Sunday, June 29, 2008

Conceptual Art

Marlene DiFiori Locke pointed out a Sol LeWitt quote from awhile back that she thought summed up conceptual art quite nicely:

"In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art."
– Sol LeWitt, "Paragraphs on Conceptual Art", Artforum, June 1967.

I agree with Sol LeWitt that the idea is the driving force behind conceptual art, but I think that the idea of conceptual art has influenced so much since the term was first coined and that the definition may be more broad today. True "conceptual art" may be limited to a specific time frame and movement, but so much has developed out of it and it has had such a profound influence that I personally feel it is overly limiting to define it in so narrow a manner. Art has become very much an ongoing discourse in which we build on and respond to past movements, so some of those distinctions can be easily blurred or become overly limiting over the course of time.

For example, I don't know that I see the idea so much as a machine that makes the art - there can still be a human aspect involved that allows for some fluctuation in the creation of the work. (The Fluxus movement provides evidence of this sense of instability with its "do-it-yourself" approach.) It depends first and foremost on the idea being explored. When the statement was made, there were a lot of conceptual artists exploring ideas which lend themselves towards being machines due to the commentary being made. Sol LeWitt himself is generally categorized as a minimalist, and that movement centered on minimizing your awareness of the artist's hand in the creation of the work in the process of stripping things down to only the essential. So it's definitely applicable but is nonetheless a product of that time period, and things have since changed and new developments emerged.

Some ideas just don't make very good machines - they are already too human. I think that a lot of performance art seems to fall into this category. For example my Penny Project idea would not make a as good a machine because there is a human aspect that must be conveyed in the wishes that voice human concerns. A lot of humanitarian ideas also require some human element. Joseph Beuys was known in part for seeking to use art as a means of inciting social activism and created many works with a very strong human element. Linda Montano explored the blurring of the distinctions between art and life, regarding art as a means of healing and often using her art to work through her own grievances and concerns. And Candy Jernigan used her art to journal and chronicle life itself, finding objects on the street and cataloging them. (Check out Jernigan's work in the recently published book, Evidence.)

1 comment:

ChaoticBlackSheep said...

I see myself as being a predominantly conceptual artist because I tend to focus on ideas first and foremost rather than materials or technique. As a result, I work in a variety of different media and am likely to use whatever I feel is best suited to conveying the idea I want to impart rather than working that idea into a specific medium or technique. This doesn't afford me as much opportunity to develop a distinctly unique style that is all my own, but it is better suited to how I personally approach art and artmaking.