Conceptual Art ROCKS!

(This is a rebuttal to Curt Cloninger’s essay “Conceptual Art Sucks“, which you should read first.)

CURT: “I figured it was about time I write an article explaining why conceptual art sucks, since every time I encounter conceptual art, I start to twitch.”

Curt, your “Conceptual Art Sucks” essay has a bitter seething tone that troubles me. Your attitude towards conceptual art smacks of ‘us-against-them’ anti-intellectualism, something I would not expect from a supersmart fella like you. I am surprised to see you posturing this way, particularly your almost Jesse Helmsian “give me back my tax money” coda. Why such venom for innocent artists and the people who like them? That’s right, you big bully: I’m here to stick up for conceptual art.

Your broad attack on the entirety of conceptual art is founded on a single real art world example that you didn’t even really bother to research (Levine) and two fresh-outta-art-school pranksters (Mandiberg and Bruns) whose work you sadly misinterpret. Ironically, Michael Mandiberg’s sites approach the topic of conceptual art from much the same place you’re coming from – he is clearly to a large degree poking fun at Sherry Levine’s work. Kendall Bruns, in turn, is making fun of Levine and Mandiberg. This parodic quality is so obvious I’m surprised you missed it. Methinks that Mandiberg doesn’t quite think conceptual art ‘sucks’, but he does think that it’s a medium in which he can have some fun and maybe make someone giggle. Having missed the initial joke, you lost out on the laughs.

But the fact that you didn’t “get” the joke is not surprising. Conceptual art scares you.

Me, I love conceptual art. Correction: I love good conceptual art (there’s plenty of bad stuff too, just like there’s plenty of bad anything). I like to look at art and think about what the artist was thinking. I like to be confronted with the beauty of ideas and I like to look at clever people’s weird and wonderful thought processes.

CURT: “The real artist embraces the fact that a pure idea cannot be transferred from one person to another without first being encoded into some form of media.”

To me the most important intellectual and philosophical advance that conceptual art has given us (and the core concept that you’re just not getting) is that works of art don’t simply exist as mysterious artifacts for us to look at. Rather, they exist in a kind of continuum of ideas and communications, within a culture of conversations, publications, other works of art. Unless there is a nuclear holocaust or some kind of massive purging of all human knowledge, it will never, ever, ever be possible to look at a Van Gogh painting and separate it from what we all know about his life. It is absurd to think that Van Gogh’s painting would sell for $30 million a pop if it wasn’t for the tragic glamour of his life story.


I love this painting of the revolutionary chemist Antoine Lavoisier by Jacques-Louis David, but oh! how much more interesting the painting is when you know that only six years later the great French painter *personally* signed the death warrant that led to the chemist’s death by guillotine. I can’t imagine how boring this painting would be if I did not know who the subject was (the most important chemist ever), if I didn’t know about the time period (the damn French Revolution), etc. etc. My knowledge only amplifies my appreciation, and the more knowledge the better.

You assert that to the conceptual artist “the artist statement is merely incidental”. Maybe you haven’t actually studied a lot of post-war art history, so let me break the news that that statement couldn’t be more wrong. Almost without exception, conceptual artists claim that the work of art is incidental, while the dialogue around the work (which often takes the form of an artist’s statement) is the key to the experience.

To claim that a work of art should be appreciable in a conceptual vacuum is to deny yourself the most salient pleasure of art.

CURT: “Post-modern relativism is afraid to call anything bad, so conceptual art sneaks in the back door and the relativist art critics are bootless to kick it out. “

It’s interesting that you mention fear. The thing that strikes me most about your tone is not your anger, but your fear. Here I will do a little of my own psychological guesswork: I think your distaste for conceptual art is driven by a fear of looking dumb. And your fear of looking dumb is driven by a lack of confidence in your own ability to pass an informed judgement on artwork that purports to be ‘intellectual’ but is, in fact, incomprehensible to you.

Here’s the scenario: You look at (or rather, read about) Sherry Levine and you don’t find it interesting. But all the big art critics seem to love it, teachers and artists tell you it’s important and interesting. Are you missing something? Is there something you’re not getting? You’re afraid now. What do you do? You go on the offensive. You shift the focus from the work of art to the whole conceptual art practice to save yourself the trouble of actually examining the particular work. Why?

