[ARTS 315] Conceptual Art: New Strategies for Meaning - Jon Anderson

[ARTS 315] Conceptual Art: New Strategies for Meaning – Jon Anderson



what we're gonna do today is try to define it clearly that's a fool's errand because it's it's not clear not because it's it's inherently convoluted but because there are multiple things going on we mean multiple different things when we're talking about post-modern because it's an inherently ambiguous term it's after modern it's beyond modern and there are so many different ways to position yourself beyond modernity and beyond modernism so it's a difficult thing to get a hold of and it tends to mean different things in different disciplines as does modern modernity in politics means something a bit different than modernity in economics or in art or in literature or in philosophy we got different time periods and different things we're talking about however there does seem to be a sort of core or a constellation of ideas that's probably a better way of understanding it a constellation of ideas and values and positions that we generally call modern to generally call postmodern and we're going to try to make sense of that today particularly this afternoon I'll leave you in suspense for it and we'll get to it this afternoon and this morning we're going to put a few pieces in place that I think will help us to define postmodern art and help us to understand it good any questions thus far okay well dive in then so just to kind of reboot our train of thought a bit we started this class with Pollock after a brief rehearsal of modernism early century modernism we started the class with Pollock and we've already discovered an ambiguity in Pollock a lot of ambiguities probably but an ambiguity into what Pollock mean how do we interpret Pollock's work one of the ways that it was interpreted by people like Clement Greenberg was that this is formalist painting this is painting being stripped of its associations it's it's kind of its subservience to literature stripped of its illusionism stripped of all of that stuff and getting down to a kind of tough philosophical formalist painting and I think out of that comes a post-painterly abstraction and then minimalism minimalist painting where it's a continued investigation of formalism how does form mean how do we create internally consistent and internally sort of self referential meaningful forms okay so we looked at frank stella we looked at Ellsworth Kelly and this insistence on formal structure formal meaning and eventually that does sort of push it does push towards sculpture because these even the paintings with Kelly and Stella are so much emphasizing the object nough some objects in the room they become sculptures in a way although they don't like the term sculpture because that's too late in with tradition and things like that so presences present objects and so on and so forth okay so we track that train of thought and I do think that you you have to run that through Pollock in one way or another but of course that's not the only way to interpret this and it's not the only way we've interpreted it in this class there would be other people like Rosenberg Harold Rosenberg for instance who would see in this knot it would see in this knot formalism pure formal painting but would see activity the activity of the artist it would see he would see the artwork referencing all kinds of things outside of the painting specifically the life of the artist the decision-making process the whole imagery of the artist entering the void of the canvas and sort of grappling with it over time and so this thing isn't a self-contained object at all and isn't just a pure optical experience without reference but is referencing all sorts of things referencing the conventions of painting the whole dialogue of cubism and all of that business and that train of thought is going to lead more through rauschenberg and some of the artists that we've been talking about more recently we're rauschenberg also pushes towards the the pure picture plane early on but instead of getting a pure optical experience that self-contained rather he gets a projection screen what leo Steinberg called a receptor surface a highly receptive surface that receives the world around it receives points too and makes room for all of the cultural discourse and cultural interactions that are going on in front of it and around it of course that leads him to that same three panel receptor surface starts to accumulate the stuff of life the stuff of the studio the stuff that goes into helping us understand art and make sense of art and make sense of painting it doesn't become self-contained at all and so work like Rauschenberg's perhaps goes through Pollock in a way but it ends up turning towards cultural conventions and becoming really self-conscious about the of cultural exchange rather than isolated sort of pure formal experiences and we certainly talked about quite a bit about John Cage so we won't go into him too much but there's something really important happening here in in the work for a variety of reasons what does Kage's composition point you towards what does it point you towards I'll let you answer that he opens up silence and rest as the musical composition and so what do you end up experiencing yeah everything around you the structure of the performance the your and and the your expectations for what a performance should be the expectations for how it should be organized what should happen the whole your the kind of expectations about the structure of the the performance hall the what the audience is supposed to do and so on and so forth he makes room for that and lets all of that in and sort of turns your attention towards those things and so so one has to ask with cage and which mutt with much of the work we're going to look at today where is the art is it in what he wrote on the paper or is it even in what was done on what was what was done on the piano done on stage where's the artwork it doesn't seem like it's in an object anymore you can't really point to an object and say that's the artwork yeah yeah yeah yeah that's right that there's there's a a a concept that the artist sets into motion and uses the structure of the performance hall and the structure of performance in general uses that to initiate an X variance on the part of the audience and the the artwork is in the reflection on that experience is the idea or the experience the contemplation of what what does this mean what did he do to us that the artwork is there and I think it's also important to notice what's cages strategy is it's a strategy of interruption for as much as it's about as much as the work itself is about silence and rest his strategy is to interrupt our expectations what we expect to happen he strategically interrupts them and that is what causes us throws us into a crisis where we have to figure the thing out what is what is this what is he doing so it's a strategy of interruption that turns us towards our expectations and turns us towards trying to make sense of what is difficult to make sense of initially and we see that same thing kind of run through Warhol a similar kind of strategy and a similar kind of philosophy of art I think that if rauschenberg was treating his canvas as a receptor surface for the studio and and the culture around him and if Cage was treating the musical composition in the musical performance as a receptor surface or receptor space for the noises of life and the expectations that we bring to any situation in life if he was treating the his work as a receptor space I think Warhol kind of turned himself into a receptor surface as we talked about last week where specifically he is the sort of passive consumer who what he receives the landscape he turns himself towards the space he turns himself towards is the space of mass production and consumption of that production and so what does he do where is Warhol's art I mean is Warhol's art here the painting I mean if you just are trying to make sense of the image itself it's it falls a little flat doesn't it I mean okay I'm supposed to think about Campbell's Soup what am I supposed to think about Campbell Soup well I don't I don't really know I don't have all that much to think about Campbell's Soup rather you really start getting traction with Warhol's work when you back up a step and you say what when you start asking a question not what did he depict but what does it mean to do this thing what is he doing what is the activity on the part of the artist on the canvas and and once you start asking that question you realize oh he is turning himself into a kind of a passive machine that just reiterates what has already been mass-produced and once you do that then okay now I know why he's doing Campbell Soup but the meaning of the artwork is more in the