James Kaniefski


Class of: 2021

Major: Fashion Design BFA

Medium: Essay and proposal

Faculty: Krista Johanssen

Prompt: The assignment for this project was to create an art exhibition proposal including both an essay and and a visual portion.

“Current psychological research suggests that the effects of nature and nurture on one’s eventual personality are approximately equal. Nurture is defined as the environmental factors which affect one during development, whereas nature is the effect of genetic factors on the formation of one’s personality. The familial situation in which one is brought up is by far the most significant of environmental factors. Parental and familial dynamics play a major role in shaping an individual’s psychological profile as one matures. Certain mental conditions and disorders can trump all of the best parenting intentions. Nurture, on the other hand, has the equal capability to destroy one’s psychological stability. Through their work, many artists have explored the often avoided topic of the corrupted family unit. One of the greatest benefits of art is that it enables both viewers and artists to express emotions and engage in discussions which would normally be societally suppressed. These works function both as a way for the artist to express their psychological experience and as a mirror reflecting societal dysfunction. The exhibit “Nurture” will present a collection of three pieces that explore this topic using depictions of violence within the family unit.

The first art object which will be featured in the exhibit is Francisco Goya’s 1820s painting Saturn Devouring His Son. This piece explores the ancient Roman myth of the titan Saturn, known as Cronus in Greek mythology, through a reimagined portrayal. The myth surrounding Saturn involves him consuming his own children out of fear that one of them would fulfill the prophecy to overthrow him. As with many Greek and Roman myths, the events portrayed here are incredibly cruel and disturbing. However, through the medium of mythology, these events often lose some of their potency. Such is not the case in this painting. Goya portrays a crazed looking Saturn, his body twisted awkwardly and uncomfortably in the darkness, brutally gnawing at a human body. Saturn holds eye contact with the viewer, a desperate and shameful look in his eye, as though he has been caught red-handed in the middle of this horrible act. Possibly the most disturbing aspect, however, is the fact that Goya never intended for this painting to be seen. The piece is one of Goya’s “black paintings”, a collection of works painted on the wall of the house where he spent his final years, alone and in recluse, before dying at age 82 and leaving the works behind. This piece is a dark reflection on Goya’s view of the world  throughout his experience —a pure artistic expression of his psyche during the end of his life. Although this piece portrays a mythological god, it is clear that the dynamic at hand here is a reflection of the human condition. Throughout Greek and Roman mythology, gods are characterized as very human-like beings. They are flawed, make mistakes, and are emotional and impulsive at times. Ultimately, they are sympathetic characters because they act much like people do. They exhibited the very idiosyncrasies which the Christian god deems the seven deadly sins. Despite their power and influence over the human world, when reading Greco-Roman myths, one sees themselves in these gods.”