Select your language

Smell and Art
Maki Ueda

What is it that we are smelling, what does it make you imagine, what does it make you feel? Could we incorporate the olfactory sense in art? Could smell be a medium carrying information?

This course will deal with these questions through a combination of lectures, workshops, intermediate presentations and a final presentation.

In this course we will start with looking at examples of art and the olfactory sense, then we will discuss the potential of the olfactory sense in art.

The workshops will first focus on fieldwork and on observing the environment with the olfactory sense. You will smell a lot and learn how to communicate about smell with others, using a basic vocabulary for analyzing and expressing the character of a smell.

Secondly we will extract smells from raw materials like soup, cheese burgers, old books, rubber tyres, flowers, and smelly T-shirts. You will learn how to do this yourself and how to compose new smells (in the most simple way).


In this course you will

  • (have to) smell a lot
  • learn about smell and olfaction
  • find another (hidden) dimension in the world
  • become aware of smell and that leads to a joyful, healthy, and long life (!)

There are many ways of using smell in art. You might want to perfume orange smell to your orange-colored painting, or you might want to add rose smell in an exhibition space where you show an installation that symbolizes love.

Most of the people only see the practical side of smell. Smell is like an additives that gives a good side-effect: it functions to make you feel relaxed or happy.

What we want to achieve in this course is a bit deeper than this.

Smell has a great potential as a medium. Let's use this course as a place to experiment. We'll focus onthe theme smell and communication. You'll receive an final assignment (mini-project) under the theme of "olfactory game".

Dates: 1, 2, 4, 8, 9, 11, 15, 16, 18 February 2010
Times: Mon, tue, thu 13.00—16.00
Objective: An introduction to artistic use of the medium of smell
No. of classes: 9 class / 3 hrs
Examination: Small assignments, attendance

Rough plan

[DAY 1] 01-02-2010

presentation of my works
Kodo demonstration (Japanese traditional aroma game / ceremony)
assignment(1) – olfactory exercise 1

[DAY 2] 02-02-2010

Discuss: How do we smell what we smell? - based on assignment (1)

[DAY 3] 04-02-2010

Discuss: smell, art, and communication
Discuss: possible mini-project topics
assignment (2) mini-project [olfactory game]

[DAY 4] 08-02-2010

Discuss: assignment (2) mini project

[DAY 5] 09-02-2010

Workshop I: smell extraction

[DAY 6] 11-02-2010

Workshop II: making incense, or others

[DAY 7] 15-02-2010

Develop mini-project OLFACTORY GAME

[DAY 8] 16-02-2010

Develop mini-project OLFACTORY GAME

[DAY 9] 18-02-2010

final presentation -mini-project  OLFACTORY GAME

[history of the senses, anthropology, cultural studies]

1. Worlds of sense
Constance Classen
(exploring the senses in history and across cultures)

2. Aroma
the cultural history of smell
Constance Classen, David Howes, Anthony Synnott
(De culturele geschiedenis van het verschijnsel geur)

3. The Foul and the Fragrant: Odor and the French Social Imagination
Alain Corbin

[general about the sense of smell]

1. The emperor of scent
Chandler Burr

Piet Vroon, Anton van Amerongen, Hans de Vries
Translated by Paul Vincent
Dutch title:
Verborgen verleider: Psychologie van de reuk

3. What the Nose Knows
Avery Gilbert