performance of the mechanical reproduction rather than it is in the image or even in the optical experience of it so one reads this not by reading into Marilyn Monroe per se but reading into the mechanical reproduction of her image it's an it's an action that we interpret and that we read into okay that's where we've been and that gives us a kind of running start into where we're going today and notice also with with Warhol specifically where is he turning us towards is turning us towards a cultural exchange signs their signs that he is sing with and reproducing and what we're going to get in postmodern art in general is a turn is all of these things we've been tracking so far with from Rauschenberg through Cage and Warhol is an attempt to back up a step and become really self conscious about the conventions and the structures that are shaping my experiences in my expectations and what are those structures they're social structures they're their language structures their structures of signs and relationships between signs this web of language and significant as we'll call it so they're going to become really self-conscious about those things and really self-conscious about how meaning plays out in within those structures and they're going to make us self-conscious about those things by employing that strategy of interruption how do you draw attention to language itself you start interrupting language you start interrupting it in various ways you start interrupting its its flow and it's its seamlessness and that draws us our attention to the language itself okay and this will help us to take in this class the postmodern turn as it's often called okay so we'll get back to that this afternoon and try to articulate exactly what that means today our this morning I want to as I said give us some put some historical kind of pieces in place because so far in the timeline of this class we've worked our way up through the 60s we're still kind of in the mid 60s in order to really have the conversation I want to have this afternoon we kind of need to get into the 70s so today this morning we're try to see what what's happening in the late 60s and 70s and specifically we're going to talk about the conceptual art that will be the missing piece that will help us to have our discussion this afternoon conceptualism what is conceptualism it's a difficult it's a difficult thing but we'll see if we can make some sense of it and we'll start with Joseph Kossuth what do you see here what is this a chair is it one chair or is it one and three chairs okay so there's a chair and and I imagine initially that's somewhat underwhelming this work is visually fairly underwhelming not a whole lot of there's not a whole lot to grab on to in a way it's not there's not really much indication of skill being employed here on the part of the artist at least what we traditionally mean by that there's not a whole lot of aesthetic beauty it's not really all that attractive to look at there doesn't seem to be much in the way of expression or emotional content I mean it really does seem like the work is so cool and distant removed it's not really trying to pull on your heartstrings and it's not trying to pull on your your your aesthetic pleasures it it seems to be withholding all of those traditional things that we associate with art and you got to pay attention to whenever an artist is doing that whenever you feel like an artwork is withholding a lot from you Cage was withholding almost everything from you then what do they want you to sit on what do they want you to grab on to what does the artist want you grab onto if he's withholding most of what you normally associate with art-making it's probably strategic and it's certainly strategic with someone like Kossuth who is a really sharp guy and really intentional with with his work so we see a chair here we see one chair do we see three chairs what do you get well I mean what what's what is this describe the whole thing okay good so we've got we've got an object that we would say is the chair we've got an image of the same chair and then we've got a definition in language of chair and so the question arises here as with the as with much of the work that we've been looking at thus far where's where's the artwork well no let's let's back up a step before that where's the chair is the chair only the object in the middle and if so then Kossuth asks what happens if I do this where's the chair if it's only the object in the middle these are totally different objects are they both chair and if so then the chair is not an object because you've got a chair here and you've got a chair here and those are totally different objects right so where's the chair it might cause you to sort of slide off the object and then and say then well I've never seen this object before and I still regard it as chair and I've never seen the following object before and I still regard it as chair so maybe I'm carrying chair around with me rather than it actually residing in the objects I recognize that as a chair and that is a chair and this is a chair because the chair is a some sort of a eeeh or a construct in my head it's not in the objects perhaps what I'm carrying around in my head are images of chairs experiences with chairs that help me to interpret this and to see it as a chair so perhaps it's a collection of images perhaps it's a kind of definition do I get at my ability to recognize and identify all of these things around me as chairs because I've got some kind of a definition in my head I know what chairs are I know what they're used for and and so if this thing looks like I could use it for that purpose then I identified as a chair you see what he's doing though is he he is putting under pressure if you give him some time to do it because it's a it's a slow read though simple it's simple but slow it doesn't disclose itself very loudly at all but if you give him some time what he's doing is putting under pressure your interpretation of objects your interpretation of images and that pressure on interpretation is going to be common throughout almost everything that we look at today how do I interpret this thing how do I make sense of this and and that begs the question of where is the meaning where is the meaning of the thing I mean that is crucial to art making and our questions right is where's the meaning is the meaning in the form that would be formalism or is the meaning somewhere else is it in language is it in images have we just decided together what chairs are wood a you know a second millennium BC Mesopotamian identify this as a chair well if we if we bring that person into play they wouldn't recognize this object they might make some sense of it they wouldn't they would have very different images in there and they wouldn't be able to read this English business further sort of displaces our our security in interpreting the thing slows us down so much where initially we look at this and a chair boring but what is it why is this artwork but it gradually starts to displace our ability to well no it doesn't displace our ability we all do look at this chair and it's a quick read what he does is displaces our our confidence in why it is why we regard it as chair so quickly he calls it into question where is the meaning where does the meaning reside and for him if he gets you asking those sort of questions he's accomplished everything that art should accomplish which which we'll get into here here in a bit this is conceptualism this is conceptual art we're going to try to understand that in the next in the time we have left just so you get I'll give you a few quotes from Kossuth but here's him talking about this work in particular I used common functional objects such as a chair and to the left of the object would be a full scale photograph of it and to the right of the object would be a photostat of a definition of the object from the dictionary everything you saw when you looked at the object had to be the same that you saw in the photograph and that is not the case here but evidently that became actually this is probably because it's exhibited in a museum and they didn't follow the rules anyway everything you saw when you looked at the object had to be the same that you saw in the photograph so each time the work was exhibited the new installation necessitated a new photograph I liked that the work itself was something other than simply what you saw by changing the location the object the photograph and still having it remain the same work was very interesting to me it meant that you could have an artwork which was that idea of an artwork and its formal components weren't important that make sense he changes the sutta location he's changes all of the objects but somehow it's the same artwork we still refer to this as one in three chairs from 1965 