This Versus That...Notions on Conceptual Art
A white-paper about art by Kevin Korpela (© 2004 observatorydrive.com)
The artist Hans Haacke in the 1970s purchased ten turtles from a pet store and later released them into a forest in France and photographed the event to document the art while most likely an audience was present to view to the work. Although information on whether an audience was indeed present is not definitive. In Haacke’s work there is no traditional object to frame and hang on a wall, no item to be auctioned, no commodity to be sold, and the work was not necessarily concerned with the quality of a line or the texture, color, or movement of a brush. Barbara Matilsky in Fragile Ecologies: Contemporary Artists' Interpretations and Solutions suggested that Haacke made a "metaphorical work that questions the human interference with the freedom of animals and their imprisoned status as pets (Matilsky, 52.)" Haacke presents or reports social, political, and possibly environmental notions by setting turtles free while his non-object art includes "...little or no saleable object (Maksymowicz, 36.)" Maybe Haacke is not an artist in the traditional notion, but an artist as reporter. An artist not necessarily making an object but commenting on events, experiences, or cultural notions. Maybe:
"Artists are messengers reporting the news of the world, not creating it. So, then, why does that great mass of Americans called the ‘general public’ often get more riled up about artistic images than the ‘news’ behind those images (Maksymowicz, 36)"
Haacke’s work is one version of an art called Conceptual which is usually thought to begin in the late 1960s, although some work cited in this paper was developed earlier. Conceptual art, like Maksymowicz suggests, often documents or comments on context in culture. The context includes the underlining motives in world events or actions of others. Conceptual artists approach art and culture differently than the traditional media agencies or artists in the previous decade. Conceptual art regards notions of "What is art?" or "This versus that?" Does art necessarily have to be an object or can art be a performance, a book, a few chosen words, a gesture, or an empty gallery? Art can be many things according to the Conceptual artist. From about 1967 to 1977, often noted as the period of Conceptual art, artists in the United States and other countries frequently asked questions such as "What is art?" and developed many answers. Frances Colpitt and Phyllis Plous in Knowledge: Aspects of Conceptual Art suggest that "although radically anti-formal, Conceptual Art, like the modernist project in general, originated in a questioning of the nature and definition of art itself (Colpitt, 11.)"
Conceptual art questions many notions about This versus That and includes:
. Idea versus object
. Plural versus singular
. Questioning versus accepting
. Creator versus re-creator
. Epilogue: Legacy of Conceptual art
IDEA VERSUS OBJECT
Conceptual art may have been the first global or international movement and was a reaction to or because of the formal nature of modern art that was popular in the 1950's. A New York art critic, writer, and gallery owner, Clement Greenberg, was a proponent of formal notions of modern art and was a promoter of artists such as Jackson Pollock. Greenberg:
"...helped define abstract gestural painting begun in the 1940s. Greenburg held that modern art was self-critical, that painting was about the stuff of painting, the medium and the support or as [the Conceptual artist] Joseph Kosuth called morphology, and that it therefore necessarily strove toward flatness and rejected what was not essential to it, such as literary ideas. This position is predicated on early twentieth century criticism, especially art critic and writer Clive Bell’s concept of significant form, which intended to show that it was not mimesis painting [or imitation painting such as portrait, landscape, or multi-figural works from the 1700 and 1800s] that interested modern painters so much as color, composition and space (Colpitt, 11.)"
Prior to Bell’s "...concept of significant form (Colpitt, 11)," the early years of the 20th Century included opposing views regarding the formal nature of art. In 1917 the art writer Roger Fry suggested that, "With the new indifference to representation we have become much less interested in skill and not at all interested in knowledge (Colpitt, 11.)" This supports the formalism advocated by Greenberg who suggested an art of contemplation versus cognition or visual versus mental. However, the artist Marcel Duchamp, also writing in the early 1900s, claimed that the new art’s reliance on the visual alone should be dismissed. Duchamp called for a rejection of the "...retinal painting, which appeals to the eye alone (Colpitt, 11.)" As with many notions in society, as time passes people change rules from that which proceeded before. Duchamp and others questioned many notions about art and culture, such as:
"...the identity of a work of art, the relationship of art and language, the relationship of art to a world of commodity production set against an ideology of independence and spiritual value, and what it was that the artist did, can all be seen to prefigure later Conceptual art (Wood, 14.)"
