14 December 2005

Conceptual Art



Conceptual Art really makes a lot of people mad. I think it makes them mad because it actually makes them feel stupid, and people don't like to feel stupid especially when it is an inanimate "dumb" object that makes them feel that way, so instead they get angry.

A bit of history seems called for. Conceptual Art is now a rather old thing as far as contemporary art goes. It has come and gone (I think). By the early 1970s, Conceptual art was already a well developed thing and one the wane.

In 1969, Sol LeWitt wrote 35 'Sentences on Conceptual Art'. Here are some of the highlights:

5. Irrational thoughts should be followed absolutely and logically.
10. Ideas alone can be works of art; they are in a chain of development that may eventually find some form. All ideas nee not be made physical.
13. A work of art may be understood as a conductor for the artist's mind to the viewer’s. But it may never reach the viewer, or it may never leave the artist's mind.
18. One usually understand the art of the past by applying the conventions of the present thus misunderstanding the art of the past.
24. Perception in subjective.
32. Banal ideas cannot be rescued by beautiful execution.
33. It is difficult to bungle a good idea.
35. These sentences comment on art, but are not art.

So conceptual artists did a lot of this kind of thing:


This is Joseph Kosuth's 1966 Titled (Art as Idea as Idea) [Water]. Conceptual Art on its own, isolated from the events that preceded and surrounded it, really does make you shake your head. But I think it makes sense and even seems pretty normal considering what was going on at the time. I think these artists and the industries that allowed them to function were sick of the avant-garde hero demi-god role that artists had been playing. There was a huge disillusionment in that cult and in the ideas of authenticity, originality, progress, and so on. Modernism was failing and with that failure looming, Conceptual Art seems to have been a coping mechanism.

People argue that stuff like this is more than an empty threat to the sanctity of art. They argue that it does actual harm to it. I can't say I agree with that. As I see it Conceptual Art elicits two reactions.

1. People see it, furrow their brow, scratch their head, move on.
2. People see it, hate it, revolt against it, dig their heels in opposite it.

In either case, the viewer walks away from Conceptual works with ideas about art. Either their idea has evolved or it hasn't. I doubt that matters. But whatever their thoughts about art may be, they've got 'em, and conceptual art got them thinking.

3 comments:

ReignOfTerra said...

Coincidentally, my "Quote of the Day" for today is from Andy Capp:

" [Abstract art is] a product of the untalented, sold by the unprincipled to the utterly bewildered. "

From my non-artist viewpoint, this quote could be used for conceptual art, too. :) I think my dislike of conceptual art is based in the fact that I resent what I perceive to be “pompous art,” and especially pompous artists. I don’t think anyone likes feeling as though someone’s looking down on them…And that’s kind of how I feel with this art style.

Mary Ann said...

Comics come up with the best commentaries on art. I really like Calvin & Hobbes for that and a million other reasons.

Josh said...

i love the reactions i see to conceptual art (especially music). we hit a unit in my college music history class about concept music and early performance art. all the students were trying to best each other with our own "pieces." but, every time we submitted an idea, the professor told us it had already been done. darn. born 20 years too late, i guess.