so where's the artwork it's not in the objects and that is going to be crucial to his point okay so here's Kossuth I'll kind of give you two conceptual artists to remember and to get to know we'll try to get to know them this morning and the first is Kossuth you can locate Kossuth as being very important starting in 1965 and he continues to work I mean he's still doing major installations today this last year he had a major museum installation so he's still very active so you don't just confine him to 65 but that's where you can kind of date his the beginning of his real importance as far as we're concerned which is young he's a young guy when he comes on the scene so here's Kossuth and we'll hear a little bit from Kossuth and this is coming from one of the essays that I gave you in your optional reading for today because it's kind of challenging reading it's a it's an essay called art after philosophy and that I suppose gives you an idea of just from the title where he's going art replaces philosophy philosophy becomes convoluted and art replaces it in a way pushes beyond it and takes over its functions in a way art becomes a better philosophy is what he'll he'll argue it's a better way of doing philosophy because it's not just tied up in writing in language but it is working out philosophy with regards to objects themselves the objects that we interact with on a daily basis and he says this the value of particular artists after Duchamp can be weighed according to how much they question the nature of art and I that tells you where he's going Duchamp is his forefather his hero if you will he thinks – Duchamp initiated the most important discussions in art and what the discussion that he initiates is this questioning of art what is it how does it work and he goes on the event that made conceivable the realization that it was possible to speak another language to make sense in another way and still make sense in art was Marcel Duchamp's first unassisted readymade this change and the change is one from appearance to conception that you have to read the artwork of Duchamp and of Kossuth not in terms of what they look like how they appear but how they're conceived the conception of the work the ideas the concepts that initiate the work and set it into motion that's what you have to read not the appearance and it's duchamp's first unassisted ready-mades this change was the beginning of modern art that's questionable how he's using that word and the beginning of conceptual art so what is conceptual art well we'll go back to Duchamp briefly we've talked about Duchamp a bit already so we won't perseverate on him but what's Duchamp doing he's exhibiting an object that interrupts our expectations in almost every way or complicates our expectations of what the museum and what the gallery is supposed to do what exhibition is supposed to be about he interrupts it he interrupts it by withholding the artists craftsmanship he didn't make this he interrupts it by it's the way it conveys meaning there's no narrative here the only narratives that you can sort of associate with it are peeing on it or into it that's not really it's such a low kind of crude narrative that it undermines and interrupts our expectations is it beautiful I mean all of our associations with paying and thing probably disrupt its ability to be beautiful to us I mean he erupts all of these things but essentially argues that it is artwork because he signs it and he exhibits it and after all aren't those the same isn't that what is happening to all of these things that a painting that is covered and kept in a closet for years and years is that artwork is it operating as artwork or does it only become artwork when it is exhibited within these this formal structure of the museum or the gallery and it is contemplated we read into its narrative we kind of we appreciate its beauty we appreciate its craftsmanship is that where the artwork is and if so then Duchamp is is saying how far how far can i push that Duchamp's question is really how far can i push our traditional definitions of art and still have it be art is it the exhibition of the thing the presentation of the thing the renaming of the thing the presenting it for the sake of content elation is that what makes it art and if he gets you asking those questions then he would say well yes that's art because art is not defined by what the thing is but art is defined by what it's doing if if an object is arting in his art just as if an object is used to hammer whether we typically associate it with the form of a hammer or not it becomes functionally a hammer so what is our ting for Duchamp our ting is a drawing a audience into contemplation and questioning of meaning meaningfulness of the thing and and he's gonna he's going to assert that point by withholding almost everything else you normally associate with art and giving you only that only an artist presenting a thing for contemplation and reflection that you track with that does it is that going down okay I never should but but maybe so maybe so and at any rate that that point about redefining artwork to an operation that happens between an object and a person has huge implications huge the art is in the meaningfulness of the thing is what it means it's not in the thing a meaningfulness of the thing so what shapes the meaningfulness of the thing well all sorts of things language values but they're all cultural in to a great extent if you just set this thing up on the sidewalk it will interrupt people but it probably won't be contemplated it sort of requires just like cages work it requires the institution and the cultural framework of the museum and of the gallery in order to function in order to get us to stop and reflect on the thing about Duchamp Kossuth says this Duchamp put art at the service of the mind the non retinal beauty of gray matter what's gray matter brains non retinal beauty is what kosu says Duchamp is after and and Kossuth will follow suit and so KO suits identified specifically the what does he call it what's the phrase the unassisted ready-made the object that hasn't been altered at all but just represented and because it's represented and titled in the name of an artist it takes on different meaning it it starts arting if you will and so what what would be an example of his unassisted ready-made well the fountain is awfully close he does sign it is that unassisted I don't know but one of his works that's definitely unassisted ready-made is this one called in advance of the broken arm and it is a snow shovel and he presents it as an artwork in a museum or in a gallery and in doing so interrupts our expectations for what we should find in a gallery and by titling it it starts to spin off into all sorts of other associations that we have with this thing with this form and it starts to pick up meaning and generate meaning in ways that it hadn't before supposedly and that's what Kossuth is going to be very impressed with it's representing an object for the sake of contemplation not aesthetic contemplation but conceptual philosophical contemplation questioning what it is and how it means and how meaning means it becomes very sort of meta very quickly so according to Kossuth all art after Duchamp and these are his parentheses not mine all art after Duchamp is conceptual in nature then the questioning the nature of art leads you to the conclusion that all art is conceptual because art only exists conceptually the art is in the meaning of the thing it's not in the thing so it exists conceptually and only conceptually and that's going to go a step further I think what is conceptual space how our meanings held conceptually well the art I call conceptual is based on the understanding of the linguistic nature of all our propositions he's basically going to say the way that art works is linguistically it has always worked linguistically it's a kind of language that carries meaning in the ways that language carries meaning that the sounds coming out of my head we've decided means certain things and so those conventions allow us to communicate and allow the sounds out of my head to be meaningful to you and those meanings or that those conventions that determine language also are where the meaning resides and the way that we exchange thoughts can exchange concepts okay that's really heavy sledding so far any any questions or comments problems up to that point is it not so heavy sledding I should go faster I think it's not it's not so bad once you once you get some of those backgrounds like oh okay the artwork is in the is in the meaning not in the object will try to sort out what implications that has go yeah because boy what about philosophy can't be trusted yeah that's a hard question the question is what what about language can't be trusted specifically in philosophy Kossuth