Conceptual art changed rules with notions of an art of ideas rather than actual objects. The notion of art as an idea is not without a history. Duchamp, mentioned earlier, made reference to the "importance of the ideas behind art, and an emphasis on systems for the production of cultural rather than personal meanings (Colpitt, 62.)" It may be misleading however to suggest that the notion of ideas in art is relegated to only Conceptual art because most art has a basis in some type of an idea, if an idea is defined as a mental process or thought organization. Despite this notation, Conceptual art is about ideas much more so than most other art. Paul Wood in Moments in Modern Art: Conceptual Art asks the question, "So why didn’t a fully fledged Conceptual art not arise in 1918 [with Marcel Duchamp and others] versus 1968 (Wood, 15)?" Wood suggested that it was because art has a complex nature and it matures and moves to other areas in significant ways when the context is appropriate for that change. Change most likely can happen at any time but change is moved along by events and the context around any one particular artist. Wood also suggested that art was a:
"...social practice, and the range of possible meanings available to art at any one time are circumscribed by it historical situation. As it turned out, the political crisis of the early twentieth century did not issue in a new world order. International socialism did not happen. The capitalist system inherited from the nineteenth century that fell apart in 1914 was restabilised in the 1920's, only to go into prolonged crisis again in 1929: a crisis that was not resolved until 1945 (Wood, 15.)"
World events are part of a context that can influence an artist. Many events in the 1960s, such as the Vietnam War, Civil Rights, Abortion Rights, or Women’s Rights, may have fueled notions behind Conceptual art to question culture and art production as well as influence many artists in different countries. Much of the cultural production in the 1960s was against or a reaction to some idea or notion. Colpitt suggests that Conceptual art was no different. Conceptual art:
"...was a reaction from within modernism, prompted by the enervated condition of abstract art and the dogmatism of formalist theory. A similar restless spirit was being felt in architecture, literature, music and dance and had become an international phenomenon by the end of the sixties...Linked to the counterculture movement, artistic opposition was an aspect of the explosive impulse challenging sanctioned attitudes. [Artists]...urged alternative modes of representation that could extend art’s subject matter and ensure its survival in a society oriented toward commercial goals (Colpitt, 61.)"
Colpitt also suggests that "...following World War II, increasing numbers of young artists had enrolled in the recently established art departments of colleges and universities (Colpitt, 61.)" Universities and their frequent emphasis on theoretical study relative to a particular profession may have blended with other events in the world to provide a foundation for art students and later as practicing artists to ask questions that had not been asked in the past. Likewise, Michael Corris in Conceptual Art: Theory, Myth, and Practice agreed that Conceptual art provided a different approach. Corris suggested that Conceptual art was a "...shift for the artist not merely a reformation of de-materialization of the art object but a project for the transformation of artistic practice (Corris, 1.)" Despite notions of idea versus object or maybe de-materialization of the object versus wholly against object-art, Conceptual art still required a gallery space for one of its most significant public shows. A New York show in 1969 is thought of by many writers on Conceptual art to be the "landmark (Colpitt, 13)" exhibition. The exhibition was called January 5-31, 1969, and was organized by art dealer Seth Siegelaub, and included four artists: Joseph Kosuth, Robert Barry, Douglas Huebler and Lawrence Weiner. The artist Huebler wrote in the exhibition catalogue that "The world is full of objects, more or less interesting; I do not wish to add any more (Colpitt, 14.)" Huebler’s comments about objects does have its precedents, because:
"...the year before, Lucy Lippard and John Chandler speculated that the object may become obsolete, ‘dematerialized.’ Critic Gordon Brown confirmed ‘The dematerialization of the Object’ in Arts Magazine later that year; and Ursula Meyer seconded it in ‘De-Objectification of the Object.’ The argument for the dematerialization was based not only on Conceptual innovations, but on the collapse of traditional distinctions of painting and sculpture in Minimalism and on Process Art’s rejection of the bounded, discrete shape. The Conceptualists’ presentation of photographs, maps and written texts as conveyors of art ideas rather than art objects in themselves emphasized meaning over appearance (Colpitt, 14.)"
