher quoted “we begin with what presents itself immediately to us, and after that go on to consider what it its significance or content.”[3] This means art does not exist to be beautiful, because its main aim should be to make its spectator feel something. This was the case with the Viennese Actionism[4], a violent and radical art movement, which based itself on violent performance to express dissatisfaction and to address people forcefully.

Humanism became more and more common in the world of art and the method of addressing subjects concretely with/by using realism/realistic approaches.


In contrast to the art movements that have existed for thousands of years, the contemporary art movement seems atypical. Artists are aiming towards developing new, dominant and exciting ideas, wishing to challenge and even provoke the viewer. I recognized that contemporary art is not necessarily about skills anymore, but rather about how it is perceived and seen. It is not as easy to understand, as former art; a Greek sculpture and Duchamp’s “Fontaine” are both polar types of sculpture, because of the transition from a non-judging piece to one filled with criticism and scepticism. Contemporary art seems to have transitioned from the skills to sending out a certain message. Hegel addressed this subject as well, and drew the conclusion that the notion of something is what people generalise it with by their own idea; it’s an immediate perception[6]. The concept is what matters. Artists like Daniel Buren, Yayoi Kusama and Takashi Murakami all rely on the concept their works of art behold; the aesthetics are only subjective. Concept is attained by the reason only, which means that there has to be some philosophical thought behind such reflections. [pic 2]

Today’s (consumer) society is used to having any information required at its fingertips at any time or place. Decoding a contemporary piece can be quite time consuming, which is one of the reasons people may have difficulties when first visiting contemporary art galleries.

To understand an artwork it is required to have basic understanding and knowledge about art itself. It obligates open-mindedness and willingness that needs to be adapted in order to understand and interpret the artist’s work. The overwhelming feeling of paradox may come up when looking at a piece that might strike the viewer as simple, bland and anonymous. The artist’s credit for the work becomes questionable, when in reality the simplicity the artist transmits becomes the key to understanding the piece, because it goes further than the physical aspect.


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