I recently read Sol Lewitt’s ‘Paragraphs on Conceptual Art’ and ‘Sentences on Conceptual Art’, and found this text very informative and instructive on how to overcome the debates about creating conceptual work, with regard to a final material outcome. I have struggled when creating work to transform an idea, or a research practice into a definite and finished object, as I prefer to focus on the act of doing, and neglect the transformation of the process into objecthood, which is needed. I have grappled with ideas about how to transform my ideas into a material work, experimenting with paint and colour, however, after reading this piece I feel an illustration of process may be the best way to confront the idea of object realisation. I want to show the viewer the administrative nature of my work, particularly the way in which I have used and processed data, and as such I am inspired to bring back the spreadsheet as a crucial element of my final design. I want to include this both as an artist’s sketch towards the project, and as a finished piece, as I find a certain beauty in the simplicity of the form of the spreadsheet as it directly disseminates information to the viewer in an acustomed format.
In addition, I find Lewitt’s writing very interesting as I look back onto a historic movement, appropriating their claims from a situation within contemporary art. Although my work uses digital technologies, I am inspired by the work of 1960s conceptual art, in particular the way in which they approached creating work where the end product was not the most important part of the process. Lewitt stresses the importance of the idea of the work, with material objectives or outcomes being secondary to the principle driving the project. He states, “the basic unit [of the work] be deliberately uninteresting so that it may more easily become an intrinsic part of the entire work.” The aesthetic of the work needen’t exhibit a sense of beauty or shock, but rather can be quiet in its presentation of an idea in order to mentally stimulate the viewer. The viewer is asked to interrogate the work, as the artist has interrogated the idea, relinquishing the nature of art from a compulsion to exhibit beauty. The work can appear uninteresting as such, which is something I will explore within the creation of my final piece.
After reading this work, I will look to these phrases as a basis on which to form the rules of my own practice, while challenging some ideas in order to revitalise a historic moment within 20th century art.
PARAGRAPHS ON CONCEPTUAL ART
- “When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair.”
- “The idea becomes a machine that makes the art.”
- “This kind of art is not theoretical or illustrative of theories; it is intuitive, it is involved with all types of mental processes and it is purposeless.”
- “It is the objective of the artist who is concerned with conceptual art to make his work mentally interesting to the spectator, and therefore usually he would want it to become emotionally dry.”
- “Logic may be used to camouflage the real intent of the artist, to lull the viewer into the belief that he understands the work, or to infer a paradoxical situation (such as logic vs. illogic).”
- “Some plans would require millions of variations, and some a limited number, but both are finite.”
- “After that the fewer decisions made in the course of completing the work, the better. This eliminates the arbitrary, the capricious, and the subjective as much as possible.”
- “The form itself is of very limited importance; it becomes the grammar for the total work. In fact, it is best that the basic unit be deliberately uninteresting so that it may more easily become an intrinsic part of the entire work.”
- “The conceptual artist would want o ameliorate this emphasis on materiality as much as possible or to use it in a paradoxical way (to convert it into an idea).”
SENTENCES ON CONCEPTUAL ART
- “Conceptual artists are mystics rather than rationalists. They leap to conclusions that logic cannot reach.”
- “Irrational judgements lead to new experience.”
- “Irrational thoughts should be followed absolutely and logically.”
- “The artist may misperceive (understand it differently from the artist) a work of art but still be set off in his own chain of thought by that misconstrual.”
- “The artist may not necessarily understand his own art. His perception is neither better nor worse than that of others.”
- “The concept of a work of art may involve the matter of the piece or the process in which it is made. “
- “Once the idea of the piece is established in the artist’s mind and the final form is decided, the process is carried out blindly. There are many side effects that the artist cannot imagine. These may be used as ideas for new works.”
- “The process is mechanical and should not be tampered with. It should run its course.”