Siegelaub rented a typical office suite in an upper floor of a multiple-storied office building in Manhattan for the January show. This obviously was not the typical venue for a major exhibition. It was not a gallery or a museum but only non-discrete work space for office professionals. Then he hired another artist to "pose" as a receptionist, as would be typical in an office setting, to welcome visitors. Much of Conceptual art was about changing rules and questioning that which came before, it most likely was intentional then to select an "office suite" for the exhibition, suggesting that art does not require the traditional institutions to support art presentation. Although, it may have also been for practical reasons, for example, maybe Siegelaub could not find a willing gallery to participate in the event, so he changed the rules and found a non-typical alternative. The main event in the exhibition was not necessarily the objects in the room but the catalog. The singular art works in the exhibition were not as important as the relatively inexpensive and multiple-copy catalog.
When Conceptual art "...emerged as an idea-based art and heralded the disappearance of the object as a necessary component in art. It infuriated many artists and critics (Morgan, 1996: 1.)" Other artists and critics thought differently. Many believed that Conceptual artists were romantics building ideas to change the approach, presentation, and appreciation of art. Being a romantic has both positive or negative connotations: a thinker trying to make the world better or a non-practical dreamer with more ideas than they can handle hence nothing is accomplished...generalizations perhaps but they may be relevant to Conceptual art considering its claimed to be an art or process about ideas. Regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with people holding romantic tendencies, Teri Cohn in Conceptualizing Conceptual Art: A Post-Object Perspective suggested that artists and some of the public liked the notion of the new art and of moving the:
"...form of art from object to concept. [It was...] not about forms or materials, but is about ideas and meanings, it has always questioned the status of the art object as unique, collectable, or saleable. The work has no traditional form, which has enabled an open-ended approach to considering it, and has demanded active response on the part of the viewer (Cohn, 14.)"
Creating art with strong ideas versus strong forms suggests an art that is attempting to appeal to mental versus visual appreciation. The artist Sol LeWitt in 1967 announced that:
"It was the objective of the artist who is concerned with conceptual art to make his work mentally interesting to the spectator." Colpitt adds, "Sixties Conceptualism rejected the sensual appeal of color, composition and space, and returned to concerns with the mind’s apperception of reality (Colpitt, 11.)"
Colpitt notes that artists practicing in the 1990s that say that they are working under the influence of Conceptual art have placed aside many of the more romantic notions of changing the institution of the art gallery, its business market approach with the saleable object, and have been "focusing instead on film, video, photography, text and installation, forms that lend its appearance and suggest its market success (Cohn, 14.)" However, despite these less romantic tendencies of the artists and the public in the 1990s, both the artist from the 1960s or the 1990s have still been drawn to Conceptual art and its ability to be "mentally interesting to the spectator (Cohn, 14.)" Cohn suggests that Conceptual art:
"...whose focus on ‘idea oriented situations not directed at the production of static objects (as Tom Marioni defined Conceptual art in 1970)’, has logically led to the intense reexamination of art’s institutionalization. Contextualized through the spate of projects that have deconstructed the relationship between arts, artists and museums. The work of art is not the object; the work of art is the information that is communicated (Cohn, 14.)"
Whether artists created Conceptual art in the 1960s and the 1970s or were reinterpreting its notions 20 years later despite their more market focused approach, both seem to appreciate an art with layers of content related to culture and context, rather then only notions on the quality of line or the texture, color, or movement of the brush. Carl Andre suggested that, "Art is what we [artists] do to culture. Culture is that which is done to us (Morgan, 1997: 108.)" Art and the intent of artists, particularly Conceptual artists, are related to a culture which is not a singular idea, rather culture is complex with many permutations. Corris suggested the connection between art and culture, and that the intent of Conceptual art was to develop additional connections. Conceptual art could be viewed:
"...as a set of practices that sought to enable a critical engagement with art, media, mass culture, and technology." Corris also says that there were "...debates within Conceptual art that sought to expose and criticize the basic social and political relations that bind art to society and culture (Corris, 12.)"
