Date of Award

Spring 5-17-2022

Author's School

Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts

Author's Department

Graduate School of Art

Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Illustration & Visual Culture

Degree Type



My thesis essay was inspired by my search for a belief system that could transform despair over what will be lost through climate change into valuing what we still have. In researching the earliest iterations of belief structures, I came across the Maros-Pangkep cave paintings. These paintings are the oldest known works of art, and by my interpretation the first evidence of religious life. They are a series of representational paintings which tell a story, and I was inspired to emulate this methodology in my own exploration of belief.

My essay investigates the relationship between images and religion. Through W.J.T Mitchell’s image framework of idol, fetish and totem, and Joseph Campbell’s work in archetypes and mono-mythology, I explore the history of the image-religion relationship through the philosophical concepts they share. In categorizing them I attempt to parse out the role each has had in shaping the course of history and our world today, and what categories might best serve us under the looming threat of climate change.

I apply these findings in my thesis project, a triptych of representational paintings depicting the course of a feast. My feast is depicted in three stages; from carefully laid out, then brutally torn apart, to decomposing. These three paintings are positioned in a pyramid, encircled by a yellow ribbon which guides the viewer to read the triptych as a cycle. I reference several cycles/trios in my thesis, most obviously the life-death-resurrection cycle. I intended each of the three to represent one of the categories of images, idol, fetish and totem. My final and most personal intention in using this cyclical symbolism was as an expression of my own journey towards what Joseph Campbell describes as “an experience of being alive”. My experience of which is a life-death cycle as well, something that can only be experienced acutely at times because of its absence at others.



Program Chair

John Hendrix

Included in

Illustration Commons