Artist Interviews :: Top Contemporary Artists? Or Are They?

The interviews below will be viewed and discussed in class on 9/19/17 – feel free to later leave your written opinions and reactions in the comment section below.

Video with Damien Hirst-

“I just thought, ‘What can you pit against death?”[1]

‘For the Love of God’, a platinum skull set with diamonds, is one of Hirst’s most important and widely recognised works. Its raw materials define it as an artwork of unprecedented scale. The 32 platinum plates making up ‘For the Love of God’ are set with 8,601 VVS to flawless set diamonds, weighing a massive 1,106 carats. The teeth inserted into the jaw are real and belong to the original skull.

The skull from which ‘For the Love of God’ was cast, was purchased from a London taxidermist and subsequently subjected to intensive bioarchaeological analysis and radiocarbon dating. This research revealed it dated from around 1720 – 1810, and was likely to be that of a 35-year-old man of European/Mediterranean ancestry. The title originates from exclamations Hirst’s mother would make on hearing plans for new works when he was starting out as an artist. As he explains: “She used to say, ‘For the love of God, what are you going to do next!’”

‘For the Love of God’ acts as a reminder that our existence on earth is transient. Hirst combined the imagery of classic memento mori with inspiration drawn from Aztec skulls and the Mexican love of decoration and attitude towards death. He explains of death: “You don’t like it, so you disguise it or you decorate it to make it look like something bearable – to such an extent that it becomes something else.”[2]

The incorporation of the large central stone was inspired by memories of the comic ‘2000 AD’, which Hirst used to read as a child. He relates how the comic, “used to have a character in it called Tharg the Mighty who had a circle on his forehead. He was like a kind of powerful, God-like figure who controlled the universe,” Hirst explains. “It kind of just looked like it needed something. A third eye; a connection to Jesus and his dad.”[3]

Alongside their dazzling brilliance and “Eucharistic” beauty, Hirst’s fascination with diamonds results partly from the mutterings and uncertainty surrounding their inherent worth. In the face of the industry’s ability to establish their irreplaceable value, it becomes necessary to question whether they are “just a bit of glass, with accumulated metaphorical significance? Or [whether they] are genuine objects of supreme beauty connected with life.”[4] The cutthroat nature of the diamond industry, and the capitalist society which supports it, is central to the work’s concept. Hirst explains that the stones “bring out the best and the worst in people […] people kill for diamonds, they kill each other”.[5]


In 2010, Hirst created a second, baby diamond skull called ‘For Heaven’s Sake’ using pink diamonds.

  1. Damien Hirst –

2. Jeff Koons –

3. Marina Ambramovic –

4. James Turrell –

5. Mariko Mori –

6. Kara Walker –

20 thoughts on “Artist Interviews :: Top Contemporary Artists? Or Are They?

  1. When experiencing a piece of art for the first time, one must always have a reaction. That reaction may cause a fleeting feeling or perhaps an everlasting mark on the viewer. You decide rather quickly if you like or dislike something. The same can be said when a viewer is introduced to the artist. When you view works in a gallery, museum or online, often the artist is not present and their only representation is the art they’ve left for you. Watching these interviews allows us to see the person behind the work. We judge them and form deeper opinions about them and who we think they are. I’ve realized how important it is to be able to speak about your work and believe in what you’re saying, doing, making, etc. Doing so informs the viewer and can establish a deeper connection and appreciation.

    1. Meghan, I think one of the hardest things to do when experiencing subject art is to apply the awareness as to “how can one practice observing and experiencing before making a judgement”. How can we think like a detective and just observe and record all of the objective evidence first and foremost. Perhaps the same is with an interview, we get an impression from words and body language, even in a short 5-7 minutes. But what if we are wrong about our first impressions? What if we don’t contrast this kind of experience with other interviews? How do we make a comparison? Indeed, installing convictions about our work is important as those convictions take form as emotions, words and actions. This practice also takes reinvention every so few years. Takashi Murakami is a great example. Take a look at his work over the last 20 years. More on this in class.

  2. Koons provides an incoherent artist statement and explanation of process. It bothers me how people are so quickly fooled into art without purpose. Hirst created his own art with meaning at an earlier time in his life. I think he sold out and let money feed his ego too much at present. I enjoyed viewing the psychological rantings of Abramovic, spotlighting the human connection. Turrell’s work is cerebral and aesthetically pleasing. The mix of science and art is interesting. Mori doesn’t really do it for me but I can identify with her angle.

    1. As Len put it, Jeff Koons is indeed a master of how he asserts himself with a very specific dialect about his work. Lets try and get a bit more specific when we make statements about things we do not resonate with. For example, if Mariko Mori’s work does not do it for you, please explain why as best that you can. This will take practice, but understanding these specific things will put more pieces together.

      1. Out of the 5 artists, I think it is interesting to note that it is the women who never mention money or their success in their interviews.
        Mariko seems to be the most genuine in her regard for the art that she creates and how it is influenced by and influences the people and surrounding that it exists in. Although she is quite successful, that notoriety has not altered her quiet manner. There is no hint of defense in her subtle statements which I admire.
        I also feel that in her non-pop art work, her use of light (in some pieces) and the earth (in others) seem more akin to Turrell although she never identifies him as an influence.