is really influenced by a philosopher named Ludwig Wittgenstein many of you heard of Icahn Steen he's he's I hesitate to even get into him he's difficult he's widely considered to be the most influential philosopher of the 20th century I mean Vic and Stein really shook things up he's early 20th century he's doing uh early half he's doing his most important work in the teens and 20s gives up philosophy and then goes back to it in the 30s and I think into the 40s um and gives up philosophy after writing this book called the Tractatus that's what it's often referred to as the Tractatus and Vic and Stein is basically saying he's he's trying to create a secure logical language structure within which to do philosophy where he strips everything down to simple propositions simple statements so he excludes complex statements but as he starts to put pressure on that like saying can I say the simple proposition of this is this is Friday and you all are here for contemporary art trends he would say well that's a really loaded proposition because it's forcing you to already accept all sorts of things you know what Friday is and if we're going to track down how we know what Friday is we've got a long way to go right what does Friday mean okay so he's going to work on Friday how do we how do we know what Friday is and he's going to really work on what so what's contemporary art trends well that's hugely loaded defining contemporary defining art and defining trends and then situating that all within a university structure you know what university is and you know how this fits into all of this and all of that you you know what today is and so on and so forth so we need to break that down and have propositions that explain all of those things and the further he does that the more he realizes that somehow our language is already sort of a loft it's already functioning as a network and we can't locate the how its grounded or how it makes sense to us does that make some sense and so he says he ultimately concludes maybe not ultimately but he does conclude that philosophy the problems of philosophy are problems with the language of philosophy so we have all sorts of difficulties that we've been working on for ever and ever like the problem of external Minds and blah blah blah blah blah all of these the internal external objects objective subjective and he would say all of it is a language problem we've set up the language incorrectly and philosophy is supposed to work through the language and try to get our language working properly so so he gives up philosophy he says this has sort of solved things he essentially becomes a kind of mystic that he believes it's held together in ways that can't be explained it's the unexplainable language which is our vehicle for explanation can't be explained and so he becomes a kind of mystic if you will he eventually goes back to philosophy because he thinks he made some mistakes along the way that I'm sorry I'd like rambling a Vick and Stein to you I've thought my head hopefully I haven't made too many mistakes um but Vick and Stein is really important to Kossuth if it's Duchamp in art it's Vic and Stein in philosophy and with both Vic and Stein and Kossuth they wouldn't say that language is totally unreliable its exceedingly reliable I mean language really works for us for the most part it breaks down every once in a while and it gets us into trouble philosophically but language works the problem is when you put so much confidence in certainty in the way that language is working as though you master it does that make sense if it if you are in the place where you feel like you have mastered meaning and the functioning of language then most likely your your coercing people your controlling people your your you are abusing link you don't have enough humility about how language works does that make some sense sometimes we have the tendency to put it in either/or categories like either languages airtight or it's not and he's not saying or I mean either languages airtight or it's totally unreliable he's not gonna I mean II certainly not on the end of languages totally airtight reliable but he's certainly not on the he's not an Nia list and he doesn't believe that language is just who can know anything throw up our hands it's all vapors he's not there but he's he's going to be maybe the best way to say it is he's going to be extremely hyper sensitive to how languages working trying to pick up the missteps and the foibles and the the ways that we try to control each other through it does that make sense that helped a little bit I mean Kossuth isn't going to be so interested in control and power I'm importing this afternoon's lecturing because after Kossuth and after this train of thought the next the next step is well then how do we use do we use language in these signs and and if it's not control there's power in it there are power relations in language I'm sorry let's leave that offer a little while okay any other questions I'm sorry I just downloaded Vic and Stein on you yeah yeah that's a good question yeah how does Kossuth respond to Vic Greenberg he's not much of a fan of Greenberg and has some pretty tough things to say about Greenberg mostly because he just thinks that formalism is naive it's it's naive it overlooks the way that the whole thing the painting sculpture the whole art discourse is so heavily mediated by language and by cultural conventions that talking about the purity of art is nonsense there's no purity of art there's no purity in anything because what what it what is that if it's if it's language what is pure language does that make some some sense maybe I've missed characterized that a little bit but he's pretty rough on Greenberg and doesn't have much time for formalism because it's too naive for him it's not sensitive enough to how it's using its language maybe that's how we would say okay so let's look a little bit more of Co sous work so our question is where's the chair and then where's the art the art is in the question where's the chair and our contemplation of how we how we think through things and how we associate meanings with things and he's going to do this you'll you'll find that he's got a system and he just rifts on the same system over and over again plays it out for quite a while and then has another system and plays it out for a while and that is going to be important as we'll see a little later on that's systematizing of the art-making there's no expression all of that language is dead – the conceptualist expression emotions Beauty skill they couldn't care less about those things it's systematizing CEPS so you'll find that he does the same thing we get one in three chairs and we get one in three hammers there's the hammer and what you'll find with him is that he's he's really well-read in philosophy and he's really sharp and so I think the objects he chooses specifically have references already built into them from the language of philosophy so for instance he is very familiar with Heidegger Martin Heidegger seems like every other example that Heidegger gives is of a hammer or using a hammer at least in being in time that's his his example is this Heidegger's hammer I mean Heidegger is really important to this whole conversation is this heidegger's hammer is this Nietzsche's hammer each of arias points talks about using a hammer to in relation to the idols whether that's a hammer that destroys the idols or a tuning hammer to see if it has resonance in it see if it's hollow or not is the hammer a tool it is a tool is a language a kind of tool at any rate he uses the hammer and he references or he uses a snow shovel what do you think of to shop immediately so these things aren't simple objects that he chooses but already full of associations even before you start working out the or all wrapped up in trying to work out this image thing an image object definition kind of relationship oh that's a good question yeah that's right like why a photograph instead of a drawing it's maybe one way to ask that I mean you asked why three and and why not a drawing yeah Photography is starting to play an interesting role here we haven't talked so much about photography in this class yet other than to use it as the problem I mean it's the problem that forces painting into its identity crisis the beginning of the 20th century but photography is going to become more and more important from here on out and it it it has this conflicted relationship from here on out which is why it's so important on the one hand traditionally photography has been the medium of facts it just coolly records the world in a mechanical way right you put the all of the difficulties of representation into a machine that can do it for you and it just records the facts as they are so you have that tradition on the one hand and I