Monday, 21 November 2011

conceptual art

A very vague definition for a very broad range of art practices, its probably what I like most about art. the fact that something so visual, physical and visceral can be made intellectual and immaterial. well not quite immaterial, although Sol Lewitt might disagree with that. He prioritizes Idea over object in his statement in Paragraphs on Conceptual Art: “The idea becomes the machine that makes the art”.He uses mathematical systems to determine the form of his work, as in his 47 3 part variations on 3 different kinds of cubes, exhibited at the dwan gallery in 1968, which is a three dimensional realization of a predetermined concept, ordered by permuting linear dimension and binary volumetric possibilities. The number of variations and arrangement of the work is governed by mathematical logic. Made up of three types of cubes, solid, cube with opposite sides removed and a cube with one side removed. The variations represent all possible different three part combinations of the types of cubes, vertical arrangements and orientations. Such pieces completely removes any aesthetic decisions of the artist from the work, allowing abstract geometrical systems to determine the form, while also showing that abstract art can also contain a high degree of visual complexity.
Whether or not this makes art a triumphant illustration of the powers of human reason, or a demonstration of the failure of any proposed system of communication is open to debate. 
In his paragraphs on conceptual art he emphasizes the communication of idea over the logic of a piece, the form it takes and even the intentions of the artist. The idea itself gains a sort of independece, “the idea becomes a machine that makes the art”. He says: “in terms of idea the artist is free even to surprise himself”. using pre set plans and  separating the conception of a work and its execution, in the case of the wall drawings by getting others to actually create the drawings, eliminates all subjectivity. Even the concept becomes unimportant “it doesn’t really matter if the viewer understands the concepts of the artist by seeing the art”. By separating each stage of creation, lewitt makes them all of equal importance. He claims that the idea itself even if not made visual, is as much a work of art as any finished product. this suggests to me that for lewitt drawing itself held no merit, but merely served as a tool of communication, as constricted by rules and system as language or mathematics. but the ideas that lewitt is attempting to communicate are not about the rational systems of logic that he employs to create the form of the work, but rather the errors that occur within these systems. in his instructions for an exhibition in nova scotia in 1969 he described it as “a work that uses the idea of error, a work that uses the idea of infinity, a work that is subversive, a work that is not original”. This idea of error is what occurs in the process of making the work, in separating out the stages of creation, into the idea, the execution and the reception, lewitt is exposing the potential for miscommunication and making evident the outside factors that become as much a part of the works making as the artist himself, as in the influence of the gallery space in his wall drawings, where the uneven surface of the wall results in broken lines that disrupt the artists intention and the logic of its execution. The work becomes subject to the space’s enviornment, and the reception of the viewer. Lewitt deliberately encourages misreadings, and invites alterations to the initial idea. This separation of idea from exection from reception reveals the failure of those systems of logic which constrain us, by communicating his ideas in verbal instruction that are then carried out according to numerical permutations example… the viewer needs to trace back these linguistic or numerical systems in order to access the idea of the work. The errors that occur en route and disrupt this communication shows both the artists powerlessness in the face of external systems of convention and the failure of these systems in transmitting ideas between artist and viewer, and the widening gap between “the objective understanding of the idea and a subjective interpretation of it”.
This breakdown of systems of communication and questioning of the authority of language is what, in my opinion, art does best. By simply offering alternative ways of interpreting ideas, sensations, or images it can challenge or supplement linguistic systems. Anything that challenges the way we think, the possible constraints on our ability to think must be a good thing.

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