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Conceptualism

Conceptualism

Author: Ian McConnell
Description:

This lesson will explore Conceptualism.

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Tutorial

An overview of conceptual art.

Video Transcription

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Hello, I'd like to welcome you to this episode of Exploring Art History with Ian. My name is Ian McConnell, and today's lesson is about conceptualism. As you're watching the video, feel free to pause, move forward, or rewind as often as you feel is necessary. And as soon as you're ready, we can begin. Today's objectives are listed below. By the end of the lesson today, you'll be able to identify and define today's key terms, discuss the philosophy of conceptual art, and identify examples of conceptual art. Key terms, as always, are listed in yellow throughout the lesson. First key term is installation, a form of art that creates a holistic experience for the viewer by utilizing combinations of senses. Conceptual art, an art technique, style, or movement where the idea is more important than the way they art looks. Immersion, the act of being completely engaged or absorbed by an activity or environment. Interactivity, a term that suggests a requirement of participation or combination of systems that work together, and multi-sensory, a term used to describe a layered experience that engages several senses.

The big idea for today is that conceptual art is an artistic movement in which the concept or idea behind the work of art takes precedence over material concerns. We'll be looking at art from between 1965 and 2008 today. So today we'll be visiting New York City, where Sol LeWitte and Joseph Kosuth both have ties. Santa Monica, California where John Baldessari lives and works, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where Cildo Meireles lives and works. So development of conceptual art has a long history. Although Sol LeWitte is considered by many as the founders of conceptualism, it can really be traced back to artists like the Dada artist Marcel Duchamp and his work, Fountain. It's the urinal, if that helps you.

Now despite this length of time, conceptual art is a form of art that still remains popular today. As you can see by the timeline we looked at earlier, the art we're looking at today covers over 40 years. I think one of the reasons for its longevity is the fact that its very nature has an extremely broad appeal. Ideas are always changing. People are always interested in sharing and learning unique points of view. That's an idea or a concept that forms the foundation of this artistic movement. But conceptual art can take on many forms. One way to think of conceptualism is as minimalism taken one step further. Not only are the idea and actual work of art dependent on each other, as they often are in minimalism, but the pendulum has completely swung the other way. The idea behind conceptual art is paramount in this context. The artwork just conveys the message.

Now, as I mentioned before, conceptual art can take on many forms. From these minimalistic open cubes by Sol LeWitte, to this installment piece by Brazilian artist Cildo Meireles. Now which-- just to explain-- is larger than this photo suggests. It's actually a many roomed exhibit in which each room is painted an entirely different color with a monitor in each room, showing a complimentary hue. Essentially it's an exploration of how colors have an effect on one another. One aspect of conceptualism is that it involves linguistic concerns, such as the relationship between a word and the object, or idea to which the word refers.

Now one of the best examples of this is the artwork, One in Three Chairs, by Joseph Kosuth. It's comprised of the physical, three-dimensional chair, a picture of that chair, and a written definition of the word chair. So it's one idea of chair, but three different manifestations of that idea. So which one is real? Or rather, which of the three is the real chair? Is it the definition? Without which. We would not have an explanation for what a chair is. Or is it the physical chair? Without which there would be no cause to create a definition. The answer doesn't really matter so much as the importance of the question, and how it gets one thinking about the idea of linguistic associations and their meanings. It's pretty heavy, but also pretty interesting. Now I'd suggest sitting down to think about it, but then you'd probably think about what it is you're really sitting on, and with no answer, pass out from exhaustion.

A lot of what's appealing in conceptual art, at least for me and I'm sure others, is the wit evoked in many of the artworks. John Baldessar's painting is a classic example of this, and how it questions and parodies the traditional experience of a work of art. Now it's essentially a painted essay about the experience of exhibiting a work of art and how one gains perspective by comparing their work to other works of art, surrounding it by different artists. The irony is that his painting, which is exhibited, is more or less incapable of comparison. Which brings up a question. Evaluation is so dependent upon the relativity of one thing to another, can a realistic sense of meaning or value be attributed to a work of art without comparing it to works by other artists? Or who determines what is valuable or meaningful? It's an excellent example of the conceptual artist's reaction against the commodification of art, and questioning the art authority.

So that brings us to the end of our lesson. Let's take a look at our objectives again to see if we met them. Now that you've seen the lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms? Can you discuss the philosophy of conceptual art, and can you identify examples of conceptual art? And once again, the big idea for today is that conceptual art is an artistic movement in which the concept or idea behind the work of art takes precedence over material concerns. And that's it. Thank you very much for joining me today. I'll see you next time.

Notes on "Conceptualism"

Citations

Joseph Kosuth, One and Three Chairs, Fair Use According to Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Kosuth_OneAndThreeChairs.jpg; John Baldessari, Exhibiting Paintings, Photo by Cliff, Creative Commons, http://www.flickr.com/photos/nostri-imago/2959685067/; Sol le Witt, Open Cubes, Photo by Andrew Russeth, Creative Commons, http://www.flickr.com/photos/sixteen-miles/5765007768/in/photostream/; Clido Meireles, Pling Pling creative commons http://www.flickr.com/photos/dalbera/3764986382/

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Conceptual Art

    An art technique, style, or movement where the "idea" is more important than the way the art looks.

  • Immersion

    The act of being completely engaged or absorbed by an activity or environment.

  • Interactivity

    A term that suggests a requirement of participation or a combination of systems that work together.

  • Installation

    A form of art that creates a holistic experience for the viewer by utilizing combinations of senses.

  • Multi-sensory

    A term used to describe a layered experience that engages several senses.