think he plays into that here where it's a really deadpan really deadpan pictures of photos without any kind of if it was a drawing it would speak so much of the artists hand and interpretation this is just an image objective image but on the other hand photography as we saw with Warhol is already by this point already loaded up with advertising and with celebrity culture photography is the medium of eliciting desire from consumers right so photography takes on this really complex identity that is going to become really important to postmodern art actually so we'll talk more about photography but I think that is the at least the first half of what I said is important to why he uses photography here rather than drawing he does experiment with multiples more than threes but it's still the same system it does you could consider what other ways of representing these objects could he come up with rather than in or in addition to a photograph the object and a definition in this case he's got five objects up there five things called one in five o'clock where he's got the clock he's got a photograph of a clock and then he's got three definitions rather than just the one and those definitions are if you can't see it the first is the definition of time which is a difficult definition to pull off the second one is the definition of clock and the third one is the definition of object so he's kind of unfolding different ways of understanding this thing they're they're all synthesized and combined into this one thing and here you do he does incorporate the passage of time where the clock is running but the photograph freezes a time it freezes one moment the moment at which the photograph was taken which helps us to understand time differently then we understand it in the object itself it's going to take the same strategy and employ it in a variety of other ways what is this object this supposedly simple purely formal minimalist cube what is it it's a box it's a cube it's empty it's clear it's glass and so he ends up taking essentially one thing and unfolding it into multiple interpretations so in a way it becomes multiple objects multiple multiple interpretations of that object that minimalist cube so minimalism becomes I mean he's using the language of minimal ism and he would I think he would say that minimalism has a language the language of geometry and industrial industrially produced materials that don't age and all those things he's using the language of minimalism but complicating it by pointing out its language and in pointing out all the ways that it gets interpreted and you could keep going with this if you keep adding to it you could have one that has the dimensions on it you could have one that has the location of that the glass was purchased at and or who fabricated it and on and on and on the the interpretations of the seemingly simple formal object unfold indefinitely and he'll do this over and over again leaning clear glass square you might ask why he uses glass here because he seems to repeat his use of glass starting at this time I think he is it's sort of he's sort of a punting on the notion of the transparency of language that language is just this thing that we read through right you hear my word tree and you don't get all hung up on the sound but rather you read through it to the image of a tree or or the transparency of representation historically you see a painted surface and the surface becomes transparent because you start thinking about a man next to a chair smiling at you so I think he's kind of puns on that use the way we talk about language and representation is transparent and shows that it's maybe not so transparent or if it is if it does become transparent it's a really complex thing with lots of definitions sort of synthesized into one another this thing is leaning it's clear its glass its square its words its material it's described and so on and so forth and once you start switching the language on you you become even more conscious of how the language is tied to interpretation of the thing some of us are having meaningful interpretations of these things others of us are not what's the difference well how you were prepared for this thing you were prepared to look at this by learning Spanish or not learning Spanish so you don't just encounter forms naively or purely you encounter them through the grid that you that has already been prepared in you in one way or another he also moves on to neon which of the time I mean this is not an art object this is not an art material at all and he's purposefully I think in using all non art materials non fine art materials neon lettering is you know that's associated with bars and things like that not with fine art he and he takes them I think specifically for that reason and creates these sentences that light up that are self descriptive right self interpreting so to speak five words in green neon and those are all five ways or five words that are referring to itself but the reference is through language so he kind of sets up something that's supposed to be self referential and self interpreting but of course it's not self interpreting and self referential right because you have to know English in order to make sense of them this wouldn't be five words in green neon to everyone but it is to you so the thing always points outside of itself and is supported by the cultural structures around it neon electrical light English glass letters pink eight and the thing is that they're not closed I mean I should do five words in neon here we get eight up words in neon and you could just keep expanding the thing the the meaning of it and the way we interpret it is never closed does that make sense you could add to this words words isn't there you have letters but you don't have words you could have syllables you could have I mean you could just keep adding this thing indefinitely adding to it somewhat indefinitely it's not easily closed so it's never self referential and that's one of the ways he's going to take down formalism as being as being naive and he does he he plays around with definitions quite a bit is this an image what more do you want isn't this an image this is there's actually some questions in this thing is this an image and don't we lose something by not having I mean this can't do everything that an image does but he raises it he raises the question anyway where is the image interesting but he uses a definition that has at the center of it the image of God imago art what is art where's the art and all of these he's going to refer to and just title as art as idea as idea so the art as an idea then becomes his idea and he puts pressure on that how does he how does that work how does does that hold water okay you get what he's doing right to some extent and once again the way we started off today we've got we've got a few things in place that that are common elements of what he's doing he's interrupting our expectations for what art should be pretty radically I mean so much so that he I mean he makes the most boring art he possibly can right and it's boring not because it's because there's nothing to think about in it but it's boring because he with holds almost everything you expect from an artwork almost everything except the questioning of the art of the art of the object he wants to kind of reconstruct artwork so that what you get with it is questioning and thinking and not all of those other things that have been traditionally associated with art making so it's it's exceedingly boring because he's withholding and interrupting what we expect art to be and in a way it's becoming it's been it could be referred to as anti aesthetic sort of anti Beauty anti skill anti formalism certainly anti formalist other artists that we want to add to our discussion of conceptualism john baldessari becomes very important at the same time i mean a lot of these conceptualist for all of the really stuffy language they're actually really funny people and the artwork is often very funny it has puns in it and they the way they're interrupting what you expect is often kind of funny and baldesarra is certainly has one of the quickest wits I think of all the conceptual artists who is this one addressed to do you think Clement Greenberg perhaps everything is purged from this painting but art no ideas have entered into this work it's just a pure formal experience which of course it isn't and there's no way to get to a purging of painting because painting itself is already laden with ideas and already laden with cultural associations there's no way to purge it there's no way to exclude ideas Baldessari's is going to become important to us later on we'll talk about him more this afternoon but to introduce you to some of his early work I don't know I don't you know what is Baldassare doing here is