Art Styles: Conceptual Art


Conceptual art emerged in the 1960’s. The term was first used in 1961 by Henry Flynt in a Fluxus publication. It later evolved into a different meaning when the Art and Language group, headed by Joseph Kossuth, adopted it. This group believed that Conceptual art was created when the analysis of an art object succeeded the object itself. All art is conceptual in nature because art only exists conceptually. In Conceptual Art the idea of a work matters more than its physical representation. Dating from the 1960's, Conceptual Art has its roots in the early 20th century European arts movement called Dada as well as in the writings on language and meaning by mid-century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Conceptual artists do not set out to make a painting or a sculpture and then fit their ideas to that existing form. Instead they think beyond the limits of those traditional media, and then work out their concept or idea in whatever materials and whatever form is appropriate. They were thus giving the concept priority over the traditional media. Conceptual art can be almost anything, but from the late 1960s certain prominent trends appeared such as Performance or Action art. In Performance Art the medium is the artist's own body and the artwork takes the form of actions performed by the artist. Performance art has origins in Futurism and Dada, but became a major phenomenon in the 1960s and 1970s. An important influence on the emergence of Performance was the photographs of the Abstract Expressionist painter Jackson Pollock making his so-called action paintings, taken in 1950 by the photographer Hans Namuth.

American Robert Smithson conceptual land art work "Spiral Jetty"Land art is an art movement which emerged in the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s, in which landscape and the work of art are inextricably linked. Sculptures are not placed in the landscape, rather the landscape is the very means of their creation. The works frequently exist in the open, located well away from civilization, left to change and erode under natural conditions. One example is the Spiral Jetty, considered to be the central work of American sculptor Robert Smithson. "Spiral Jetty" (shown here) is an earthwork sculpture constructed in 1970. Built of mud, salt crystals, basalt rocks, earth, and water on the northeastern shore of the Great Salt Lake near Rozel Point in Utah, it forms a 1500-foot long, 15-foot wide counterclockwise coil jutting from the shore of the lake which is only visible when the level of the Great Salt Lake falls below an elevation of 4,197.8 feet.

The Italian movement Arte Povera, or poor Art is another type of Conceptual Art. The term Arte Povera was introduced by the Italian art critic and curator, Germano Celant, in 1967. His pioneering texts and a series of key exhibitions provided a collective identity for a number of young Italian artists. Poor Art emerged as the Italian economy collapsed into chaos and political instability. The word poor here refers to the movement's signature exploration of a wide range of materials beyond the traditional ones of paint, canvas, bronze, or carved marble. Arte Povera is art made without restraints, a complete openness towards materials and processes.

Some Conceptual art consisted simply of written statements or instructions. Many artists began to use photography, film and video. In 1953 Robert Rauschenberg exhibited "Erased De Kooning Drawing", a drawing by Willem De Kooning which Rauschenberg erased. It raised many questions about the fundamental nature of art, challenging the viewer to consider whether erasing another artist's work could be a creative act, as well as whether the work was only "art" because the famous Rauschenberg had done it.
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