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The vogue of vanitas and mortality

Ten-week art history and theory course

Short courses

5 February — 9 April 2019

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Part of our

Bill Viola / Michelangelo

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Damien Hirst, For the Love of God, 2007.

Platinum, diamonds and human teeth. 17.1 x 12.7 x 19.1cm. © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS/Artimage 2017. Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd..

Following the RA’s sold-out course last year, international artists, curators and art world experts will return to explore both aesthetic and philosophical themes around the transience of life and their use in contemporary art.

Memento mori are broadly understood as symbolic reminders of our mortality – the limits and transience of life. They can take any form including painting, sculpture, jewellery or costume. They exist across art forms from the fine and visual arts, and also music and dance. They can be grand or small and personal. Vanitas is a related but broader genre of the arts concerned with the ephemerality of life. Vanitas warn that the earthly pleasures have limitations and should be treated accordingly - the trappings of power and riches, beauty and luxury all have a definite end.

The aesthetic and philosophical treatment of the themes of memento mori and vanitas date back to the ancient world and have been explored by artists over the ages and across cultures. On the one hand the transience of life is something that unifies us all, but on the other, the treatment of mortality, its implication and visual representation, has evolved over time and differs dramatically across cultures.

Taking place over 10 weeks, this course will explore contemporary art and craft through the lens of memento mori and vanitas. The course has a broadly thematic sweep with sessions including memento mori in the fashion industry; the representation of vanitas in theatre; as well as the eternal analyses of the skull as an artistic memento mori representation.

Topics which will be covered include:

• The philosophical foundations of memento mori and vanitas and their changing aesthetic in contemporary treatments

• Contemporary artists’ use of symbolism of items such as flowers and fruit, musical instruments and symbols of time and luxury

• Themes of decay, witchcraft and rituals will be explored as they appear in different creative fields including fine arts, decorative arts, fashion, jewellery, dance and music

Notably, in an era which has seen the democratisation of culture on the one hand and the emergence of mass consumerism on the other, contemporary artists still explore and evoke themes which challenge and question the transience of life and earthly pleasures. In a world riddled with uncertainty, the exploration of such themes could not be more timely.

The course provides an interdisciplinary perspective on core themes in the history and philosophy of contemporary art with consideration across the fine arts and the decorative arts. Leading contemporary artists, art world practitioners and international curators will analyse the art history canon as a way to explore artworks and objects of the 21st century which have changed the way we see, think and understand our lives, our limitations and our destiny.

Image Credit: Damien Hirst, For the Love of God, 2007.
© Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS/Artimage 2017. Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd.

● Fully booked

● Cancelled

5 February — 9 April 2019

The Benjamin West Lecture Theatre, Burlington Gardens, Royal Academy of Arts

6.30–8.00pm each week (registration from 6pm). £420 for full course, £260 for weeks 1–5 OR weeks 6–10. Includes all materials and wine reception at the end of session 5 and session 10.

Book now