The Existentialist Art Student Exhibition included student works that visually represent aphorisms by 19th century existentialist philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche. These artworks, created by student artists at Richland, represent Nietzsche’s views on topics of religion, morality, nihilism, existentialism and culture.
The philosophical study of “existentialism” focuses on the freedom and choice in an individual’s existence and the beliefs that define the meaning of individual lives.
According to Geoff Manzi, a philosophy professor at Richland, Nietzsche is often called the “philosopher-poet” because he incorporates “deep symbolism and style” into his works. His philosophy centers around the idea that humans are the animals that create value and meaning.
“In other words, he contends that all human beings are inherently creative,” said Manzi.
“I mention this,” he continued, “because the student artists, in creating their works, were doing more than merely representing existentialist truths in the pieces themselves; rather, in seeking to interpret some of Nietzsche’s more cryptic aphorisms through their pieces, they were embodying the very spirit of Nietzschean philosophy by literally creating something whose meaning can be ‘played with,’ or open to interpretation.”
The mediums in the exhibit ranged from paintings and sketches to embroideries and three-dimensional pieces. Design student Kencey Christopher’s piece was a jean jacket with the lyrics “It is the springtime of my loving/The second season I am to know” from Led Zeppelin’s “The Rain Song.” It represents Nietzsche’s aphorism, “without music, life would be a mistake.” It was beautifully embroidered in multicolored threads.
Drawing student Pierce Tuttle’s vibrant piece is “based off of the [Nietzschean] aphorism that the maturity of man is shown in the seriousness of playing as a child,” he said in an interview. Tuttle “took a literal approach” to this aphorism in his colorful three-part work.
“Perhaps no two disciplines are better suited for collaboration. Indeed, the connection between the Fine Arts and Philosophy runs extremely deep because both fields of study originate in a sense of wonder and awe over the world and one’s place therein,” Manzi said. “Those who are drawn (pun intended) to the arts and to philosophy tend to exhibit (also intended) a greater connection with the human proclivity towards self-expression and self-reflection.”
The creativity required by this collaboration, the variety of aphorisms expressed by these students and the aesthetic qualities of the art all served to intrigue the observer. The layout of the exhibit was straightforward and intuitive.
“This collaboration is an exceedingly rewarding one because it serves as a wonderful opportunity for Richland to celebrate some of its most creative and contemplative students. And this celebration comes in a most appropriate form: The kind of shared discussion that encourages the cultivation of one’s own aesthetic sensibilities and philosophical mindfulness,” Manzi said. “Ultimately, inspiration is contagious, and I can think of nothing more inspiring than when creative expression serves as a catalyst for deep conversations on what both unites us and individuates us as creative, contemplative selves. Needless to say, we have some very inspired students here at Richland.”
The deep philosophical meaning in each work combined with their creative qualities formed a fascinating exhibit.