Language was an important tool for Conceptual artists in the 1960s. Many Conceptual artists used language in place of brush and canvas, and words played a primary role in their emphasis on ideas over visual forms. Though text had been used in art long before this, artists like Joseph Kosuth were among the first to give words such a central role. The way the words look plays a role in Conceptual art, but it is language itself that has the ultimate significance.
To explore more, click on each artwork thumbnail, then click again on the larger image that appears in the box above.
A three-dimensional work of art made by a variety of means, including carving wood, chiseling stone, casting or welding metal, molding clay or wax, or assembling materials.
The shape or structure of an object.
Art that emerged in the late 1960s, emphasizing ideas and theoretical practices rather than the creation of visual forms. In 1967, the artist Sol LeWitt gave the new genre its name in his essay “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art,” in which he wrote, “The idea itself, even if not made visual, is as much a work of art as any finished product.”
Questions & Activities
Repetition and Meaning
To create I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art, Baldessari repeated the same phrase over and over again. On a blank sheet of paper, hand-write a five- to seven-word phrase of your choosing 20 times.
Does the repetition have an effect on the meaning of your statement? How did the process of writing the statement impact its meaning?
What are some of the ways these works of art challenge artistic convention and institutional authority? Write down five ways you can think of, and write one to two sentences describing your rationale.
Words and Images
Everyone has a different, though often related, visual association with a word or concept, even when we share a common language. To prove it, draw a picture of a noun (chair, house, or dog, for example) and present it to several friends and family members. Have them guess what the picture represents. Next, draw a picture of a verb (run, think, or fly, for example) and have others guess what the picture represents. Finally, draw a picture of a concept (art, freedom, or community, for example) and have others guess what the picture represents.
Which pictures were easiest to draw? Which did people guess correctly?
In the mid-1960s Richard Serra began experimenting with nontraditional art materials like fiberglass, neon, and rubber, and also with the language involved in the physical process of making sculpture. The result was the list of action verbs, compiled by Serra and then enacted on the materials he had collected in his studio. As Serra explained, “It struck me that instead of thinking what a sculpture is going to be and how you’re going to do it compositionally, what if you just enacted those verbs in relation to a material and didn’t worry about the results?”
Read Serra’s list aloud, imagining how these ordinary actions might be applied to the different materials Serra uses, including lead, rubber, and steel.
Can you apply some of these verbs to any other Conceptual art works? Compare your application of verbs with a friend’s, classmate’s, for family member’s?