The piece of art chosen for the current exploration is Damien Hirst’s sculpture named For the Love of God (2007). The artwork is made from a platinum cast of an 18th-century human skull that was then encrusted with 8,601 diamonds. The teeth of the skill are original to the skull, which was purchased by the artist in London. The skull’s forehead is adorned with a large pink diamond that is known as the Skull Star Diamond. The artwork is associated with the concept of memento mori, which means that it is intended to remind its viewers of their ultimate mortality.
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The Love of God is highly controversial because its author used a human skull, a symbol of death and decay, and juxtaposed it with diamonds, which represent wealth and success. Because the subject matter of the artwork is death and is contrary, the use of diamonds is the complete opposite, the positive and the ridiculous aspect of the sculpture. The social contribution of the artwork is associated with allowing its spectators to question the morality of art and money in the long run. Because Damien Hirst has created a controversial brand for himself from the very beginning, For the Love of God is a pinnacle of his artistic social commentary both in terms of the money used for its production (£14 million) and the subject matter of the piece. For many, the skull encrusted in real diamonds worth millions will appear disgusting and distasteful; however, it is crucial to understand that this was the author’s intention (Jones, 2011). While there are no reports regarding the censoring of the artwork, the controversy surrounding the diamond skull was extreme at the time of the release. However, if one understands the intentions of the author and the intentional exaggeration of the subject matter, it is possible to find value in the piece beyond its monetary cost. The subject of censorship is important to discuss because art is an expression of one’s freedom of speech, which should never be stifled. There are several notable influences on For the Love of God. The first example is the Mask made from cedar wood and covered in mosaic made from turquoise (see Figure 2). Another notable example is the artwork by John LeKay named Spiritus Callidus #2 (see Figure 3).
Even though Hirst was accused of plagiarism for several of his artworks and installations, it is important to note that For the Love of God was the inspiration for many other pieces of art that used skulls as the key subject matter. The diamond skull should be considered art because of its aesthetic value as well as the social commentary aspect of the piece. Hirst wanted to inspire the viewers of his art piece to be optimistic about life even though it is finite: “I thought what was the maximum you can put against death, and diamonds came to mind […] Because we are dealing with death that is so negative it has to be totally positive, and you can’t cut corners, it just has to be ridiculous in its perfection” (Tate, 2012). As mentioned by Jones (2011), “contemporary art should reflect the contemporary world, […] and art turned into money, which is why the diamond skull visually sums up the madness on the eve of an economic downfall” (para. 3). Being over the top and expensive, the diamond skull is a representation of the fact that life is finite and that money has no worth ultimately, no matter how highly people value it.
For the Love of God [Image]. (2007). Web.
Jones, J. (2011). Damien Hirst’s skull tasteless? That’s the point. The Guardian. Web.
Spiritus Callidus #2 [Image]. (n.d.). Web.
Tate. (2012). Damien Hirst – For the Love of God. TateShots [Video file]. Web.
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The British Museum. (n.d.). The turquoise mosaics. Web.