he doing the same thing as kosis or in some ways as he disagreeing with Kossuth does this do it does this really get you to pure beauty seems to be something woefully lacking maybe can't just maybe it's not just all in your head or at least maybe meaning doesn't just exist in ideas maybe the idea of pure form meaning existing just in the experience of the form is naive but it might be naive in the other direction to SIRT that meaning is just a just in your head just in language and he starts drawing a lot of attention to the conventions of art making what is painting and he gets the he has these sort of quotes from the impassioned art professor is what they kind of read like do you sense how all the parts of a good picture involved with each other not just placed side by side art is a creation for the eye and only can be hinted at with words which is all mediated through words and so on exhibiting paintings okay um the the second conceptual artists that will that will focus on here in planets left is salah wit and llywydd wrote i gave you a very well-known writing of his as you're required reading for today one of them and he wrote this essay called paragraphs on conceptual art which is curious that he titles it paragraphs I mean draws so much attention to I you know I think if it was just essay on conceptual art or just conceptual art you would just move on into it there's something about titling it paragraphs that's sort of odd isn't it sort of well of course of course there are paragraphs that's how that's what we expect to be written in an art journal and so he writes his paragraphs on conceptual art in 1967 they are later distinguished from sentences on conceptual art that comes two years later and I gave those to you as well and these are kind of strange things aren't they it's a strange writing yeah first you can you can date Sol LeWitt around 1970 you could date him with Kossuth in 65 but he's really you kind of into his own more I think around 70 and this this essay I want to talk through just a little bit because it might give us a few more cues for understanding what conceptual art is because he's devoted this whole all of these paragraphs to to articulating what conceptual art is and so what is it he says this in conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work we've already heard that in various ways from Kossuth when an artist uses a conceptual form of art it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair the idea becomes a machine that makes the art what sense do you make of that what does that mean and is that any different than Kossuth I mean sometimes we use the word concept I have a concept for a painting or whatever or this work is conceptual just to refer to oh it has ideas right right I'm interested in ideas I like to think but yeah in my artwork I try to make work that responds to philosophy and so I'll call it conceptual it has concepts llywydd wants to point us in a slightly different direction he wants to use that word more specifically for a method of making art right because I mean all work has ideas all art has concepts I mean you know that painting has concepts and ideas a a painting of the Madonna and Child has lots of wonderful heavy ideas in it and concepts but what he's referring to here is a mode of making work because the icon of the Madonna and Child the way that its ideas or its concepts are organized is pictorially and narrative Li somewhat I can I Cana graphically loo it has a different idea for how artwork gets organized and he's going to call that idea conceptual and what is conceptual what is the conceptual method what is it there's conceptual art do what does it look like to make art if you're a conceptual artist not just to have ideas but to put all of your work and all of the meaning of the work to have all of that rest on the planning that is made beforehand which makes the execution perfunctory as he says irrelevant doesn't matter if the thing is made or not if the art exists in the meaningfulness of the concept then you can have art without having an object at all according to LeWitt right the art for him is a conception and idea that is meaningful in one way or another that is organized in such a way that it once you have the idea in place the artwork just is a a machine so to speak that the the idea becomes a machine that makes the art it is a system this is a better way of saying it the concept is a system that you put in place a meaningful system and it's the system that makes the artwork not the artist the artist conceives the system and the system makes the artwork like a machine and it doesn't matter since the art exists in the concept or in the system it doesn't matter if the work gets made or not now what does this mean I'll show you some examples of what LeWitt may meant by this this is called wall drawing number three I'm 69 and it's difficult to tell what it is but what do you notice already what do you notice about this thing from what you can tell so far good good it's it's a wall drawing drawn directly on to the walls of the institution whatever the institution is which means that it is sort of forever attached to that place and it has no existence outside of that place the surface for his work is the institution that it's showing in okay so he's kind of taking Duchamp a step further there it's not just setting up an object to contemplate that refers to the system to the institution but it becomes adhered to the institution itself okay and as a side note that means that if this is ever exhibited again which it has been of course it actually is being reacted here this is not the original installation of this if it is ever read it takes a different shape in the new place it occupies that space differently than it did originally which takes Co Seuss idea that the art is not in the object but somehow you can have different chairs two totally different groups of objects and it's the same work because it's the same organizing system that the artist has set into place and that's going to be the case here so what is the organizing system it is this it is a it's a set of instructions is the work and here are the instructions a 40-inch band of vertical lines and both sets of diagonal lines superimposed centered top to bottom between ceiling and floor running the length of the wall that's the artwork is this set of instructions and so if it gets made it doesn't even have to get made by the artist for it to be his artwork it it because what he makes is the system he organizes the idea or the concept and then it that concept becomes the system the machine that makes the art and so this thing is going to vary depending on the wall that you put it on depending on all sorts of circumstances because the instructions don't they are flexible to the space that you put it in there relative to the space you put it in here's another one called wall drawing number nine a and B and here here's the artwork here and when you buy this artwork you get a certificate that says this 2-part serial drawing the wall or rectangle is divided vertically or horizontally into two parts one part with vertical and horizontal lines superimposed the other part with diagonal left and diagonal right lines superimposed first drawn by Sol LeWitt and others first installation lattic o Gallery in Rome Italy May 1969 that's the certificate that's the artwork and that's where the artwork resides is in the concept in the idea that can make multiple things and the thing is that anytime it's installed it has to take on different forms it inevitably takes on different forms so in one institution it looks like this in another it ends up looking like this and this is still within the bounds of what he of his instructions to panels a wall a rectangle is divided vertically or horizontally into two parts I mean it doesn't say anything that by dividing the wall that actually doesn't mean literally changing directions of the wall and that what that does is it for grounds the interpretive process that's involved in the art work the thing that comes out has been interpreted by other people and viewing it then is a process of interpretation and there are lots of these within an 80 inch square 10,000 straight lines next to it is an 80 inch square with 10,000 not straight lines can you imagine what that would be whatever you're imagining right now is your way of interpreting his idea his concept the system that he that the Oregon organizational system it's a compositional system and all artwork has some sort of compositional system to it he creates a compositional system you have to interpret it and whatever you're interpreting right now is the artwork right you as the interpreter are the are doing the artwork not not just him so that's why he says it's perfunctory whether this is made or not because it's made it's