Conceptual Art Explained

Conceptual Art might be a very abstract notion for one to understand. My audience rarely has a good understanding of Conceptual Art, so don’t worry if you’ve landed on this page! This page is for you. Let’s spend a few minutes understanding Conceptual Art.

If you have 12 minutes or so, this video from PBS’s Art Assignment: The Case for Conceptual Art is the best quick crash course in Conceptual Art. If you have less than 12 minutes to spare for this, here’s a quick summary: 

Conceptual Art is a movement started in the early 20th century by several artists, like Duchamp, Kosuth,  Huebler, LeWitt and many others. Here’s what LeWitt had to say about Conceptual Art and I think this defines the movement quite nicely:

“In conceptual art, the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. (…) It means that all planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes the machine that makes the art.”

Sol LeWitt in Paragraphs on Conceptual Art, Artforum, 1967

If this explanation makes you ask yourself “why do away with the aesthetic”, I have an answer for you from Huebler. When I create my art, my thinking on the “why” is very similar to his:

“The world is full of objects, more or less interesting; I do not wish to add any more. I prefer, simply, to state the existence of things in terms of time and/or place”.

Of course, I’m not advocating that the way to go is to stop making art pieces. Simply put, I am looking at what relevance the object has in communicating the concept – that’s it. Creating the space where the art consumer comes to understand my ideas is my only goal.

Conceptual art makes it possible for artists to express themselves in different mediums, not putting the emphasis on the execution, but rather on the suitability of the material. If you solely look at art for the execution and think that’s all art is, beautifully executed objects, I would strongly encourage you to explore a different perspective. Next time you are faced with conceptual art, explore how it makes you feel: Conceptual Art liberates not just artists, but art consumers as well. It is a protest against the status quo, a signal to say “we care about what we think, rather than how we say it”. If you still find Conceptual Art very elusive, I will leave you with this quote (from the video) that I feel is a good motto for Conceptual Art:

Marble crumbles, paintings fade, but ideas last forever.

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