Conceptual Art and Beauty


Last week before visiting the opening of the new exhibition at the MOA, “Turning Point: The Demise of Modernism and Rebirth of Meaning in American Art,” J and I listened to an interview on the radio with Campbell Gray, the museum director. I took an art theory class from Campbell last Fall, and it was one of my favorite courses in my whole graduate career. He’s a very intelligent man and ran his class in a very Socratic fashion. I felt like he was also coming to conclusions and learning along with the rest of the class – it was great.

This MOA exhibition is really fabulous and ground-breaking in its theoretical base. I just hope that the museum audience realizes how fantastic this is – I have already discussed how a large part of the BYU student populous has a distaste for modern and contemporary art. Perhaps this show will help people to realize the theories and ideas that are behind the modern and minimalistic aesthetic. I’m just glad to see an exhibition in the MOA displaying art that isn’t from the 19th century!

Anyhow, in this interview Campbell made an interesting point about conceptual art. For those of you who are unfamiliar with conceptual art, it is a movement which started in the 60s that stressed emphasis on the concept or idea behind the work of art (instead of the artistic object itself). A famous example of conceptual art is “One and Three Chairs” by Joseph Kosuth. Here, Kosuth includes three manifestations of a chair: a dictionary definition of a chair, a physical chair, and a photograph of a chair. Essentially, Kosuth is examining the nature of a “chair” or the concept of “chairness,” if you will. Campbell said in this interview that this shift to conceptual art was a radical change in the art world, mainly because the work of art now is located in the mind of the viewer and not in the physical manifestation of the object. The physical objects shown in the gallery are only material “triggers” to help bring about the actual work of art – the concept.

When hearing this, J said that he had never thought of conceptual art this way. Although he understands the concepts proposed by these works of art, he also finds the physical manifestation of the concept (the object) to hold aesthetic value and beauty – in other words, he can have an aesthetic response through sensory interaction with the object. I can see what he’s saying, and I wonder how much conceptual artists considered visual aesthetic effects when creating their art. Obviously, some visual elements need to be considered in regards to the organization and display of the object itself. But how much would aesthetic beauty be considered? Would that detract from the concept itself and have the object serve as more than just a “trigger?”

Does anyone else find conceptual art to be aesthetically pleasing? I find conceptual art to be more intellectually stimulating and interesting than physically beautiful, but I can see where J is coming from and wonder if other people feel the same way.

Along these same lines, where does the concept of beauty fit in regards to ideas and concepts? Isn’t it interesting that ideas can be beautiful, but it is a different type of beauty than aesthetic beauty and taste? I’d love to discuss this subject with Kant and hear what he has to say.

  • alli says:

    I, like Jeremy, find Conceptual art very aesthetically pleasing, especially Kosuth’s work. I like the simplicity of typed words on a page and the clean lines of his displays. I LOVE “One and Three Mirrors” and can’t believe that we have it at the MOA! It is really engaging and calls into question our own thoughts about was constitues a “mirror”. All three manifestations are “mirror,” but which one is the most correct? I love art that makes you question your own beliefs/knowledge. I also love that each time the work is exhibited, it becomes site-specific and is literally recreated at each exhibition site. The photograph of the mirror is done in that particular gallery each time it is exhibited. I find that very exciting.
    Now that I’ve done the art nerd thing- I love that you blog about art! I’m afraid I’ll lose it all after I graduate and so blogs like this keep my mind fresh! :)

  • ixoj says:

    So basically Campbell was reiterating what my “dear” C.S. Pierce said about 100 years before…the concept of 1stness, 2ndness, and 3rdness in the world all around us. Which, as long as it isn’t being applied to linguistics, I find quite fascinating.

    In my un-art-educated opinion, I think conceptual art is…neato. I personally don’t have the same appreciation or awe for a conceptual artist that I might for, say, a Baroque artist, but it’s still interesting.

  • M says:

    I love your connection to Pierce, Ixoj. Campbell likes him and we actually studied Pierce in Campbell’s class. Great comment – your knowledge of linguistics informs you about art history more than you know! Personally, I find it more interesting when applied to art history too, though my knowledge of Pierce and linguistics is somewhat limited.

  • e says:

    I learned a new thing! I quite like conceptual art but didn’t know that it had a special name. I was walking around using terms like ‘installation art’ or ‘modern art’ or ‘contemporary art.’ While, obviously there is cross-over between the categories, I am excited to know that conceptual art is a category in and of itself. Coolies.

  • Rachel says:

    I can say that I like conceptual art, but I might not put it in my house. Is that valid?

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.