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What Is Conceptual Art?

Conceptual art is meant to challenge viewers.
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  • Written By: Pablo Garcia
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 15 October 2014
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Conceptual art can be described as art of ideas. The genre uses images and objects to make the viewer think, and to think particularly about what art is and what it means. Originating in the 1960s, it was meant as a challenge to viewers about what they believed belonged in the realm of art. Concept art focuses on the artist in the role of thinker rather than a creator of an art objects. It poses the question of whether anything can be art, or at least become art, simply by existing and being arranged in such a way that a viewer has to think about its meaning.

Historically, the conceptual art movement is considered to have been at its peak between the middle 1960s and the early 1970s. It represented an attempt to expand the idea of art from the limits of conventional conceptions of what art should be. It rejected the “consumer” notion that art must be beautiful or in some way aesthetically pleasing to the viewer.

The theory of conceptual art proposes that the true aim of art is to make a viewer think and not to please the senses. Any art that does not cause the viewer to think is “redundant.” This theory raises the question of whether anything can be “art.”

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The framework of conceptual art is considered to have fostered installation art, performance art, and conceptual film and photography. Concept art rejects conventional painting and sculpture because they are not based on ideas but on aesthetic principals. The work becomes about the artist’s craft and does not make the viewer think.

Critics of conceptual art question whether any artwork that claims simply to be about an idea can ever fully engage a viewer. Moreover, if everything has the potential to be art, there is no real difference between art and non-art. Concept artists miss a step in the creative process. It is more correct to say that everything can be the subject of art. It is because of the transformative power of the artistic process that something becomes art.

Concept artists respond to these criticisms with the argument that the knowledge gained through the making of the object is more important than the object itself. What the object means is more important the object itself. The viewer’s focus should be on meaning rather than imagery, and ideas rather than the artists talents of composition.

Other critics point out that there is no inherent contradiction in an idea of art that is aesthetically powerful, carefully composed, and causes the viewer to think about important ideas. In fact much that is considered great art contains these elements. Conceptual art is really about analyzing the nature of art and not creating it. This kind of analysis is still considered an important stimulus to the art world.

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