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Shared Reading: Gottfried Helnwein

Gottfried Helnwein's Epiphany I

Epiphany I: Gottfried Helnwein

California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: June 19, 2004; July 19, 2004
Latest Update: November 1, 2005

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Index of Topics on Site A Hanging Matter?
by Sean Keane

  1. Introduction Why I chose to share this reading.
  2. Focus: Main point of this reading.
  3. Reading Full identification of source for reading AND excerpt.
  4. Concepts: Concepts and Key Words.
  5. Discussion Discussion questions.
  6. Conceptual Linking to Substantive Courses What this has to do with our class.

* * *


  • Helnwein's Epiphany I has been up on our site for years now. For a while I used it as wallpaper on my desktop. Perhaps that explains how the first hypertext poem came to be one about the Virgin. But as I struggled with updating the site, I checked all my old resources and came across materials that explain Helnwein's commitments and meanings far better than I could alone.


  • I hope you will come away from this shared reading with a strong sense of the use of art to say things, that if articulated in words might never get said, or the message might never get across. Art often has meaning that is more direct and more readable than the traditional "bookish" text. Recall that the earliest books were abundantly illuminated.

Concepts and Key Words:

  • The Virgin - reference in Christian theology to the virgin mother of Christ. Much longer history though of the Mother goddess.
  • meaning of an art text - as I use this term I am referring to the communicated signifier, not necessarily what the artist "intended" to communicate, but what ordinary folks see and hear before this work of art.


Discussion Questions:

  1. What may be used as art? Anything? Remember Duchamp's urinal?/a> Readymades or Not? Several photos at end of file, and story of the no longer extant urinal. Duchamp's Urinal

    Consider jeanne's revisioning of one of the torture photos from Abu Ghraib:

    Revisioning a socially constructed reality.

    Why do you suppose I was drawn to redraw this photo? I don't have the answer. I know that I was envisioning the impressionists - and the beauty inherent in the positioning of the bodies, as if a waterfall could explain away the actual root of the vision. Is that like Helnwein substituting the Virgin and Child for Hitler in the photograph he used? If so, wouldn't people object if I wanted to exhibit the painting publicly? Would Americans come to my defense, as some came to Helnwein's defense that these issues of terror and of torture are important and that artists must raise these issues that we may bring such issues to awareness. For further discussion see

  2. Why?

    Things to be considered in answer.

  3. Do you think?

Conceptual Linking to Substantive Courses:

  • Agencies:
    Sample linking: Ways in which underlying assumptions of assimilation affect services offered and clients' ability to access and use those services. How does this reading illustrate the need for social agencies, for more generalized agencies, for what Bolman and Deal would call "leadership" AND "management"? How does this reading suggest ways in which we could be more effective in rendering help, and what is the reading's relationship to a "safety net" for those who need help?

  • Criminal Justice:
    Sample linking: Ways in which some groups are underrepresented in the unstated assumptions of our theories. How does this reading serve to illustrate adversarialism, mutuality, retribution, revenge, illocutionary understanding, the definition and operation of the criminal justice system?

  • Law:
    Sample linking: Extent to which laws are made on the assumption that we are all essentially assimilated to the dominant culture. How does this reading help us see the need for contextual readings in law? How does it relate to our natural instincts to seek some kind of natural law? What facts and principles does the reading offer for discourse that could clarify for Others validity claims presented by an Obscure Other?

  • Moot Court:
    Sample linking: Ways in which to make validty claims of harm understood by those who have never experienced many of the world's different perspectives. How can this reading enlighten our praxis in terms of different kinds of discourse, like instrumental, illocutionary, governance?

  • Women in Poverty:
    Sample linking: The culture of poverty and assimilation. How does the reading deal with our underlying assumptions about poverty, especially poverty of the exploited, the NOT- male? What does the reading suggest of the interrelationship between our society and its children, generally cared for by women, often poor?

  • Race, Gender, Class:
    Sample linking: The extent to which silence has been imposed by these affiliations so that domination and discrimination have entered our unstated assumptions in interpersonal relations and the structural context arising from them. What does the reading tell us about exploitation and alternative ways to deal with one another? What does it tell us about institutionalized -isms and our denial of complicity? What does it tell us about our common humanity?

  • Religion:
    Sample linking: The spiritual component. Humans are spiritual creatures, creatures that recognize moments that go beyond ourselves to God, Allah, Isis, Gaia, the Universe, or a deep sense of responsibility to create our own meanng. How does the reading fit into our ability, our need to create such meaning in life?

  • Love !A:
    Sample linking: What's the aesthetic link in this reading? How does it bring us closer to one another as humans? What does it tell us about our need for love, unconditional love, not rewards for doing well or being well, but caring and acceptance for being who we are?

Site Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individual Authors, June 2004.
"Fair use" encouraged.