A Critical View of Conceptual Art

A concept is a thought that acts as a foundation for the development of ideas.

An example of a concept: freedom. Not the word, but the idea. Freedom is the bedrock for thoughts and experiences about power, control, hope, despair, and other avenues of considered exploration about the right to think, act, and express without hindrance.

Art may stimulate ideas, and perhaps this is the basis for some to mistakenly view concepts as art. Marcel Duchamp's 'Fountain' which presented a mass produced urinal as a work of art was provocative and a challenge to gallery society, but it essentially raises ideas about what art is, its placement, its cultural and monetary status. The Fountain is an object as concept, not art.

In conceptual art, ideas are the primary medium. Aesthetics as they are experienced by the senses are of little or no concern. The recipients of conceptual art (the audience or participants), are often assumed of as engaging with an artistic experience, when in truth they are engaging with ideas. These ideas can be emotionally and intellectually powerful, and immersive, but how strongly we feel about an activity does not make it art. I value ideas. I love ideas, but I also recognise them to be distinct from the craft and practice of art.

Art is not everything. Art is not whatever I want it to be. If it were so, the word art would be meaningless as it would potentially describe anything, and we already have a word for this: everything.

Part of the purpose of this publication is to challenge orthodoxy as it relates to how art is so often defined, and to reclaim art as being something created and crafted for the mind and body that carries special significance. The bond between craft and art was broken in the twentieth century, and my position is that the often vague and spurious assertion that anything an artist declares as art is art, is at the root of much of contemporary art's failure to engage with a broad audience, and to convincingly articulate or understand its nature.

A Thought Experiment

I imagine myself in a room where I see nothing but a single colour. There are no objects in the room which is lit completely evenly: the colour is without gradation or shadow of any kind. I hear no sound. I see no floor, walls, nor ceiling. At first I experience this in my mind's eye as an uncomfortable beauty, before growing increasingly unsettled. If you decide on the colour, do you become the artist?

This is my wish: this idea is not art.

I could promote my ideas as art, be known of as a 'conceptual artist' and enjoy the notoriety and cultural status that follows, but that would be my accepting the emperor's new clothes.

An Idea may conceive an artwork, but thinking does not make it so.

The Craft of Art