Perhaps art relates to culture and culture reflects our art. Conceptual art is only the latest installment in many millennia of art production, each art work reflecting some type of cultural context. Maybe the nature of Conceptual art is only different in that the tools available and the context (including concerns based on social, economic, political, environmental, and artistic ideas) prevalent at that time had evolved where they (the tools and the context) were different than that which was available to previous artists. The Conceptual artist only organized the new and different tools in ways which commented or reflected on the new and different context.
PLURAL VERSUS SINGULAR
Considering Conceptual art’s notions about context and culture, it is perhaps natural then that Conceptual artists question the notion of the solo artist with singular art objects for sale. Collaboration became common, such as Art & Language and Cleg & Guttmann, to lessen the relevance of the solitary artist. Colpitt suggests that, "collaborative efforts also defy the myth, intact since the Renaissance and central to modernists such as Jackson Pollock, of the artist as lone, creative genius (Colpitt, 19.)" More importantly was that the introduction of more group production may have helped develop an entire new realm of art called environmental art or land art, where artists such as Christo or Patricia Johanson direct groups of people of varied disciplines to create large works.
Multiple-image reproduction via photocopiers displaced the notion of singular art work. Conceptual artists took advantage of these new or revised technologies in the late 1960s. The copiers were used in several ways to make multiple and inexpensive copies of an image of a work or to make copies of images from other sources which would then be manipulated according to the artists intent. Making multiple copies of art counteracted the modernist notion of single original work. Some methods of Conceptual art were referred to as the "displacement of the ‘one by the many,’ involving copies of copies and playing the modernists notion of the unique against the infinity of mechanical reproduction (Colpitt, 66.)"
Also, relatively inexpensive processes for film developing made photography more popular as a tool for the Conceptual artist and was used as a method to open new subjects to study and manipulate for art. Conceptual art and maybe Pop art before it helped open art to notions of mass media. The artist Sarah Charlesworth combined the study of media with photography for Guerilla Piece, June 4, 5 1979. This work was created after or near the finish of the usual ending date for Conceptual art of 1977. However, Charlesworth work still includes notions about context and culture that may have only been available because of the earlier artists working in Conceptual art. Her work involves the study of various newspapers and one specific news article, and includes:
"...a ten-part piece by photographing a page in each of ten newspapers over a two-day period. Masking out all but one image and the newspaper’s identity, in each frame she represented the same Associated Press picture of a Nicaraguan rebel. [The]...analysis of the means by which the media manufactures the news indicated the weight and varied political interpretations that can be allotted to an incident by means of location, captioning and scale (Colpitt, 66.)"
Charlesworth’s work suggests a role for the artist as an investigator. Colpitt says that:
"Conceptually-based artists were collapsing distinctions between reality and fantasy, appropriating preexisting imagery from the media, subsuming its style and substance, and altering or combing it with visual sources borrowed from history. [They]...were negotiating the space between the role of artist as original genius and artist as investigator...by which pictures are used to reinforce cultural myths of power and control (Colpitt, 66.)"
The artist as investigator leads to notions about questioning and accepting what is being done, what has been done, or what may be done.
QUESTIONING VERSUS ACCEPTING
Opinions vary on the validity of Conceptual art as an art. Robert Morgan in Art into Ideas: Essays on Conceptual Art, suggests Conceptual artists were "too arcane or too intellectual, not ‘visual enough in is appeal’ (Morgan, 1996: 8.)" Morgan may be correct on Conceptual art and its lack of traditional visual appeal, however, why not try a more intellectual art for awhile and see what develops, what notions are explored, and what art work is created? Colpitt provides an opposing view to Morgan and suggests that the value that is brought to culture through an intellectual art is that which Conceptual art did provide:
"...a marriage of art and theory, offering visual pleasure and intellectual challenge. The artists didn’t shy away from addressing the concerns of their generation regarding such issues as race, class, the environment, or urban decay...[and]...by excavating the same culture for both source material and targets (Colpitt, 67.)"
