A Life Well-Lived: Discovering Motivation and Deeper Relationships by Contemplating Our Own Mortality

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Austin Williams, Class of 2020


For centuries, religious authorities and social pressures have discouraged individualsfrom contemplating mortality. A key component to the human sense of self is the ability to acknowledge the finite nature of life. All people experience some sort of death anxiety, whether conscious or not. Some experience thanatophobia, the fear of dying, more strongly than others. If managed in a healthy manner, death anxiety can serve as a motivating force to live a fuller life and deepen relationships with family and friends. In recognizing hidden components of death anxiety and finding consolation for the inevitability of dying, we can acknowledge our own mortality and explore both secular and spiritual approaches to death. For this thesis, I use painting as a visual medium to deliver my ideas and research in an immersive experience to the viewer. I conducted research by reading books and poetry, taking photographs, and viewing other artists’ work, online and in-person, from New York City museums and galleries. I have produced ten paintings of various size and technique that communicate how science and medicine, faith, meditation, and relationships alleviate death anxiety. Ultimately, I have found that painting has helped me to develop coping mechanisms that lessen my own death anxiety. I hope that by viewing my art, people will feel encouraged to consider aspects of their own mortality as well as ways to lead a fulfilling life.

Comments from Mentors

When I first met Austin Williams he was in his first year at TCU as a biology major. He expressed interest in taking a painting class but did not have all the required prerequisites, after looking at a portfolio of his work I quickly accepted him into my beginning painting class. From then on Austin quickly improved and became more and more comfortable in the medium of oil paint. Even as an art minor, Austin was one of my most dedicated students, always trying new things and making ambitious paintings- sometimes under my guidance, but also outside of class. As faculty in the School of Art we often hope students will take the foundations of a given medium and then develop their own style. It was rewarding to see Austin steadily and deliberately hone in on what he wanted his paintings to look like and say to the viewer. His honors project is a perfect example of those efforts.

Adam Fung

Austin was relentless in his pursuit of his vision for his honors project in painting. His confronting of what death means to life and visualizing it in a series of paintings that are impeccably crafted, hauntingly beautiful, and intellectual — is a stunning result. Austin is keenly looking deeper into these topics and his work challenges the perceived gaps between art, science, the body, and medicine. I have enjoyed working with him, being challenged by his work, and can’t wait to see what he does in the future.

Dr. Matt Hale

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College of Fine Arts