Damien Hirst and ‘nature morte’ (Project 1: Arts and Ideas – Exercise 5)

Part 1

Find two examples of still life work which includes fish and in each case note the title, artist and date. Make a quick sketch of both pieces.

I decided to choose two pieces that were quite different. The first was a Picasso and the second by William Merritt Chase. It is no exaggeration to say that I have not tried to draw properly for decades. I tried to experiment a little in each sketch. In the first there are areas of colour and so I decided to use coloured pencils.

In the second,the artist’s emphasis was on realism so I used normal drawing pencils but instead tried using both hard and relatively soft ones.

Drawing 1 – Based on Picasso’s Still Life with Fish (1923)

P1 Ex 5 - picasso

Drawing 2 – Based on William Merritt Chase’s  Still Life with Fish (Date unknown)

P1 Ex 5 - w m chase


Part 2


Make notes as you listen to this discussion.

I decided to group my notes under the list of things to listen out for:

  • Hirst
  • The piece
  • Hirst’s other work
  • Information on other artists whose work is concerned with mortality
  • references to ‘time’


I also decided to leave my notes quite close to the form in which I made them. I slightly changed the order, improved the formatting and corrected typing and spelling errors.


  • He is too sophisticated an artist not to know that work decays

The piece

  • “Loved the title”
  • Title tells us that living people can’t comprehend death
  • Title great truth
  • It’s a work of art taking on those big questions
  • It was a real shark that was caught
  • The tank frames the shark (it’s a beautiful tank)
  • It could be in a natural history museum along with a stuffed bison
  • 20th and 21st century art more open to interpretation than renaissance
  • (Cut to an unnamed Mark Rothko hanging in a gallery)
  • Duchamp said that “A work of art is completed by the viewer”
  • Mention of Jaws and how scary a big shark is to humans
  • The shark still dissolved
  • Interesting discussion about the intention of the artist
  • Was it his vain attempt to make something that would outlive us?
  • The title and the actual shark represent conceptual dimension vs absolute physical dimension
  • Clash between physical and poetic
  • The art exists in that contradiction and confrontation

Hirst’s other work

  • He has used other animals; sheep mentioned (I’ve seen a cow too)

Information on other artists whose work is concerned with mortality

  • Egyptians mummifying bodies
  • Cut to images of mummies, old statues with pieces missing and an old fresco with a piece missing

References to ‘time’

  • Note that some comments above also relate to time
  • Artists are well-versed in this idea of the impermanence of life
  • A work of art outlives us
  • (Cut to Ophelia by John Everett Millais and paintings of Christ’s resurrection)
  • Maybe modern art should be called philosophical art and galleries museums of philosophy
  • In art now nothing is off limits
  • Nothing is going to stop the inevitability of decay



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