Maybe a better question is What could you have done instead?

You could attempt to learn more about Sherry Levine’s work, to learn more about the late 70’s conceptual art scene and the context in which this work was made.

You could talk to some people and find out why they like Sherry Levine’s work.

In fact, I’ll tell you why I like her work: When the After Walker Evans series was first displayed, photographs were often sold with a great deal of emphasis on the object, i.e., the print. In 1979 an original Walker Evans print would have cost you a ton of money, and in fact it would probably still cost you a wad in 2001. But what exactly do you get for your money? A flat piece of paper with a black and white image on it. Sherry Levine showed that, in fact, the value of Walker Evans’ artwork was not located in the chemicals or the paper, but in the image itself, something that cannot be touched. The image is the real product, not some dumb original print. Sure, the artifact of Walker Evans’ handiwork has some sentimental or historical value (like owning George Washington’s dentures or something), but the image is the ‘real’ artistic product. By separating the image from the artifact, Levine has in a way demonstrated your very point: that although we don’t usually recognize it, the ‘value’ of a work of art can be distilled into several constituent parts: the work itself and the aura around the work. She separated the aura from the work by brusquely (yet with tongue in cheek) presenting the work as her own.
Okay, so maybe she could have written an essay in Time magazine and made this point more clear to people like you who don’t like to read a lot about art. Heck, maybe you don’t find her point (or my interpretation) particularly interesting. I’m guessing, however, that your real beef is not with Sherry Levine’s concept, but rather you object to the whole idea that some art requires a lot of work to “get.”

Another famous conceptual artist, Lawrence Weiner, once said “Learn to read art.” He meant to point out that art is often practiced in a language that is not readily accessible to everyone, that to understand a lot of art, particularly contemporary art, you will likely have to make an effort to learn something new. Yet you, on the other hand, want to be able to approach art from a purely visceral perspective, expecting to be able to experience artworks with no other knowledge besides that which you can see (what Duchamp called “retinal art”). This is an insult to all art practive, not just conceptual art. It would be folly to try to read Immanuel Kant without a strong knowledge of the history of philosophy. One doesn’t hand a copy of Remembrance of Things Past to a 15-year-old child and expect comprehension of even the first scintillating paragraph. Yet you (and most other people) insist that visual art should NOT require any external knowledge to be appreciated. Do you actually think that art is somehow “dumber” than other creative pursuits and that it should not require extensive use of one’s brain?

CURT: “Meanwhile, give me back my tax money, stop teaching my children, and use your galleries to send concepts down fatter and more emotive media pipes than the thin mumbo jumbo prose of some hackneyed artist statement written by some wannabe who never made any real art.”

You again assume that conceptual art is always devoid of aesthetic value. This is in fact the core of your disagreement with conceptual art. I think you’re wrong. Like anything else, aesthetic value is a matter of taste, but I would venture to say that if you spent the time to actually look at some good conceptual art you’d find a lot of very interesting and innovative aesthetics.

Here are some links to sites about some of the most famous conceptual artists. In addition to having essays about the work, there are some pretty pictures to entertain your retinas. And I’ll be goddamned if much of this work isn’t fucking beautiful to look at.

Believe me, I’m not the kind of guy to fall for barely comprehensible postmodern critical/philosophical mumbo jumbo masquerading as social science, but I find a great deal to enjoy in the works linked above. It surprises me that you see absolutely nothing.

I can’t make you like something you don’t like. But hopefully you’ll reopen this book and again ask yourself “what do people see in this stuff?” Only this time, instead of going into a kind of intellectual fight-or-flight mode, you’ll spend some time to try to learn the language and contexts of the practice you so angrily dismiss.


20 responses to “Conceptual Art ROCKS!”

