On conceptual art

Monday, 2 May 2011

Joseph Beuys installation

Many people are cynical about conceptual art, with people mocking pieces such as Tracy Emin's 'Unmade Bed' and Damien Hirst's shark in formaldehyde. I've always found with my art that I've actually loved coming up with the concept far more than the actual process of making it. I like my work to have some meaning, whether it be obvious to everyone else or not. When I began my Art Foundation, I was expecting to find more like-minded people who appreciated than part of the art of the modern world is 'conceptual' and that this is no more or less valid than art which is simply concerned with aesthetics alone. I do not think that someone who paints a flower because it is beautiful is any less of an artist than someone who attempts to give a viewer a narrative, or evoke particular reactions within an audience, I just prefer it when I feel something more from a piece of art than 'Oh, that's pretty'.

However, it seems that art with a concept has been labeled 'pretentious' among my peers, as if thinking deeply about what you wish to convey within your work is uncool or laughable, and my love of the idea behind a piece means that people seem to see something odd, unusual or even ridiculous and presume 'That's the sort of thing you like, isn't it?'. Just because a piece has a concept doesn't mean it is a good one; I am discerning in my approach and if I like something, it's because I have taken into account all of its aspects, rather simply because it can be read on a deeper level. I don't deny that sometimes I think 'modern art' goes too far, and no, it isn't always aesthetically pleasing: but as the centuries have gone on, more and more art has been created, and it has become harder for artists to produce 'original' work. For example, whether you love or hate him, Marcel Duchamp's 'Fountain' (an upturned urinal) was one of the most original works seen at the time - and still is today.

Duchamp was pivotal in founding the modern idea of conceptual art that 'the act of choice is equal to the act of creation', and the idea that the viewer allowed the art to come into its own, and that the viewer's reaction was a part of the creative process.

Part of me actually quite likes the urinal aesthetically (probably mostly due to my predilection with white, clean looking things and minimalist objects) - I saw it once in Barcelona on an Art trip, but I'm definitely not sure of the bicycle wheel - probably as Duchamp intended!

Another piece that I studied recently in Art History is 'The Large Glass' (The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even) - above - which I mainly liked because of Duchamp's comparison of it to a machine and its unusual execution on glass. The piece is made of two glass panels, the upper with the 'Bride' clinging to the milky way, and below, separated by a barrier, there is the 'Bachelor Machine' with the nine 'Grooms' - little suits attached to a 'chocolate-grinder', fueled by 'love-gasoline'. The ideas sound funny, but in reality are rumoured to suggest the torture of sexuality: as one critic writes, "The Large Glass has been called a love machine, but it is actually a machine of suffering. Its upper and lower realms are separated from each other forever by a horizon designated as the 'bride's clothes.' The bride is hanging, perhaps from a rope, in an isolated cage, or crucified. The bachelors remain below, left only with the possibility of churning, agonized masturbation." Lovely. Duchamp's works are rarely easy to interpret, and in this case the concept is confusing at best, even when coupled with his supposedly 'explanatory' work, The Green Box.

I am quite sure that I will always try to work within the boundaries of a concept - though of course 'boundary' is hardly an appropriate word for an idea that allows a work personal freedom and expression rather than restricting it, despite what its critics say.

For more information on Duchamp's work, visit 'Making Sense of Duchamp'

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