made in you it's made in the interpretation I saw this at MOCA a few years ago it's actually it remarkably beautiful the way they interpret it is remarkably beautiful 10,000 straight lines on one and 10,000 not straight lines on the other they were like force fields but organized in two totally different ways and it's the organ is organizing system that seems to be the point here let me show you one more of his works and you can't see this so much but some of his instructions are written text and some of them are combination of written text and parts or pieces that have to be combined so if you can't read that here's what the instructions say all combinations of two crossing lines of two lines crossing placed at random using arcs from corners and arcs from sides so those are the arcs from the corners of the first one arcs from the sides the second one straight lines third not straight lines the fourth one and then broken lines so basically what he gives you is an alphabet right it's a it's a certain visual grammar and you're supposed to put it together using this grammar in all combinations you're supposed to come up with all combinations of this thing on the walls of the gallery and when that happens it looks something like this you can't really see it all that well but they basically he goes on to later specify you draw a grid a three-foot grid and you put two of those lines in each of those grids until you have all of those combinations you've combined all whatever it is 16 or 20 of those grammatical pieces into all possible combinations and so there's a tight organizing system to the thing that allows for lots of variation into how this how the system looks in the end what it creates so where is the meaning of this work how do you interpret this work how do you make sense of it not just by its visual effect clearly even though it is all of the language of minimalism it allows for lots of variation doesn't say anything about color just says lines on the wall in every possible combination and they create different pattern brids appear waves appear there's this I found this one guy online who sort of digitally did a few of these different different combinations but it's the same ordering structure that underlies the whole thing with lots of variety and it's in its output and what this essentially does I think is it puts it it thinks about art as a language system this is the basic grammar of an artwork that he puts into place and he gives you certain rules to follow grammatical rules to follow and then you starts whoever exhibits it start speaking and making sense with this language using this grammar and LeWitt says as much about the grammar and foregrounds the plan the use of the of the plan in this where's the artwork it's in the planning the plan would design the work not the artist there's no Expressionism here some plans would require millions of variations and some a limited number in each case however the artists would select the basic form and rules that would govern the solution to the problem that is the conceptual strategy in a nutshell that right there the artist constructs a plan basic forms basic rules that govern the solution to the problem at this point it's really really dry but we have to understand this because it will shape the working model for the next several decades of art making and it will be this strategy but then turned towards different things like politics identity turns toward various social situations emotional situations even I mean things will start become awfully poetic with regards to this for now it's dry but this is the this is the conceptual model or the conceptual system that really sets the course for a lot of art-making from here on out for the rest of the semester when an artist uses a multiple modular method and that's what he referred thats what he's referring to is this strategy you've been looking at he usually chooses a simple and readily available form the form itself is a very limited importance it's anti formalist here it becomes the grammar for the total work the reason that this method is important is because it it lays out a new way of making meaning in a work it lays out new ways of making work I mean this is making work sort of like you haven't seen before it's very odd I mean there is very different in contrast to historical art making but along with that different way of making work is a different way of making sense of the work how do you interpret a Sol LeWitt by stepping back quite a bit intellectually and not so much being hung up on how beautiful the forms are how visually interesting they are though that's of some interest but rather you step back and you start thinking about the way that grammar the different grammar grammatical rules that are always shaping what we expect art to be and are shaping the ways that we live our lives does that make sense how do you interpret a Sol LeWitt by paying attention to the whole operation of grammar and rules in in our lives I think but that's a that's a really different way of making sense of artwork there's no narrative to read there's no kind of extraordinary visual pleasure to read into or skill I mean he displaces the skill of the artist entirely having other people do it for him he displaces the the object that can be bought and sold by collectors and museums he displaces all of that so you can't read into all of that instead you read into the concept that is driving the work concept that generates the work and in just just to round this out one other artist that you can be aware of though you don't have to memorize him is Lawrence whiner and Lawrence miner would take these kind of he would he would take this idea of of a concept if concept is the artwork and it doesn't matter whether the artwork is made or not he just takes the concept and just presents it in language and most of them never get made and he just writes them on the walls and you have interesting encounters with them a cup of seawater poured upon the floor I mean that is kind of a provocative image I suppose poetic image I guess a square removal from a rug in use I mean is this enough is this enough I mean he seems to call into question how language is working in the art as far as the eye can see I mean that conjures up so many associations German Romantic painting as far as the eye can see the unexplored Wild West extends as far as the eye can see shopping malls extend as far as the eye can see and that text written on that wall is as far as the eye can see in this when you're standing in this room and it sort of plays in so many different ways and and is that play the artwork all of those associations that come to mind is that the artwork is that enough rubber ball thrown on the sea I mean they they become really poetic in a way right and they take on they become open-ended in the way that they take on lots of associations I mean one thinks of isolation a rubber ball thrown on the sea one thinks of a child losing that ball as it goes out into the sea one thinks of the castaway I mean you know all these things that gather around these words and is that gathering as is that gathering always what artwork has done and is it enough to just put a phrase on the wall and have that gathering take place I don't know if Winer is suggesting that or if he is asserting that that's enough it's a questioning Kossuth and etc or is he is he's asserting it alright we'll take one question and then go to lunch that's a great question typography well I mean what do you think what do you think about the type that has been used what kind of type is it ah yeah or at least a whole other group of associations and he wouldn't have a problem with that I mean that you read this as you know you know if you write something in all caps you're either yelling or you're you know yelling through text message or something or you're you're pronouncing something this is important or you're titling it or something like that um and then the whole typography thing I mean I think that is an interesting question where does this type face come from it references something I mean it it references it's it's not in courier it's not in New Times Roman it's a specific type that we associate with perhaps advertising or or posters or something like that and that that grouping and collecting of associations I think is fine and I hadn't thought about the type of the typography here before that's great it was good I mean he does he does experiment I don't want to show you anymore but he does experiment with type a little bit and he's got quite a variety of type that he's and that seems to be important to him Biola University offers a variety of biblically-centered degree programs ranging from business to ministry to the Arts and Sciences visit biola.edu to find out how Biola could make a difference in your life

