DAMIEN HIRST AND THE WESTERN CHRISTIAN TRADITION OF DEATH

Author/Creator

Author/Creator ORCID

Date

2014-09

Type of Work

Department

Hood College Arts and Humanities

Program

Humanities

Citation of Original Publication

Rights

Subjects

Abstract

Damien Hirst is a contemporary artist often criticized for both the shocking nature of his work, as well as his hands-off approach. He seeks to engage his viewers in a conversation about death; however, because his methods of doing so look very modern, it can be difficult sometimes for his contemporaries to see the message or value in them. Though both critics as well as Hirst himself are often reluctant to admit it, his work is actually rooted in and shaped by traditional western imagery when it comes to death. Within Hirst's work one can find traditional western symbols of death, including Memento mori, the human skull, decay, and the grotesque spectacle. These instantly recognizable symbols, inherited from a long Western tradition of contemplating death, make his art highly accessible to the public and serve to engage and provoke viewers. They are effective because they are a part of the context through which we view our culture and through which our culture views death. The signs and symbols Hirst uses exist within three categories: Spectacle, Natural History Museums, and Christian Symbolism. This Capstone will examine examples of the use of traditional western Christian imagery in historical contexts and Hirst's work in order to draw parallels between the two. In addition, it is equally important to show how Hirst changes and updates these traditional approaches, and how his work not only adheres to, but also differs from works of the past. Hirst has modernized these symbols in order to connect with and comment on the society in which he operates, and his updates can show how our perception of death has changed as time has gone by. Doing so contributes not only to Hirst scholarship, but to a larger, ongoing discussion about death.