Saturday, July 07, 2007

The Conceptual Question: Is it Art?

You have most likely heard this charge before, "Conceptual art is not art!"- now I ask you, if it is not art- what is it? How should we define it? Why can't it be art? The negative views of conceptual art stems in the fact that most people simply do not know what it is. I've given some thought to this. Thus, I've decided to write a small article about conceptual art that will hopefully answer a few questions about the art form. Hopefully it will stimulate a debate as well.
The problem facing conceptual art is the fact that the majority of people do not understand it. It would be my guess that many artist who work in this manner are also guilty of not knowing the foundation of the art form. How can you appreciate a form of art if you do not comprehend the thoughts behind it? How can you judge a form of art if you don't understand the principles of it? These are questions that deserve an answer.

Conceptual art is a form of art that involves materials just like any other artistic endeavor. However, these materials are the very "concepts" that go into the piece. This is how a conceptual artist should view his or her work and how we, as the viewers, should observe it.

Conceptual art is not about the physical materials that are used to give form to the piece. The process should not be concerned with the finished product. Conceptual art is instead focused on the 'ideas' that go into the piece. In other words, conceptual art is a form of art that is founded on the idea of concepts.

The items used to construct the concepts in physical form are not the primary focus of the work. If they are the piece is no longer a work of conceptual art. Thus, the concept is art from the moment it enters the artists mind. This can be hard to grasp since we view art as either being physically finished or not.

In conceptual art the idea of concept is vital and must be the focus of the work. This is the strongest aspect of conceptual art as an art form. Without it the strength of the conceptual piece as a whole loses validity and becomes a work of art that is more perceptual than conceptual. In other words, without a pre-determined idea the art is no longer conceptual. Instead it would be perceptual.

Perceptual art, like classical paintings or drawings, are created from one idea to the next making changes in between to suit the over-all piece visually. Conceptual art should remain true to the original idea- the concept that stem from it. The appearance of the final product is not a point of concern for the conceptual artist. It is instead a by-product of the idea. Again, this goes against much of what we are taught in the early years of our education and is a key reason why people find it hard to accept conceptual art for what it is.

One must remember that conceptual art is not about the sensation of the eye. As mentioned, works focused on capturing the eye are perceptual- conceptual art is not focused on this endeavor. Thus, it is important to not judge perceptual and conceptual art on the same terms because they are contradictory in nature. This is where the problem with accepting conceptual art as a form of art can be found.

Viewing perceptual and conceptual art equally is almost like accepting past, present, and future as the same value of time. This is will not work unless your name is Marty McFly and you happen to be friends with a mad doctor. Thus, we need to know the foundation of these works in order to understand how they can be considered art.

Most of us are conditioned to view only perceptual art as art. We are raised to enjoy the emotive works of Van Gogh, Picasso, and the Old Masters. Thus, we define the beauty of art based on that conditioned stimulus- anything else is not accepted because it goes against years of assumed knowledge of what art should be.

For example, conceptual art is rarely mentioned in the average high school art class and most art books for children and teens involve works that are based in emotion. The popular media image of the artist is of a man or woman who works in an emotional manner- the tortured artist slaying his or her demons with artistic expression. Conceptual art should be void of emotion- thus it goes against our conditioned view of art. The image that the public school system and movies have created for us.

Many of us are raised to think that art should have an emotional message for the viewer. Thus, we do not accept works that lack a clear message as being art. We expect a work of art to have a message and for it to pull at our senses. Conceptual art is at a disadvantage due to this. This is due to the fact that conceptual art is purely intuitive and is purposeless based on the words of the artists who founded it in the first place.

I must repeat: Most of us do not accept conceptual art as art because we were raised not to accept it. Conceptual art has been caught in the cross-fire of our education... through school and by the media. We can't see this form of art as art because it contradicts the idea of art that we were raised to know and accept. So in order to enjoy conceptual art one must place everything that he or she has been taught on the back-burner. That can be very hard to do.

