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Language and Art

Explore the role words played in Conceptual art’s emphasis on ideas over visual forms.

Untitled from Squares with a Different Line Direction in Each Half Square

Sol LeWitt
(American, 1928–2007)

1971. One from a portfolio of ten etchings, plate: 7 5/16 x 7 5/16" (18.6 x 18.6 cm); sheet: 14 1/2 x 14 1/2" (36.8 x 36.8 cm)

The instructions Sol LeWitt gave for making Untitled from Squares with a Different Line Direction in Each Half Square are in the title of the work. Using sets of instructions, or what LeWitt called “operational diagrams” for others to follow in order to create the work of art, LeWitt hoped to eliminate the self-expression traditionally valued in art.

Furthermore, he was not interested in the beauty of the final drawings. He said, “If I give the instructions and they are carried out correctly, then the result is OK with me.”1 His work aims to appeal to viewers’ intellect rather than their sense of beauty. Using instructions to create lines, he believed, had as much weight as any image.

Sol LeWitt, quoted in Lucy R. Lippard, “The Structures, The Structures and the Wall Drawings, The Structures and the Wall Drawings and the Books,” in Sol Le Witt, exh. cat., ed. Alicia Legg (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1978), 24.

A representation of a person or thing in a work of art.

A work of art made with a pencil, pen, crayon, charcoal, or other implements, often consisting of lines and marks (noun); the act of producing a picture with pencil, pen, crayon, charcoal, or other implements (verb, gerund).

A long mark or stroke.

A facial aspect indicating an emotion; also, the means by which an artist communicates ideas and emotions.

The Maestro?
Although he was interested in all aspects of a work’s creation, from the initial idea to its final execution, LeWitt often hired assistants to execute wall drawings according to his instructions, likening his role as artist to that of a composer of music rather than a performer.