  1. d. b. reese Avatar
    d. b. reese

    i disagree strongly in that as an art student currently at a school where conceptual art is the standard–i can say that indeed it “sucks”: conceptual direction or the idea of an art piece has become codified and dogmatically instituted. art is only regarded as valid if it conforms to what has already been recognizable as conceptually valid. it is my personal experience that anyone who attempts another approach to art that involves ideas not already regarded as conceptual art is treated as a HERETIC! that’s right! just try doing anything involving ancient historical subjects or treating the “big ideas” (our place in the natural world). do a representational painting about these subjects, and don’t distort or disfigure your forms. my own work has been rejected completely by the conceptual crowd because their idea of conceptual is absolutely limited to what they already have seen being called conceptual. i hypothesize that this is an example of the literal vs. metaphorical syndrome. literal or “nomenclatural” approaches set up an absolute or unchallengable interpretation that fallaciously freezes the understanding of a dynamic system. a dynamic construct needs description through metaphorical device. for instance for conceptual art to be true to its own principles must be about unrecognized forms, but this must exclude, especially, recognized forms of what has been called conceptual art. from my own experience the hypocrisy i’ve seen, the snobbery, the fear within this group of conformists is truly shameful. their work challenges nothing, and is only about who’s in their idea club. fuck them.

  2. D.B., your opinions seem to apply to *individual people* who call themselve conceptual artists (your peers at school) and not to the *idea* of “conceptual art”. I detect a *lot* of animosity in your comments. I’m not saying that your peers at school don’t deserve it (maybe they are snobby conformists, maybe their work actually sucks. I have no idea.), but you’ve hardly even bugun to say anything to actually convince me that conceptual art sucks.

    It also sounds like you and your peers have a difference of opinion about art *style*. You like representational art and detest abstraction and other more contemporary art styles. Your peers detest representational art. To me, both opinions sound like teh views of closed-minded idealistic kids who need to lighten up a little bit.

    To help you with your obvious bitterness about your role as an artist among peers you have no respect for, I ask you to try this philosophy on for size: Almost any work of art you’ll ever see is likely to suck at some level. Most of them will likely suck very very much. This includes primarily conceptual work, primarily optical/skill-based work, etc. Accept this fact, respect your peers and offer them concstructive criticism to help them as best you can, do your best to listen to what they have to say, and feel glad whenever you actually see a work of art you really do like or that helps inspire your own work. If you can’t handle these basic skills, you really have no business attending an art school since you can almost certainly learn everything else you want from books and lots of practice.

    I doubt, however, that you really want to drop out. Instead, how opening your mind a little bit. Name any work of art that you actually like, and I’ll do my best present to you an argument that it’s actually conceptual: that is, that there is something going on in the artwork that goes beyond the artist’s craftsmanship, something that goes directly to the viewer’s mind and asks them to think about the work and other things. The David painting above is an example, I think, of conceptual art.

    In fact, it sounds to me like you strive for this very effect in your work. You want to make art about “our place in the natural world”? Good God, man, that is almost the definition of conceptual art! Perhaps you are a conceptual artist?

    Do you really hate all of the conceptual art examples I gave above?

  3. d. b. reese Avatar
    d. b. reese

    perhaps a clarification is necessary, of my actual thought: i don’t believe in the categories you define above, and i don’t believe at all in the boundaries of representational vs. abstract etc. or “retinal vs. ….” and you can’t just tell me my work, as i describe it, is something based on some exterior definitions of what you think it sounds like. just because it embodies concepts doesn’t mean you’re going to
    label it with something that isn’t what i call it. my understanding is that art from the very beginning was an expression of some philosophy or idea or cultural concept. even what you call “retinal or skilled-based” art is just a product of certain cultural values. i think the main problem isn’t that there is conflict between abstract art vs. representational art. my art is abstract and representational. it defies categories of fine art, illustration etc. through it i am attempting to transcend the intellectual identities or categories which make artmaking not embody new ideas. my contemporaries denounce me as a heretic because i ignore what they think are the rules: “don’t reflect on the the past without referencing the present etc.” “don’t represent historical themes with new representational techniques” “don’t paint monumental illustrative ideas.” none of these is understood as okay. well now i’ve given away too much. bye. is an archaic kouros an attempt at rendering a person? is it a geometricizing figural monument or is the image of a nude male stepping forward, having shed protective garments something that is archetypal. is it an abstract or representational piece, is it retinal or conceptual. i don’t think its any of these things. i think it just is/ dev b.

  4. I agree that it’s pointless to categorize things. Think of the term “conceptual art” as a quality of art, not a distinct type of art. A sculpture is called a kouros if it has a certain quality to it, a painting is called impressionist if it has a certain quality to it, and a drawing can be called conceptual if it has a certain quality to it. But none of these qualities preclude these works having other qualities.

