As I’ve mentioned in one of the previous posts, I see a lot of potential in using technology to experiment with ideas. For my current purposes I’m going to narrow down technology to digital technology.
Contact forms and buttons, for example, mainly used for meaningful interaction between user and website, can be taken out of context on so many levels. The whole thing boils down to working with the concept rather than with the medium, and doesn’t have to be limited to a digital UI (but can also be printed on paper).
The idea is more important than its physical representation
Some theory on conceptual art, because it’s so interesting: The movement itself started in late 60s, but the influences date back to Duchamp’s Fountain (1917), which had caused controversy back in the days because it challenged two ideas:
a) a work of art must demonstrate artistic skill.
b) a work of art must be created using a traditional medium.
Both of these claims are to this day subject of discussions, dividing the public roughly into two groups. People who obviously lack the capacity of being sufficiently open-minded about the nature and potential of art would therefore often say something like my grandmother could do that about a conceptual artwork.
Artistic skill paired with traditional medium: William Turner, Snow Storm: Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth (1842)
This is something I often find idiotic. I just cannot see their grandmother doing that. Not because she’s physically or mentally incapable of bringing a urinal to a museum with the intent to get it featured, but because she won’t do it. She won’t do it because she, like many other people, likely won’t have what it takes to make conceptual art: confidence in an idea, courage to break conventions, ability to think on a pure level, artistic vision, motivation to bring forward public discourse. But I’m sure she can paint nice flowers.
What I love about conceptual approach is that it’s pushing the boundaries of art further than a traditional approach could do, by asking things like what objects can be art, does it have to be a physical object at all?
It goes even further asking questions like who owns a concept or how do you sell a concept? Maybe if you’re good at selling concepts, you can sell an invisible sheet of paper for $45.000,- to a respectable art collector.
“When an artist uses a multiple modular method he usually chooses a simple and readily available form. The form itself is of very limited importance; it becomes the grammar for the total work. In fact, it is best that the basic unit be deliberately uninteresting so that it may more easily become an intrinsic part of the entire work.”¹² Sol LeWitt, Paragraphs on Conceptual Art (1967)
Conceptual artworks will often confuse, but it’s what they’re meant to do. The process of consuming conceptual art is entirely different from, say, going to a Biedermeier-themed exhibition and marveling at nicely painted realistic looking horses. Horses are for the eye, concepts are for the mind.
Post-conceptual: Maurizio Bolognini, Programmed Machines (Nice, France, 1992-97). This installation uses computer codes to create endless flows of random images that nobody would see. Images are continuously generated but they are prevented from becoming a physical artwork. via
We arrived at the big dematerialization of idea about 50 years ago. Sol LeWitt’s Paragraphs on Conceptual Art (1967) is probably the most mentionable manifesto-like work on this. After all the discourse and movements and Duchamp and everything that has been put in a museum (throughout the history) it’s absolutely ridiculous to insist on traditional values in the way the above mentioned people do. Same goes for anti-conceptual movements, such as Stuckism4, whose members claim to be “on a quest for authenticity”. Please.
Present times need current methods, because ideas as well as tools change over time. Traditional art gets challenged by conceptual art. Conceptual art gets challenged by post-conceptual³ art.
I’m not saying an oil painting on a canvas in a golden frame is an obsolete form of art, because anything from the past can be referenced to and because traditional way is an equally valid way of expression.
Conceptual and traditional can both work or not work and be good or not good. But out of all things in this world, art requires an open mind. If you just want pretty pictures, then why don’t you watch a documentary about New Zealand.
¹ Paragraphs on Conceptual Art
² If You Don’t Understand Conceptual Art, It’s Not Your Fault
³ Wikipedia: Post-Conceptual
4 Wikipedia: Stuckism
Figures: Joseph Beuys, Sol Lewitt, Marcel Duchamp, John Baldessari, Marina Abramovic, Damien Hirst, Joseph Kosuth, Jeff Koons […]