27 thoughts on “[ARTS 315] Conceptual Art: New Strategies for Meaning – Jon Anderson

  1. No mentionning of Margritte's painting, The treachery of images made decades before the Kosuth? Strange certainly in a course focussing in the end strongly on the meaning of language vs the object, reality, exc.

  2. Conseptual art is the art of nada, the Queen is not dead the painter is not stupid.
    What you call art locks man in his oun mind away from GOD and nature and his fellow man, it shuts off reasoning and leaves you in a empty nada state of mind a mental waste land of aesthetic madness.
    The personality is as shallow as the work its self if you can call it art work, anymore then you can call rap music.
    Art is not above a mans understanding then any other fact of life or its not art, its a fraud , its nada.

  3. I've been searching for so long to find someone trying to dig deep into these "works of art". I finally found it. And it's ridiculous as I thought it'd be.

  4. Holy fuck this lecture is so good. What an amazing presentation. He seems so comfortable talking, makes for really good listening

  5. How on earth can anyone sit through 90 minutes of this? I teach Modernism in art history and I am already lost in references to this that and the other thing with no idea what this person is actually talking about.

  6. But isn't LeWitt only placing boundaries on what can be made? Is this like saying the limitations are the art? While it may be a description of the fundamentals of any system or organization, is this necessarily art? Do we want to pay that much attention to it given our limited life spans? Is this the deepest mine to dig for meaning?

  7. Why is conceptual art so difficult to define?

    What is Jon Anderson’s definition?

    How, after Conceptualism, is “art” defined?

    What now is the function of art?

    What is the strategy (or strategies) used?

    What now is the job and importance of the artist?

    Why does Joseph Kosuth use a photograph rather than a drawing?

    What do Conceptualists (especially Sol Lewitt) think art is, what does it function like (one word answer)?

  8. This is is the clearest, most articulate, most all-encompassing expression of Conceptual Art I have ever heard. Way to go, Jon Anderson! You really know your stuff. I'm impressed.

  9. Maybe, but I see it more as a rebellion against what I call the "ArtSpeak" world—the academic art world that pooh-poohs a simple, universal truth: beauty (or Art) is in the eye of the beholder…100%. There are no "standards" or "rules" because those are only the formal opinions of the academics.

  10. I think there's some truth to what you say. But when you see how influential he has been to contempoirary art, it is obvious that he said much more than that. He questioned art itself. His art is still elitist in a way, don't you think?

  11. This guy is the cutest art history professor I have ever seen — and he's SO into what he's talking about. I wish I'd have had a teacher like him for contemporary art history classes.

  12. What I get from Duchamp is much simpler. He was saying (with his art) to the elites of the art world, "No, it's not only you who determine what constitutes art! Every artist does so as well. Get used to it.".

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