    Anyway, if you think anything “just is”, then you’re hopeless. Nothing made by human hands “just is”. A kouros was made by particular people in a particular historical milieu with distinct religious beleifs and social customs, and it’s awesome to understand all of that stuff while appreciating the work of art. In fact, to me, a kouros in particular is way more interesting knowing who made it and what they were like, knowing that for a thousand years the kouros form was unalterable, and thousands were made with little to no variation. What a truly weird tradition, don’t you think? Without that knowledge, most kouroses (kouri?) are pretty boring, actually.

    Are you aware of the Getty Museum’s controversial kouros? The art historians are split down the middle: either it’s a priceless and unique example of early greek kouros mastery, or it’s a 20th century fake. They can’t tell. It would seem to be a silly debate if all you care about is the formal qualities of the work (i.e., if you think the work “just is”). But if you care about art history, I’d say that the truth behind the controversy is probably important towards understanding the development of classical Greek sculpture and of Greek culture in general.

  5. well, if you want to go ahead and say that you can’t find something like the kouroi (or anything) being of interest if you don’t think about that stuff that we’ve been told to understand about it, fine. i don’t give a shit.

  6. All I’m saying is that, to me, some things are way more interesting when you’re not trying to pretend that they don’t exist in the real world. If you want to appreciate art by pretending that each object you see exists autonomously of history, culture, space, and time, that’s cool. I’m not kidding, I think it’s totally cool to take that perspective. I just wish you and others wouldn’t knock other people simply for appreciating art in different ways than you do.

  7. d. b. reese Avatar
    d. b. reese

    well, about that whole pretending deal, i think you’re making a lot of comments that seem premature, and also you’ve made a lot of other judgements based on assumptions and information that is developed by means of analogy. for example, when i said, perhaps for dramatic effects, that i don’t give a shit, about anybody not being interested in things, unless they know the historical deal about is, because, we really don’t know what we think we know about something that took place in the past. i mean reconstructions of cultural contexts are at best an archaeological theory, or that is, a best guess supported by evidence someone has gathered in order to support that theory or understanding. i don’t pretend objects are divorced from these historical reconstructions of what human experience was at the time and place they were made, but, i know very consciously that the artifact has its own life, it becomes its own definition, it has its own existence. to us the iconography or aniconography of it, especially in ancient art, is perhaps the best way we can understand not the society or culture of the people who made it, but their feelings or deepest desires as people who were making things. my big quarrel is that you say i’m knocking you because you don’t think like me. i’m not an agressor merely because i’m extremely critical of the conceptualistic trend. i feel like it has taken away from the appreciation of intangible or ineffable qualities in art. i feel like the aggressiveness i’ve seen (or the passive agressiveness) that conflict or differing statement isn’t alright is definitely a suppressive movement. i’m not against other ways of appreciating art. i’m against people acting like a criticism of their arguments isn’t allowed, even if it is empassioned. you’ve made a lot of statements about me that are misleading. my own artwork and statements, are a protest against the known interpretations of iconography. my main opposition to conceptual art is that based on the quality based understanding you posit above something will only be called conceptual if it has more what is already called conceptualness. this is the main pitfall i see about it, because what will happen is that anyone trying to make objects which are not about whatever the literate crowd feels is philosophical and clever will be dismissed as a folk artist or craft worker. i think this is the conformism and pedagogy that has replaced what could have been honest searching. it’s isolated art from craft and from the other fields of human knowledge. i think it’s a mess.

  8. I’m sorry if I’ve mischaracterized you or your work — I have only your comments here to work from, of course, and based on what you’ve written I don’t think it’s oversimplifying for me to assume that you think conceptual art is shit. You say “i’m not against other ways of appreciating art.”, but based on most of your other comments apparently you are.

    I didn’t think you were knocking me, anyway — I think you’re knocking conceptual art unfairly. I say unfairly because I disagree that looking for concepts in art, or putting concepts in art, has any negative effect on art, or for that matter on anything else in the world. Similarly, I think there’s nothing wrong with being a folk artist or a craft worker and not caring a damn about conceptual foundations of your work.

    There are three sides to this battle. There are those who think that conceptual art is king and that craft/optical/folk whatever art is inferior, uncreative, old-fashioned, conformist, etc. This sounds like your school peers you mentioned. There are also those who think the inverse: that conceptual art is snobby, vapid, conformist, and hackneyed, etc. This sounds like you, but I may be wrong.