I would like to stress that one form of art is not any better than the next. I personally feel that all works should be equally accepted as art. I actually think it is harmful to art as a whole when once form of art is degraded. However, that does not mean that I have to like one form compared to another.

There can be good art and bad art... some bad art can be good art... and so on. In other words, I'm not suggesting that conceptual art is better than other forms of art. I do not work in a conceptual manner. I'm suggesting that the artists who work in that manner deserve to have their work accepted as art without being constantly questioned by their peers. Remember that many of the forms of art we utilize today were once questioned and degraded in the past.

With that knowledge in hand... let us rethink how we should view the non-emotive art form that is conceptual art. What are your views of conceptual art? Did this text help to give you a better perspective about conceptual art? Do you still feel that conceptual art is not art? Let me know what you think.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin


Kenneth Griffin said...

Conceptual art is nonsense. If someone encapsulates a turd in lucite they call it art. I call them perverts. Not to say experimentation and free thinking aren't good things, but making crap and attempting to pass it off as art is bull#$%.
Painting solid colors on 12inch squares and calling it art is an insult to the intelligence of most people. The irony in that however, is supposed intelligent people buy into that nonsense. Like lambs to slaughter if some moronic self-important critic praises a piece of shit, the art buying public will follow behind. Basquiat, and Maplethorpe are perfect examples of this lambs to slaughter mentality. Most conceptual art looks like it came from people with no drawing abilities, or artistic gifts whatsoever. Throw shit on the wall and if it stick, then its art. complete crap.

Kenneth Griffin said...

Anyone trying to sell water to a drowning man!

Anonymous said...

I think that art is simple: If a piece that is created by someone evokes an emotional response in the viewer (or listener, etc.) then that created piece is art. (It's just that some people are emotionally deficient.)

Reilly Fitzgerald.

jase daniels said...

I would appreciate a few key examples of conceptual art and artists to further my musings on this topic.

As for the concept of conceptual art, I agree 100% that it should be treated with the same respect as any other art form. Is it correct to state that it is in a similar position to video art? in that it is relatively new and it will take time for it to be accepted as valid.



Anonymous said...

I can see why he did not post images. When you post samples of conceptual art it is like begging for people to write it off as not art based on face value alone. Don't blame the guy for allowing you the chance to think instead of passing judgement which some of you already have. My art is conceptual and I have to deal with insults all the time even though I spend more hours in the studio than other art students at my college. It is easy for them to insult me for what I do when their work is already grounded in the mind of the average person. As this guy pointed out the educational system at least in America favors expressionist art. We never learned anything about Sol Lewitt or any of the other founders of this type of art. In my eyes people like Ken take the easy way out because they never bother to learn about other choices. It is easy to mock conceptual art when your work is accepted by the masses. Why is your work art ken? Is it because you use mediums that are considered traditional or because you follow how-to art books to the letter! Why do you call your stuff art. I'll tell you it is because yo have been told it is art by school and by the media just like dude pointed out. I like a challenge and ignorant people like you make conceptual art a challenge. So thanks.

Anonymous said...

Conceptual art is not about emotion. I get tired of the people who say that art has to have an emotional response to be considered art. Do we have to define art in that way just because someone who lived hundreds of years ago decided to define art in that way? Come to think of it conceptual art oftens causes a hateful reponse from people. Last I check anger was an emotion. So that means conceptual art is art right? It caused an emotion over the idea of what the art is about and if it is of worth so in that light conceptual art is art because it still fits in the definition of art.


zynmaster said...

conceptual is as valid as anything else. is all conceptual art great? no. is all conceptual art terrible? no. is all traditional art great? no. is all trad...........

its just another category of art. i personally love conceptual art. the best art IMO is successful conceptual art. it stimulates both my visual and intellectual side much like a visual riddle.

david bass

zynmaster said...

conceptual is as valid as anything else. is all conceptual art great? no. is all conceptual art terrible? no. is all traditional art great? no. is all trad...........

its just another category of art. i personally love conceptual art. the best art IMO is successful conceptual art. it stimulates both my visual and intellectual side much like a visual riddle.

david bass

Anonymous said...

