Philosophy and Conceptual Art
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The analytic philosophers writing here engage with the cluster of philosophical questions raised by conceptual art. They address four broad questions: What kind of art is conceptual art? What follows from the fact that conceptual art does not aim to have aesthetic value? What knowledge or understanding can we gain from conceptual art? How ought we to appreciate conceptual art?
Conceptual art, broadly understood by the contributors as beginning with Marcel Duchamp's ready-mades and as continuing beyond the 1970s to include some of today's contemporary art, is grounded in the notion that the artist's "idea" is central to art, and, contrary to tradition, that the material work is by no means essential to the art as such. To use the words of the conceptual artist Sol LeWitt, "In conceptual art the idea of the concept is the most important aspect of the work . . . and the execution is a perfunctory affair." Given this so-called "dematerialization" of the art object, the emphasis on cognitive value, and the frequent appeal to philosophy by many conceptual artists, there are many questions that are raised by conceptual art that should be of interest to analytic philosophers. Why, then, has so little work been done in this area? This volume is most probably the first collection of papers by analytic philosophers tackling these concerns head-on.
1990: 541). There are a number of issues here. The one on which I would like to focus is that modernism was ‘morally and culturally exhausted’; that it was incapable of producing ‘authentic culture’. What is it for a form of art (if I can put it that way for the moment) to be ‘exhausted’? The speciﬁc claim that Harrison makes is that the aesthetics of modernism was exhausted. That charge The Dematerialization of the Object / 23 can be interpreted in several different ways: that a certain
rejection of Clement Greenberg’s version of modernism, with its insistence that, as Harrison puts it, ‘the authentic experience of art is a disinterested response to the work of art in its phenomenological and morphological aspects’—a ‘purely optical’ response, that is, to the work’s appearance (Harrison 2001: 41).¹⁰ In the light of such statements, my claim that works of conceptual art are properly objects of visual attention may ⁷ Suppose that artist had crafted the work as it actually is but
And, as previously explained, equating artistic value with cognitive value in this fashion is taken to vindicate not only conceptual art’s disregard for aesthetic value, but also its claim that ideas are the true ‘material’ of art. For if art is to be dematerialized in the manner prescribed by conceptual artists, there is nothing concrete that may yield non-trivial aesthetic value. However, if a conceptual artwork’s artistic value is exhausted by its cognitive value in this way, what, if
Davies, is not that they cannot ‘speak for themselves’ since all art is only really accessible through the mediation of a contextualizing narrative. Rather, conceptual pieces are special in so far as they require an identifying narrative. This, Davies concludes, constitutes the most important difference between conceptual pieces and more traditional artworks. Another difference between conceptual art and traditional art might lie in its cognitive value. Some philosophers (and non-philosophers)
Three Chairs the work might seem merely to be dealing with appearances, i.e. with the play between Plato’s second order of reality, material objects as they appear in the world, and objects as they appear in their third remove, in representation. But the text adds a different dimension to these two levels of appearance. For it pushes through or past these more ontological interests to the more particular issues of meaning and reference as they were debated by the linguistic philosophers in