After Modernism, Week 6 – Conceptualism

This weeks lecture was on Conceptual art, and the discussion surrounded the question whether art was primarily with the object or with the idea – beginning by looking at Damien Hirst’s piece ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’, 1991.

We discussed whether the relevance of the art is in the object itself or the idea lying behind it. If it is the importance is placed primarily on the actual object itself then it raises issues such as the artists absence from the piece and the ready made nature of the shark, in short – the artist had little to do in the actual materialisation of the object. However, the relevance of the artist is clear if an emphasis is put on the concept lying behind the piece.


Duchamp could be seen to be the father of conceptual art – with his piece ‘fountain’, 1917 examining, in response to the lack of democracy that Duchamp witnessed whilst participating alongside an American art board, the very nature of what art should be


We looked at the theories of Kosuth, examining the differences between his definition of art in comparison with Greenberg’s.

Kosuth argues that art should:

  •  have nothing to do with aesthetics
  • look internally, addressing itself (mirroring Kant philosophy)
  • not look like formalist art, which he argues serves no purpose other than decoration
  • investigate the concept of art, most objects are aesthetically pleasing – it does not make them art – without concept art is pointless

“All art (after Duchamp) is conceptual (in nature) because art only exists conceptually” – Kosuth


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