Conceptual art: what is it and is it any good?
Conceptual art took off in the 1960s, picking up on Duchamp’s challenge to the art world in 1917 when he submitted a porcelain urinal for an art exhibition. Conceptual artists are interested more in ideas about art than holding on to a definition of art based on formal or visual criteria. Because early conceptual artists saw art as grounded in ideas rather than materials, they could reduce art’s materiality to virtual non-existence. Since then, controversies over art have alighted on ‘conceptual’ art as art which lacks the evidence of the skills and competences associated with the traditions of painting, sculpture and drawing. Beyond the art world, many people find this development in art difficult to understand or accept – it appears to be a negation of art and rejection of everything that gives art its value and purpose. But does conceptual art offer a necessary redefinition of artistic traditions or is it simply a rejection of them? Does conceptual art represent an extreme form of elitism among artists and art aficionados, with only those ‘in the know’ able to appreciate it? Or does it mean that anyone can now be an artist?
JJ Charlesworth, art critic, curator, artist and lecturer
Joseph Kosuth, ‘Art after Philosophy’, 1969