    Then there’s a third camp, people who can find value and interestingness in both the craft and the concept of a work of art. You see, I like art with almost no concept and lots of craft, although I tend to also wish there was something more to think about in such works. I also like art with lots of concept and almost no craft, although I tend to also wish the artist had worked a little harder or had more talent with their materials. Most of all, however, I like art with lots of concept and lots of craft.

    Lots of people who value ‘conceptualness’ in art also value the formal thingness and the craft. Many examples of conceptual art are highly formal, visual, technical, and even visceral (look at a lot of minimalist art in this way, trying to ignore anything you’ve heard about the conceptual foundation, and you may see that many of these artists care only about the physical emotional impact of their work. Richard Serra, for example, is far more visceral than conceptual, no matter what the critics say).

    Where I take issue with your perspective is this: on the one hand you desire other people to be more tolerant and less dismissive of your work, which you say is not heavily conceptual. Yet you also are obviously dismissive of the perspective of people who like work that is highly conceptual.

    If you really honestly think that people who prefer conceptual art can be honest, thoughtful, innovative people and great artists, even though such work is not your personal interest, then perhaps you need to be more clear about what you say. As I said in my first response, it’s not conceptual art or the conceptual art mode of thinking you seem to dislike, it’s particular individual people who you think are closed minded. I doubt it’s conceptual art that made these people jerks. They’d be jerks even if they were figurative artists or even folk artists.

  9. d. b. reese Avatar
    d. b. reese

    i suppose you’re right about the people being closeminded, and my experience with them has left a bitter taste in my mouth, rather i feel they’ve made things like subject matter political and anti-social through the essential flaw in their understanding of context. i will note that the conceptual theories you describe are not to my experience shared with those i’ve encountered. perhaps i have bad experiences. by your description my art could fall into the category of intensive craft with a conceptual bend. if only that were appreciated. i never really cared about traditional artists who were closeminded, but when people say you’re work’s not intelligent or dismiss it as craft there’s a problem. i’m not sure it’s just their personalities, i think there’s something about their idea of contemporary context that makes them rejective of anything that reminds them off the past, my work which is all about the past makes them act like pure fools. i think if more of them thought like you do, then it would be better for my sake.

  10. Eric Lemaresquier Avatar
    Eric Lemaresquier

    I thought that was quite a constructive conclusion here from all that banter. Applause! You managed to agree and learn something from eachother, after…how many hours of typing to prove…something…but actually nothing at all…it cant be proved…an absolute…the way it ended that is…congrats!

    Now, just in case it was forgotten, might I add you guys take a trip down a simple dictionary and look up the word “Materialism” with its links to “Spiritualism” (mind you that last one could be a waste of time), what it is to “lose oneself” and also seek to make the difference between a “Sensation” and a”Sentiment” next time you’re face down reality’s dirt track by your doorstep. In my opinion, then just take a pen and paper, draw or write anything you see around you not by rigourously analysing its image piece by piece, but by grasping it simply like you do, since you do have a soul don’t you?
    Not that easy now is it?
    How come?
    (not the soul bit, it shows in any case or state, the question is, how dry is it? Whats the next step to soaken myself up a bit?)
    Love to you both.

  11. Eric Lemaresquier Avatar
    Eric Lemaresquier

    I thought that was quite a constructive conclusion here from all that banter. Applause! You managed to agree and learn something from eachother, after…how many hours of typing to prove…something…but actually nothing at all…it cant be proved…an absolute…the way it ended that is…congrats! (God, Im on a prophetic tone again, preaching almost, awful!)

    Now, just in case it was forgotten, might I add you guys take a trip down a simple dictionary to look up the word “Materialism” with its links to “Spiritualism” (mind you that last one could be a waste of time), what it is to “lose oneself” and also seek to make the difference between “Sensation” and “Sentiment” next time you’re face down reality’s dirt track by your doorstep.
    In my opinion, then just take pen and paper, draw or write anything you see around you not by rigorously analysing its visual imagery piece by piece, but by grasping “it” simply like “you” do…you do have a soul don’t you?
    Not that easy now is it?
    How come?
    Not the soul bit, it shows in any case or state (hardly for some, unfortunately).
    The question is:
    How dry am I and what could Satan (only half joking) have anything to do with it?
    What’s the next step to soak myself up a bit or release myself from dire self-confinement?
    Concepts are handy at this stage but always after experience, not dictating it.
    Precepts form cowardice, proven by your fear of making a crap drawing…
    Read Kundera and Primo Levi.
    Love and courage to you both.