      2. Len, great point, and feel free to share any links to other interviews as examples for us. In various other interviews Hirst talks a lot about how having access to larger budgets has affected his work and the projects that he takes on. Jeff Koons is infamous for scrapping huge projects that have cost him a lot of money. I definitely see a connection between Turell’s work and Moris. I do think Mori puts more emphasis on the objects she creates in relationship to how light plays a role for the viewer, but I base this on a few of her earlier works. What similar connections do you see between all of the artists included in the videos from this week?

      3. Ryan,
        I could not figure out how to post this, but I viewed a really interesting Marina Abramovic clip in which she recites her MANIFESTO. It’s 10 minutes long but totally worth it. See link below.
        I hope the class finds it as interesting as I did.
        Take care,

      4. Great! Thanks Len, I will add it to the site with all the other interviews, great! We are going to cover Manifestos this coming week (or next) Thank you!

      5. Sharron, Of course each and every response is always a positive contribution to this learning platform. Every response is important. Im simply always seeking to push students to dig deeper into how they come to their answers and how they react and respond. I think you got ahead of me and beat me to getting to the other responses. I havent yet posted the longer reactions and questions that I have for both Meghan and Len. Each student will be addressed with a series of questions as to how they can make improvements or potentially see things from anothers point of view. I hope this helps.

      6. Ok.. yes. It did help. Thank you. Before you left this response, I was on fire, emotionally speaking. This feeling inspired me to paint. I just finished an oil painting that was at a stand still… so thanks:)

  3. All, Feel free to leave your further research discoveries here – searching for interviews with your influences and inspirations is a good idea. You can add the youtube URL directly into the comments section and wordpress will convert it.

  4. Last week saw five artists interviewed, the most interesting one to me, I think is Kara Walker. Her artworks belong to the public. For Walker as a female artist, this is a huge work and it is very smart, The Domino Sugar factory works are thoughtful, influential, and meaningful. And the sugar, which goes back to her reference of the slave trade and the image of her nurse, and a series of questions about black women’s symbolism. I think she greatly represents her thoughts and culture into her own works. This makes the whole work interesting and important.

  5. I was observing the different videos/interviews with Marina Abramovic and also watched the video that Len shared with us. I am still trying to fully understand her reasonings for creating the art that she performs but I also have grown a higher respect for her in my findings. She may not have always felt confident as a woman but she was always confident as an artist. She followed her urges and listened to her soul when it came to creating her artwork, no matter how dangerous and revealing they may be. She created her own path and exposed what she believed in. I couldn’t help but to find her “An Artist’s Life Manifesto” slightly contradicting. Maybe I am missing some information but, she kept using “him” or “his”, she said not to fall in love with another artist, and she said no stealing ideas from others. If I am not mistaken, isn’t her art about replicating other cultures sacrificial and religious rituals? As I was listening to her speak, I also couldn’t help to think of other contemporary artists that have definitely created themselves as an “idol” or a “liar.” I know obviously her Manifesto isn’t a strict rule but I just think it is very interesting how we are all guilty of having a double standard sometimes, no matter who we are.

    1. Indeed, Ambramovic has such a perplexing series of deep statements, each interview seems different and almost experimental. I see her work as extremely emotional, even when I dont fully understand it at first, I still “feel” something and I love that the work can do that. Manefesto’s will be revised and always growing 🙂

  6. I thought this was an informative video into Marina’s values and shed some light on her thought process. We too often fall into our comfort zone as artists and you have to be willing to push your own boundaries to discover new things about yourself. I find experimenting will help you find the best way to express yourself as an artist but we have to be willing to fail in order to do so. I think watching a few of her interviews helped me appreciate this concept more.

    This particular quote resonated with me so I wanted to share it:

    “How do you know you’re an artist?
    And to know if you’re an artist is like breathing. You don’t question breathing. You have to or else you just die. So if you wake up in the morning and you have some ideas. You have to make them and this becomes like a kind of almost obsession you have to create and you have this urge to create, you’re definitely an artist.

    But you’re not a great artist, just an artist

    To be great artist, it’s all different types of rules. And it’s like you’re obsessed. It’s like there’s nothing else in your mind. You have to realize the work and complexity of it. A great artist has to be ready to fail which not too many people do. When you have success in a certain way then the public accepts you in a certain way. You start to involuntarily produce the same images the same type of work and you’re not risking.
    The real artist are always changing their territories and they go to the length they’ve never been and there is unknown territory and then you can fail and you can risk and that failure is what makes this extra. This makes a great artist.”

    1. Excellent! Thanks for sharing the link! Ill add it to our resources page,and indeed these are great examples and definitions. I certainly resonate, each day has me taking action right when I wake to begin the day with creating something in mind, or resolving and developing a work. I also agree with the risk taking and reinvention aspect of being an artist. Im more interested in the unknown that mastering one thing and doing that for 30 years.

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