The artist Joseph Kosuth, mentioned earlier in regards to the early Conceptual art exhibition called January 5-31, 1969, also questioned art and what it is or isn’t. He wrote many essays about the meaning of words, and about art and philosophy. In one essay he outlined the difference between art and painting, saying that:
"...the word art is general and the word painting is specific. Painting is a specific kind of art. If you make paintings you are already accepting not questioning the nature of art. One is then accepting the nature of art to be the European tradition of a painting-sculpture dichotomy. But in recent years the best new work has been neither painting nor sculpture, and increasing numbers of young artists make art that is neither one. When words lose their meaning they are meaningless. We have our own time and our own reality and it need not be justified by being hooked into European art history (Alberro, 2003: 29.)"
Conceptual art also allowed the context or the environment, events, or activities within a culture or the experiences of the artist to be accepted as a method for viewers to understand art and maybe our society or culture. Colpitt suggested that this:
"...has transformed our notions of what counts as art and as significance. For viewers, too, there is the invitation to enjoy artworks not just for their surface value but to discover the different possible meanings located within the layers of implication that form the works (Colpitt, 70.)"
The notion of context in art, the context in which the art is shown, or in which art was created was noted in the early 1900's by, again, Marcel Duchamp. Duchamp developed an art called "ready-mades" where he used ordinary objects in a context that was different than how the object was usually experienced. Duchamp was suggesting that the same object shown in a different context could be thought of as art. Wood suggested that:
"...Duchamp began to take objects that had not originally been made as art objects, but as ordinary, utilitarian things, and to transplant them from their normal context of use into an alien context: an art context. [But] there was no precedent for such a thing being regarded as a work of art. With the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to see here how a crucial slippage can occur between establishing the identity of something as a work of art according to its possession of an essential formal quality, and the very opposite of that: treating it as art not because of its ineluctably right formal ‘essence’ to which we all assent, because of contingent contextual factors, such as being displayed in an art exhibition or produced by someone upon whom the identity ‘artist’ has already been conferred (Wood, 12.)"
Art in relation to context may be most effective if the message is distributed to the largest possible audience. Siegelaub in his promotion of Conceptual art and its artists was "concerned with getting art out in the world (Colpitt, 13.)" Through photocopy reproduction Conceptual art, "...mostly consisting of text or photographs", could "...just as well be distributed through books and catalogues (Colpitt, 13.)" Through distribution to a large audience the questioning posed by Conceptual artists may then have the greatest impact on culture and the public and provide the support to move towards less market/commodity oriented practices and help the Conceptual artist in their romantic notion to change the nature of the art institutions. The catalog could not only be a recording of the work but the catalog could become an art work itself. Morgan suggested that:
"...documents could also contain their own significance as works-in-themselves. Dematerialization and distrust towards the object, underlying desire and attempt to avoid commercialization nourished by Vietnam War and questioning of American way of life (Morgan, 1996: 21.)"
The notions of war and questioning culture recalls earlier concerns about the multiple influences and contexts overlapping in the 1960s prior to and coincident with the formation of Conceptual art. Questioning culture can take any forms. The artist Mike Kelly made a work called Know Nothing, 1982-1983, were he questioned the frequently-used reference, Cliff Notes. Kelly made a large canvas with an inscription and an image. The inscription said "If you don’t want to know the definition, don’t open the dictionary!" The image was a book cover for a Cliff Notes manual, an often used source by students when writing school papers. Colpitt suggests that Kelly is questioning or exploring:
"...the bravura and confidence of adolescence. Drawn with an utterly sincere as opposed to appropriative hand, his work speaks of the genuineness of the human spirit, unspoilt by the manipulation of the media or academic theory (Colpitt, 18.)"