I almost only work out of concepts. They come from an interest, they turn into a study or an essay, and then the process of putting the right pieces together, which sounds absolutely simple, but requires alot from your intelligence. to find a material which can be anything ( crap, videotapes, bricks, waxpeople, butterflies, etc.) And link it to your concept is a great feeling. I admit it is very different from working on an emotional level with your art, but it at leats provides you with a nice distance to oversee what you are doing.
I'll give you an example of something conceptual that moved me yesterday. I was looking at a wall in a gallery that was stacked floor to ceiling with bouillonblocks? I don't know the proper english word but its the little inch by inch, pre-wrapped soupblocks you can make the base of your soup with. They were re-wrapped with poetry. the amount of bouillonblocks matched that of the inhabitants of the town. The artist was asked to make something for the inhabitants in case of any kind of catastrophe in the future, ( war,crisis, etc.)
so he gave each of them soup and poetry. Because without either of them in that worstcase scenario you'd be without hope and beauty or without food. the visual outcome of the work was great eventhough it was purely conceptual, and it was not completely without emotion, cause emotion is your catalyst to choose the subject of your concept. I hope you can see that conceptual art is more than putting crap on a wall and calling it art, thats the kind of thing that I as a conceptual artist would also not accept, unless the concept behind it is immaculate.

Anonymous said...

For me Conceptual Art is another word for crap art.
Its a CON alright.
Its just another way for the elite
to hijack as a probe for their political views agenda.
Conceptual art has tarnished and ruined the whole concept of imagination,integrity,skill,and ambuigity of ones art.Its has made art genre a joke in the mind of many.
Where has the teachings of skill gone?
Proprotion? Gridding? sketch?
I'm doing an art in school and is shit(A level)
I learn no skills whatsover.
Its not fair.
Personally,Conceptul "art" is boring unimaginative,pretentious,
unoriginal shit.

Anonymous said...

I spent years in a traditional arts program and apprenticeship as a sculptor and painter. I learned to a certain level of mastery how to re-create objects and people in two and three-dimensional space. I even was said to "capture the soul" in my portraits and likened to Rembrandt in this ability.

But I never felt like an "artist" until I began to explore conceptual art. I was then free to understand where this elusive "creativity" came from. It's impossible to relate to anyone - you have to take your own leaps of faith here.

Now, whether working traditionally or conceptually, I have the best of both worlds - I can focus on the formalism and master the skills, or I can let my mind loose in the chaos of its conceptual origins.

I've come to think of it not as a competition or two camps at odds, but rather as the masculine and feminine walking together and improving my abilities in the way that only such collaborations can.

Pure formalism is a dead object art.
Pure conceptualism is an idea in your own head that is never realized as any type of communication to the outside worls.

Conceptual art is the route by which we're able to teach ourselves this lesson - at least that's how it worked for me.

Anonymous said...

conceptual art, or non- perceptual art, as you say, is its own category - outside 'visual' art and should have its own galleries and insitutions,- it is unart, non-art, post art, non-visual art, aesthetic management..

Most of it is about as intellectual as long division - once you know where the brackets go, its boring and repetitive.

Conceptual art is to the art world, what synchronised swimming was to the olympics...

Michelangelo was the greatest 'conceptual' artist that ever lived.

just a rant...

Unknown said...

If your "conceptual" art requires an accompanying overly verbose tome explaining its context and relevance, then you've failed, and are a wanker.

If, on the other hand, you re-appropriate one, or several images in such a fashion that we, as viewers, are startled, and begin to re-contextualize these images ourselves, then yes - you are an artist.

The problem comes when "art" becomes a commodity. At that point, it is in the interest of the less-than-enlightened brokers to sell us on the marketability of an object, as opposed to any intrinsic value, either as expressed by the labors of the artist, or by the genuine emotional impact impressed upon the viewer.