What is conceptual art?
BY ANA ROBLEDANO
“The only pretention of art is art itself. Art is the definition of art” Joseph Kosuth.
Conceptual art emerges by the end of the 60s, framed in what we call second forefronts. Its principal promotor/inspirer was the Dada and its ready-mades, known as the movement that put a turning point in the 20th century's art breaking all the barriers and, definitely, creating a cultural revolution. Since Duchamp, art no longer followed the usual purposes. Several trends like Performance, the Land Art, the Povera Art and Body Art started to happen... and conceptual art was one of those. The shared interest among these new movements would be the language primacy, expression, the ideas and ethic experiences towards the object, forms, matter and utility of the exposed work. Henceforth, the eye of the audience also changes, because it finds itself in a very superior interpretation challenge to that which it had to exercise before.
This artistic line leaves the appearance behind to make way to concept. Conceptual artists fought for art to stop being a “physical thing”, an object. The conceptual is a transmitter of information which in a certain way needs the audience to be complete. The artist appeals to the receptors of his work to open a reflection between them both. He doesn't consist in looking for aesthetic completion, but intellectual.
So, what’s the difference between minimalism and conceptual art? That could be one of the most frequent questions while analyzing these two trends separately. The answer is easy because they're two completely separate movements. Minimalism shows that we no longer need a narrative speech to explain forms; it goes directly to the representation of the essence. Conceptualism is a lot more philosophical, its “acrylic” are the ideas and its “canvas/brush” the graphic design, the photography, the ready-mades, texts, etc. Conceptual art works are, as the word implies, concepts, ideas.
“Conceptual art is good only if the idea is good”. Sol LeWitt
To understand this movement first one must comprehend art as an idea. Another of the basic and evident differences between minimalism and conceptualism is the use of the written language on the part of the latter. This is the most important pretention of conceptualism, that also sums up to the dematerialization of art and its reduction to text. What a better way to express a concept than writing it down?
Everything is casted and conceived by hand, we could think of it as a metaphor, as a machine that makes art by working with meanings and not with forms or colors. Formality doesn't step back to a secondary plane, it simply disappears towards the “mental”. Another good definition of this movement would be: a conceptual work is a registry of a thought.
The second most common question would be; So, does the conceptual artist lack of a creative process?, followed by: What kind of merit does a conceptual artist have? And effectively, that kind of artist doesn't create, he makes. But, if we make a review of the first vanguards, we can see that this is not an exclusive thing of this movement, Andy Warhol was already doing it, for example, with his so mechanic series designs.
My opinion is that we no longer have to question what's art and what’s not art. We're more interested in knowing why something is a work of art. Arthur C. Danto said once “Only when it was stablished that anything could be art, one could start thinking philosophically about it”. Then art started to have new meanings and approaches. Man, the being, humanity’s preoccupations, the way of understanding life and the world... all these questions were put on contemporary art's table.
“+Contemporary art? ¡Even I can do that!
- Yeah, but you didn't”.