Questioning art and asking what it is or isn’t is important to Conceptual art. Conceptual artists often suggest this notion in their art works by what they are not. Other artist such as Kosuth states more literally on what his work is not by writing about it. He wrote in his Art After Philosophy that:
"The formalist definition of art on morphological grounds (a work of art is a rectangular-shaped canvas stretched over wooden supports and stained with such and such colors) is rejected because it fails to questions the nature of art itself (Colpitt, 12.)"
Two artists in Europe, Yves Klein and John Latham, made art that were not works based on a "...rectangular-shaped canvas (Colpitt, 12.)" Yves Klein in 1958 featured an empty gallery. The exhibit was in the Iris Clert Gallery in Paris and was called The Void. A military band was hired for the opening night and played selections for the arriving visitors. The visitors "passed through an International Klein Blue curtain over the gallery entrance into the ‘exhibition’: a completely empty gallery (Wood, 19.)" Klein had previously went through the process with an earlier work to collaborate with a paint manufacturer to patent a particular pigment of blue and name it after himself, International Klein Blue. The art work was a performance, much like Haacke setting free turtles into the forest.
The English artist John Latham was a part-time instructor at an art school and in August 1966 selected a copy of Greenberg’s Art and Culture and invited teachers and students to attend "a chew-in (mimicking the teach-ins and sit-ins of the time), which involved selecting a page, tearing it out, masticating it, and spitting he results into a receptacle provided (Wood, 32.)" The chewed paper was figuratively and literally distilled when Latham:
"...broke down he pulp into liquid with a concoction of chemicals into which yeast was introduced. When the library requested its book back, it received a test-tube of alcohol: Latham had ‘distilled’ Art and Culture (Wood, 32.)"
The library and school administrators did not appreciate the work and fired Latham. After his dismissal, Latham combined the test-tube, an original copy of Art and Culture, and his dismissal letter from the school into a suitcase which could be used as an object for display in galleries or museums.
Both Klein and Latham used unusual methods and presentations for their works. Klein and Latham questioned notions of art exhibitions and the meaning of words. Another version of questioning the notions of art includes appropriating other information, such as text or images, or work from other sources and then manipulating the information in a new way to make a new work. The frequent use of the photocopier or photography lends itself to appropriation. Colpitt suggests that:
"Appropriation...draws our attention to the manipulative potential of the media. With a less political agenda, Conceptualists in the sixties also appropriated texts and images. Kosuth’s dictionary definitions and Baldessari’s work in particular serve as models. Baldessari’s Police Drawings, 1971, was the result of the artist wandering around, unannounced, in a friend’s drawing class. A police artist was sent into the classroom to make a drawing based on the students’ description of the visitor (Colpitt, 16.)"
In the Baldessari’s work, Police Drawings, 1971, the artist added another moniker to the previously mentioned moniker, artist as an investigator. Baldessari became an artist as an organizer. He organized events and people. He combined several common ideas in a new way: the typical studio class with its inherent philosophy of students observing still-life or human figures and a police sketch artist with its inherent philosophy of recording the thoughts of bystanders to an event. Baldessari combined varied activities and appropriated the philosophy behind each separate activity into a new and different work or philosophy.
Another notion that Conceptual art challenged was the role of the artist and the art critic. Ursula Meyer in Conceptual Art suggests that:
"Conceptual artists take over the role of the critic in terms of framing their own propositions, ideas, and concepts...Conceptual art reveals the premise of the work which is different than traditional art. Traditional art is not concerned with defining the intention of the work, the idea of the work remains hidden (Meyer, viii.)"
Meyer also says that "Art is not in the object, but in the artist’s conceptual of the art to which the objects are subordinated (Meyer, xi.)" Meyer continues, "The detachment of art’s energy from the craft of tedious object production has further implications. This reclamation of process refocuses art as an energy driving to change perception (Meyer, xv.)" Whether one can suggest that art is only an "energy" and not a "craft or object" is for much debate. However, it may be argued that Conceptual art provided new tools and new ways to think about art, organize thoughts, assess culture concerns, develop ideas, and propose commentary with unique methods of presentation.
