Vanitas / Memento mori
James Turrell “Skyspace”
What is Spirituality?
How can we describe it?
Distinctly human trait.
Yearning to belong to something greater than the self.
Desire to inquire the source/nature of life and death.
Addressing humanity’s most profound needs and concerns.
Acknowledgement of intangible forces in universe.
Different from religiousness.
Art is in an excellent position to reflect on it =>
- not verbal,
- not concrete/literal,
- universal yet personal
Institutionalized formal practices
Typical genre of still life painting in 17th c. Northern Europe.
“vanitas” (Latin) = emptiness, meaninglessness
Symbolic: Serves as a reminder of temporary nature of existence
and the inevitability of death.
Expresses moral teaching: Enjoying pleasures of earthly life but
being aware of the transient nature of it.
Memento Mori = “Remember that you will die” (Latin)
Artistic genre. Reminder of mortality.
Philosophical and literary concept (originating from 18thc. European
literature, with regard to nature)
Its subject: Extraordinary phenomena. Something that is much bigger
than the person.
natural phenomena: mountains, thunderstorm, earthquake;
Also can be man-made, like steam engine, industrial process, technology
- Feeling of smallness.
- An experience of awe and terror,
overwhelming the mind and the senses.
-An attitude of admiration
of extraordinary beauty and power
mixed with fear/respect.
Could be caused by work of art.
Using iconography: cultural symbolism mixed with personal
Culture wars: Controversies over appropriating iconography.
- What is sacred? What is sacrilegious? What is taboo?
- What is the artist’s role?
Subverting/challenging or Affirming/pleasing
Andres Serrano: Piss Christ
Chris Ofili: The Holy Virgin Mary
Identification, description, and interpretation of the content of images,
and symbolism in a work of art.
Often used for traditional/conventional images or symbols associated with
a subject, especially a religious subject.
Materials as metaphors:
as process: Ann Hamilton,
as performance: Marina Abramovic,
represented: Bill Viola,
viewer completed: James Turrell,
Set of actions with symbolic value.
Is is/could be repeated.
Prescribed by traditions of community, culture, religion.
Rules are not logical, done in accordance of custom, protocol.
It functions to satisfy emotional, spiritual needs; comply with
obligations; reinforce social bonds and power relations; or simply create
pleasure of the act.
Zhang Huan: Marina Abramovic:
12 square meters The House with the Ocean View
Homework Writing Assignment:
Many of this week's artists use or reference some kind of ritual,
either during the making process or in the actual artwork itself.
Choose ONE artist to describe in depth, focusing on the
How is the ritual being created? How is it being used and with
what goal? Does it critically comment on or affirm the rituals
used in daily life? What meaning does the ritual have for the
artist, and what does it have for the viewers? Do "eccentric"
personal rituals differ from culturally accepted ones in their
goals or processes? Is art making a ritual?
For extra credit: (additional one typed page)
Do you have a personal ritual that is unique to you, your family,
or immediate social group (for example, your circle of friends,
classmates, teammates, etc.)?
Describe the ritual and evaluate it, based on the questions
Kim Jones at the Henry Art Gallery or Susie Lee at the Lawrimore
also on view at the Henry:
James Turrell "Skyspace" and An-My Lê "Small Wars"
CLUE DISCUSSION SESSION: Wednesdays 6:30-8pm MGH287
Get help on your midterm project!
Learn simple book making techniques and see some examples.
Bring your project plans and questions.
Vocabulary and homework questions are also welcome.
Division of Art FACULTY SHOW at the Jacob Lawrence Gallery
(School of Art)
Opening reception: Tuesday 4-6pm
Exhibit hours: October 24 - November 10 Tue-Sat noon-4pm
Lecture at the Henry Art Gallery:
Donald Judd & Architecture in Marfa, Texas (sculpture and
Q&A with artists Leo Berk (space) and Diem Chau (identity)
are posted on the course website
Midterm project: ARTIST BOOK
Choose any one concept from the past weeks that is personally
meaningful to you. Present your own personal interpretation of this
concept in a handmade, one-of-a-kind artist book.
1. Find a concept that you can relate to or find interesting enough
to examine in a visually creative way.
2. Develop notes and sketches for your unique and interesting
interpretation of and relationship to this concept.
3. Decide about the structure and format for the book. Consider and research interesting
book formats, like pop-ups, sculptural books, and those that incorporate found objects
and unusual materials.
4. Decide about materials and techniques. Test these.
Use any medium you like, for example: drawing, painting, photo, found and sculptural
materials, etc. or a combination of these.
You may use your own original images (for example drawings, paintings, prints, Xeroxes,
photographs, collages, etc.) and text, as well as different materials and three-
dimensional forms in your book.
However, incorporating text (cut-outs or copies of definition from the book or lecture)
or images from other sources (for example: images of others artwork) is not allowed.
Week 6: Friday, November 2 Project “book dummies” are due for in-class consultation
Class Visit to UW Book Arts Collection
Week 7: Monday, November 5 Midterm Project is due before the lecture
Friday, November 9 Midterm project group critique
Content Everything that’s in the Partial definition
art: formal/compositional or definition for
aspects, materials, the concept,
artist’s concept, theme context
Guerilla Girls Activist art Partial definitions
Identity Politics or
(Essentialism) Missing & mixed-up
(Cultural Identity) information content.
Things to do:
Prepare your own vocabulary list with definitions (based on lecture notes,
online PDF, and readings).
Have it checked by TA or during CLUE.
Make sure you understand and are able to apply concepts/terms.
Form a peer study group. Come to office hours and CLUE.
If you had 0 points on this quiz you must attend CLUE.