  12. Eric Lemaresquier Avatar
    Eric Lemaresquier

    Also, take a look at the massive trade and exchange system we live in and look at links on the Curator’s side and Art critic. That’s fundamental.

  13. conceptual artist is a genius ,strangely, with no visible talent except for selfpromotion
    egoists, driven by bittreness, shallow provokers,self-proclaimed intellectuals lacking talent, imagination and creativity. Duschamp did it and it was fresh idea then, it no longer is.
    Youl lack deeper formal logic and you create poor renditions of second rate ideas. You reject aesthetics which is an intherent quality of nature. You reject grand humanistic ideas of oldmasters. You lack the talent to draw from imagination a dissapointed look on a face and let alone create composition of multiple figures in a psychological gestalt.
    You destroy art, creativity, imagination , talent through the very notion of rationalism and ontological questioning. Art is suppose to be something which u can feel and experience on subtle levels, a dimension far deeper than rationalistic questioning. But even then, conceptual art does not tackle truly heavy intellectual theories. There is no single conceptual artist that I know who is capable of understanding the theorem of relativity which involves formal logic and which has proof. Conceptual artist only provoke, speculate and never provide proof. Their argument is : “You don’t understand”. Every single conceptual artist that I challenged proved to be just another man of average intelligence with above avarage knowledge in history, sociology. Ironically, they were engaging in complex ideas yet they could not solve simple creative logical problems which placed them average or even below! I laughed and they were bitter, aware that the whole time they were artifically overinflating their intellects in relation to their actual capabilities. All the notions regarding negation, opposition, destruction, mockery, iconophobia that are part of conceptual art are poor strategies for innovation that only denote hystericism, failure and regression. To call me shallow and unknowledgable just beacuse I find conceptual art ridiculous would be wrong because after all I tackle true intellectual and mind bogling abstract tasks in quantum mechanics of real importance and I have studied conceptual art aswell. Compared to quantum mechanics it was an awfully easy material to read, concerning the logic and reasoning. You are part of a sect, an almost extremist mind in a belief that what you are doing is art.

  14. Eric Lemaresquier Avatar
    Eric Lemaresquier


    That was too good Mark, I’ll paste it on my school’s noteboard…

  15. Mark Staff Brandl Avatar
    Mark Staff Brandl

    The original wave of Conceptual Art in the 70s was quite liberating. Noew — we have “Neo-Conceptual” artists actually, who try to call themselves “Conceptual” without the “neo” for political reasons. They are a retro return to a movement, attempting to mask themselves by calling it a style or genre. This NEO-Conceptual art is indeed the forced, dictatorial academy now. And a hell of a lot less fun or inetersting than the original. With that bin mind, I’d like to say that the “anti-conceptuals” are correct, NEO-Conceptual Art sucks completely.

  16. Personally, I think in the end it comes down to intentions and personal motivations. So, technically, they’re both “right” in the sense that different kinds of artists just have different intentions, which either jive with us, the viewer, or make us scream running the other way in horror. However, I have to come down on Curt’s side here. While yes, I think a work can be conceptually interesting and add “something” – I’d sure rather it be viscerally interesting FIRST. And yes, while I can appreciate humor in a work of art that pokes fun, if push comes to shove, I’d rather the artist be more “serious” first, and, care more about craftmanship in the 3 dimensional world, than just sheer cleverness in the intellectual one. And, on and on. So yes, all the supposed “positives” of conceptual art are true, yes, but, in the end, all of the higher “values” Curt talks about, are, at least to me, WAY, WAY more important in art. That, in the end, is the achillees heel of “pure” conceptual art, in going SO extreme that they throw away every last ounce of true craftmanship, visceral power, seriousness, emotional impact etc etc – the things that make art “art.” Throwing every last “vestige” of so-called traditional art out the window strikes me as childish and extreme, literally, throwing the baby out with the bath water. So, I dont mind someone saying that say one of Van Gogh’s self-portraits has some added conceptual “weight” because he chopped his ear off – because it’s ALSO very powerful, graphic, and expertly made. But I DO mind, when its otherwise an ordinary or just mediocre piece which just happens to also have some great concept/story. To me, conceptual sophistry is like icing, yeah, sure, I like it, but give me CAKE first.