CREATOR VERSUS RE-CREATOR
Latham and his distilling the contents of a book about modernist theories of formal art suggests one of the two types of artists as defined by William Lowman in Nurturing the Creators. Latham would most likely be called a creator, the other being the re-creator. Lowman says that:
"the re-creators are amazing individuals -- mostly musical performers, actors, and dancers -- who bring us great pleasure as they spend many hours in search of the perfect performance, within the appropriate style of the period. They seek to make an individual artistic statement within the artistic vision of the original composer-writer-choreographer. Their success calls for the most disciplined practice. They must excel individually and collaborate carefully. Creators are quite different from re-creators. These are the visual artists, the choreographers, the composers, the creative writers, the filmmakers, and the interdisciplinary artists -- engaging individuals who start with the blank page or the blank canvas, risking failure every time they begin. Creators look at the world, translate it into a concern or problem, replace the problem with an idea, select a medium, and present it as an environmental sculpture, a painting, a play, a script, a poem, a piece of performance art, a choreographed dance, a music composition. Creators, by their very nature, push the envelope, test the boundaries, challenge the status quo at every turn (Lowman, 2004: 58-66.)"
Much of Conceptual art is about artists whom "...look at the world, translate it into a concern or a problem, replace the problem with an idea...and present it as [a]...a piece of performance art...(Lowman, 2004: 58-66.)" Although this is not to denigrate previous artists from other times and suggest that they were not creators, it’s only that under Lowman’s definition the Conceptual artists are more likely to seek different solutions and modes of presentation then most artists had used until that time.
EPILOGUE: LEGACY OF CONCEPTUAL ART
Although the practice of Conceptual art is usually noted as ending in the late 1970s its legacy continues as the basis for other art investigations. For example, Conceptual artist’s collaboration, cultural commentary, and non-traditional presentation were adopted by earth or land artists, or systems or process artists. Conceptual art helped artists, critics, and the public recognize or allow the existence of an art work beyond objects in a gilded-frame for exhibition in a gallery. Colpitt suggested that Conceptual art provided substance to later notions of art and said that:
"The history of artists and art-making since the late seventies reflects the character of a media-literate generation exposed to critical theory. The implication of the intense discussions about Conceptualism, which had occurred in the late sixties and early seventies, were still vital and were fueling theory and criticism. In addition, young artists nourished on computerized information, rock music, mass media imagery, the comic strip and the disposable television experience were maturing in a homogenized consumer society (Colpitt, 65.)"
Business leaders since the 1960s have sought new methods and ways to approach their work and the notions behind Conceptual art has been noticed by people as analogous to the notions of innovation in the business world. Alexander Alberro in Conceptual Art and the Politics of Publicity suggested the importance of innovation and its common attribute with both Conceptual art and emerging business practices:
"Just as the artist endeavors to improve his interpretation and conception through innovation, the commercial entity strives to improve its end product or service through experimentation with new methods and materials. Our constant search for a new and better way in which to perform and produce is akin to the questioning of the artist (Alberro, 2003: 2.)"
Manipulating and organizing information becomes primary for the economic systems after the 1970's, such as the authors and futurists Alvin and Heidi Toffler proclaim, in numerous books such as The Third Wave, on the future dominance of information production in economic systems. The work of Conceptual artists often included information modification. Alberro suggested the similarities of the information economy and art in that:
"This shift paralleled the new society affected by multinational capitalism, such as post-industrial and information consumer society...Providing services and manipulating information becomes the heart of this new economic paradigm. Emergence of conceptual art is closely related to this new moment of advanced capitalism. Including an understanding of the shifting public persona of the artist and the full-scale incorporation of art, but also a glimpse of the relationship that was established between the new economies of aesthetic value and the politicized cultural critique that erupted in the 1960’s (Alberro, 2003: 2.)"
Other writers are more strident concerning the great influence of the notions of Conceptual art on art in general versus only its possibilities in business. Wood suggested that:
"Conceptual art is like nothing less than the hinge around which the past turned around the present: the modernist past of painting as the fine art, the canon from Cézanne to Rothko, versus the postmodernists present where contemporary exhibition spaces of full of anything and everything, from sharks and photographs, piles of rubbish to multi-screen videos - full, it seems of everything except modernist painting (Wood, 6.)"
