Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Medium: Blood (Artist's)

Ice, chocolate, garbage...in the 21st century, many of those who appreciate modern art have come to accept materials for sculpture that deviate from the traditional metal, clay, and stone. But perhaps the most shocking medium that has been used to date is the sculptor's own blood. That's right, 52-year-old Marc Quinn has been sculpting self-portraits of himself...using himself. The London-based artist has created a new sculpture every 5 years since 1991, using a cast of his head and about 10 pints of his own coagulated blood which he collects over time. 

His series of these sculptures, titled Self, enthralled the public and confounded critics, setting the tone for his out-of-the-box works that explore unconventional themes - from Sphinx (2006) to The Toxic Sublime exhibition (2015). Marc Quinn's art certainly embodies divergent thinking. He said in one interview that he chose the blood medium because he wanted to "push the material boundaries of sculpture," not to mention that “blood was the only part of my body I could take out without mutilating myself.” 

In his book, Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi questions what traits distinguish those who are exceptionally creative. He writes, "If I had to express in one word what makes their personalities different from others, it would be complexity. They contain contradictory extremes - instead of being an individual each of them is a multitude." Quinn studied history and art history at the University of Cambridge, and says that he never had any formal art training - which was certainly different than many of his contemporaries. In the early 1990's, however, he became prominent as one of the original Young British Artists, a group known for turning London's contemporary art scene upside down with their provocative work and reckless ideas. These artists refused to wait for institutional approval to present their work, and, in Quinn’s view, “the idea of bringing real life into art" is what united them. 

This notion can certainly be found in Self, which Quinn sees as "a 21st-century vision of progress," inspired by Rembrandt's series of self-portraits. He wanted to express his aging and changing self, a look into all of the complexities of a creative. In fact, Self was made at a time when Quinn was struggling with alcoholism. Perhaps the most profound description Quinn provides of Self is,"it depends on my life to be created – it’s made from the substance of me; and so I think of it as the purest form of sculpture to sculpt your own body, from your own body." 

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper & Row.


  1. Great post! I am really astonished by this artwork. I would have never thought to have created sculptures from coagulated, human blood. I believe that being creative requires people to deviate from the norm and this definitely demonstrates that. Although it may be controversial, it stretches the limits of art. I wonder if he has pushed the boundaries of art even further by using materials that you wouldn't expect, such as other bodily fluids.

    1. Thanks for your comment. Actually, he has! He's used materials like bread, DNA, feces - even the placenta from his son's birth! Truly stretching the limits of art, as you mentioned.

  2. I find it so interesting that you mentioned how Quinn has no formal art training. I think that you can definitely be an artist without training, especially in today's technological era where it's easy to go online and see such a wide variety of what everyone's doing in the world. The fact that he had no formal training probably is what helps him experiment with media. He was never taught strict foundational rules, but rather experimented himself. To me, it shows how self education is different from formal education where we are taught to put constraints on our views and ideas. I wonder if he would still be as creative with his media if he had had formal art training.

  3. I think Rachyl Shanker raises a really important and interesting idea. What if Quinn had received formal art training? I wonder if acquiring a level of "expertise", and the expectations of what is "real" art that come with it, would have limited his creativity? It is hard to know, but I don't really think so. Frank Gehry had formal architecture training, and yet he was still able to think outside of the box to sort of "re-invent" architecture. It is impossible to know, but I think it depends on the personality. I think that, for many formally-trained artists, however, their training makes it hard for them to accept Quinn's pieces as art--those who are less intrinsically creative, perhaps?

  4. Wow, with his new art form, Quinn takes the meaning of a "self portrait" to an entire new and creative level. I loved the quote you used to finish your blog entry; this quote shows the true nature and purpose behind Quinn's work and gives the viewers of his work a brief look into the man's mind and thought process. Thanks for sharing this article and giving me a new perspective on the possibilities of art.

  5. Creating a self portrait out of your own bodily fluids, however unhygienic, is incredibly ingenious. It is especially impressive that he came up with this idea given that he had to overcome our innate reluctance to bleed to do so. Quinn has given us an entirely new meaning of the term 'self portrait' and will likely inspire many to follow suit.


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