9th grade students explore mortality through art

Pictured L to R: Kathrine Davis with her Vanitas painting completed in oil on wood panel, HNGA Art Teacher Dylan James, and Grace Dooley who completed her composition with graphite on paper.

HNGA Art students have been studying Vanitas, a still life tradition, in conjunction with Harmend Steenwyck’s painting “Still life: An allegory of Vanities of the Human Life.”

Vanitas is a still-life artwork that includes various symbolic objects designed to remind the viewer of his/her mortality and the trivialness of worldly goods and pleasures in comparison to the importance of one’s relationships with others as well as his/her individual inward human experience.

As a class, students spoke about human mortality and the Latin phrase “Memento Mori,” different subject matter that might be used to symbolize our own mortality and our ties to earthly pleasures, and the rules of creating a successful composition.

Each student was tasked with acquiring symbolic objects, composing his/her objects to create a still life, and then photographing his/her own compositions.

Harmend Steenwyck’s painting “Still Life: An Allegory of Vanities of the Human Life” was the source of inspiration for HNGA art students’ Vanitas project. (photo submitted)

Having the students choose their subject matter and organize it created a chance for each student to express himself/herself through individual choices, experiment with the rules of composition and lighting, and have the opportunity to experience first-hand how much effort and thought goes into composing a successful and unique composition.

Once the photograph had been established, they were tasked with rendering it in a realistic style using graphite as their medium, except for one student who wished to experiment with oil paints.

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