Did the turtles released into the forest by the artist Hans Haacke enjoy a better and longer life in a real forest versus an aquarium in a living room? Probably yes.
Did the new exhibition in an empty gallery by the artist Yves Klein help people appreciate a different way to organize thoughts? Probably yes.
Did the identical story cropped from various newspaper front-pages by the artist Sarah Charlesworth help people recognize the editorial choices, maybe bad and maybe good, made by publishers relative to the same story? Probably yes.
Did the romantic notion of moving art institutions towards less-corporate and less-market focused practices help said institutions and artists question their views and modify principles to appreciate other types of art and allow for new methods? Maybe yes, although many of the world’s largest art institutions are probably more-corporate and more-market focused in 2004 than when the Conceptual artists first asked the questions.
The answers to the questions above may be debated. However, what is most likely true is that the notions behind an art of ideas versus an art of objects has been mixed, merged, and mutated by new artists since the 1970s into many other methods of presentation and points-of-view. An art of ideas versus an art of objects is possibly an overused description for Conceptual art. Thought it may be appropriate because the notions supporting Conceptual art allowed people to ask questions which may not have been asked before and allowed for content or context to be included in art processes and presentations.
In the increasingly complex and overlapping nature of our culture moving forward there may be benefits in an ability to ask questions and organize thoughts in different ways. This may not only make new art but also allow for a venue to present options for future concerns, whether they are cultural, environmental, social, economic, or artistic.
Alberro, Alexander, and Patricia Novell, ed. Recording Conceptual Art. University of California Press, Los Angeles: 2001.
Alberro, Alexander and Blake Stimson. Conceptual art: a critical anthology. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA: 1999.
Alberro, Alexander. Conceptual art and the politics of publicity. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA: 2003.
Cohn, Terri. "Conceptualizing Conceptual Art: A Post-Object Perspective." Art Papers 24 no4 14-19 Jl/Ag 2000.
Colpitt, Frances and Phyllis Plous. Knowledge: Aspects of Conceptual Art. University Art Museum, Santa Barbara; Distributed by the University of Washington Press, Seattle: 1992.
Corris. Michael, ed. Conceptual art: theory, myth, and practice. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K.; New York: 2004.
Godfrey, Tony. Conceptual art. Phaidon, London: 1998.
Kurtz, Bruce. Contemporary Art: 1965-1990. Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: 1992.
Lippard, Lucy, annotated, ed. Six Years. Praeger, New York, Washington: 1973.
Lowman, William M. "Nurturing the Creators." Independent School. 63 no2 58-66 Winter 2004.
Maksymowicz, Virginia. "Dangerous Art." Sojourners, 32, no3, 36-40, My/Je 2003.
Matilsky, Barbara C. Fragile ecologies: contemporary artists' interpretations and solutions. Rizzoli, New York: 1992.
Meyer, Ursula. Conceptual art. Dutton, New York: 1972.
Migliorini, Ermanno. Conceptual art. Il fiorino, Firenze: 1972.
Morgan, Robert C. Art into ideas: essays on conceptual art. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England; New York, NY, USA: 1996.
Morgan, Robert C. Between modernism and conceptual art: a critical response. McFarland & Co., Jefferson, NC: 1997.
Morgan, Robert C. Forward by Michael Kirby. Conceptual art: an American perspective. McFarland & Co., Jefferson, NC: 1994.
Newman, Michael, ed. Jon Bird, ed. Rewriting conceptual art. Reaktion, London: 1999.
Norvell, Patricia. Edited by Alexander Alberro and Patricia Norvell. Recording conceptual art: early interviews with Barry, Huebler, Kaltenbach, LeWitt, Morris, Oppenheim, Siegelaub, Smithson, Weiner. University of California Press, Berkeley: 2001.
Osborne, Peter. Conceptual art. Phaidon, London; New York: 2002.
Wood, Paul. Moments in Modern Art: Conceptual art. Delano Greenidge, New York: 2002.
© Kevin Korpela, www.observatorydrive.com™