  17. @JD: Well, I can’t disagree with you except to say that my favorite conceptual art is almost always really nice to look at — that is to say, there is some good visual art going on with the conceptual stuff. If you think the works depicted above are visually uninteresting or lazy, then I can only chalk that up to differences in taste.

    Your impression that a lot of conceptual art is lacking in craft or visceral interest is probably due to the fact that *most* art lacks in craft and visual interest, whether it is conceptual or not. You’re simply more likely to recall — and resent — visually defective conceptual art because it requires a little thinking to read the non-visceral aspects of the work, whereas when looking at viscerally defective non-conceptual art it’s usually easy to see the artist’s conceptual intent because it is so shallow (for example, “I wanted to paint this tree.”.

  18. Giovanni Zappulla Avatar
    Giovanni Zappulla

    Conceptual art has played such a vital role in todays artist community. Those who have neither the talent, interest, and time being trained as artists can produces items that can be hailed as incredible and creative.

    I believe if you assemble enough of the modern day patrons of art or just rich woman who have nothing better to do with hubbies money and put them in front of a canvas with crap all over it is all one needs.

    If enough people stand in front of a duck and call it a lion, all the followers will start calling it a lion. It’s bullshit, but one is considered cool to appreciate Conceptual Art. That’s where the Avant-garde hang out and it’s so important to attempt to be associated with them.

    Visit the website and see for yourself what I ,(in my gruff NYC style) is trying to communicate to you as told by those with the real knack of discussion.

    The best part of Conceptual art is that anyone with some mode of mobility can create these masterpieces. I truly enjoy videos of chimps creating art, god they must have such insight!

    But it really doesn’t matter if I, or you , or her, or him like a particular piece of art. It’s not for us to decide. Just stop trying to push this crap as art

  19. @Giovanni Zappulla: First of all, your stereotypes of conceptual art show that you are deeply ignorant of conceptual art. There are no chimps making paintings in the conceptual art world. There are no rich ladies using their husband’s money to crap on canvasses. There are no people calling ducks lions. You may be trying to be funny, but you just come across as ignorant and bitter.

    Secondly, most conceptual artists are trained in classical drawing and painting. Whether they are good or not at the traditional skills is another question, but your contention that they are untrained is factually wrong and, again, just makes you look uninformed and discredits your whole argument.

    Thirdly, I have looked at the Art Renewal site before. In my opinion it is a site full of artists who, sadly, are not as talented or skilled as the classical masters they adore and emulate. I love really good classical representational art, but unfortunately there are few people today who are actually good at it the way they were hundreds of years ago.

    In fact, it is my half-joking theory that perhaps most of the very best draughtspeople, the young men and women with the greatest innate talent for classical drawing and painting, generally turn away from representational art. The young students who choose to focus on representational art may, generally, be the less talented ones — the greatest talents may not be working on the style of art you like. I’m not talking about technical talent as much as I am talking about the totality of art ability — storytelling, sensitivity to the human condition, spiritual depth, etc. Browsing through Art Renewal, I can’t help but think that I am right.

    Here’s my view of Art Renewal’s philosophy: Praising yourself by insulting other people, instead of by letting your art stand for itself, is truly sad. If the art you champion was truly interesting, you wouldn’t need to trash other artists. It’s great that you are keeping the skills of classical representational painting alive. I just don’t think you need to make childish and ignorant jokes about other artists to accomplish your goals. If you want to attract talented young artists to practice representational art, positioning yourself as an angry victimized jerk is unlikely to bring you many converts.

  20. This was very interesting, balanced and articulate article (whoa alliteration). I graduated from art school and I must say left with a knee-jerk “Conceptual art = horseshit” attitude, but this makes me rethink a) the definition of conceptual art b) my preconceived and unexamined ideas about conceptual art and c) the purpose of concept in art. Your rebuttals rock for the same reasons. I’ll stop kissing your ass now, but Thanks for writing this and I enjoyed it a great deal.