We explain what conceptual art is, how it originated and its characteristics. In addition, its main artists and works.

duchamp concept art
Conceptual art is a fundamentally mental art form and the field of ideas.

What is concept art?

In art history and other related disciplines, conceptual art is known as a contemporary artistic trend in which the concept or idea behind the piece of art is much more important than its formor even that the physical object or material that contains it.

That is to say, it is a fundamentally mental art form and the field of ideas, which is indifferent to the technique and material aspects of artistic representation. Thus, conceptual art encompasses an immense set of expressions and expressive methods, ranging from the visual arts, music, the happening and performing arts, to poetry and the manufacture of objects.

However, in all cases, the important factor is precisely the concept behind the work of art, the idea that gives it meaning, and not so much the ways in which the artist made the work. This is what radically distinguishes conceptual art from traditional considerations of art, in which the artist’s method was precisely what produced the work.

On the other hand, when speaking of conceptual art, reference is typically made to a art movement in the United States and England that was of great importance in the 1960s and 1970s.

As a movement, it was a reaction to the formalism that predominated in the arts after World War II. He was also heavily influenced by theready-mades” from the French Marcel Duchamp of the early twentieth century.

Although the art movement as such came to an end in the 1980s, conceptual art It is considered a current and important category in contemporary artto the point that many authors propose to speak of a post-conceptual art for all artistic manifestations subsequent to that moment, as a way of emphasizing the profound change in the artistic paradigm that conceptual art brought with it.

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See also: Abstract art

Concept art features

concept art piero manzoni
Conceptual art requires a viewer who recognizes irony, parody, and mockery.

Broadly speaking, the characteristics of conceptual art can be summarized as follows:

  • It is a an art form centered on the idea, meaning and meaning, and not so much in the technique, the materials and the work of art itself. For this reason, the work can be made of any material, or consist of a situation, an effect or a combination of objects, because what is relevant in it is the idea to be transmitted, not the objects through which it is transmitted. .
  • Works of conceptual art can consist of sketches, incomplete pieces, everyday objects taken out of context, situational representations, bodywork, video series, photography, or even pieces of software. Virtually anything goes, as long as the work expresses a recognizable ideawhich generally has to do with social, political, ecological commentary, etc.
  • In concept art, everyday objects can be part of the work of art, as long as they are deprived of their common use and forced to give new meaning, that is, to say other things that they normally do not say. For example, Marcel Duchamp’s irreverent gesture in placing a urinal in a museum exhibit is itself the work of art, and not the urinal, which is the same as any other and has no aesthetic value in itself.
  • works of conceptual art require more cooperation from the viewer to produce their artistic act, that is, they require a more analytical and involved spectator, more willing to interpret and experience the work. This is especially important in recognizing the irony, parody, and mockery present in much conceptual art.
  • The purpose of conceptual art can be explained as stripping the aesthetic experience of artistic elaboration, that is: reach the power of art without the need to “make” a workOr at least not in the traditional sense.
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Artists and representative works of conceptual art

concept art examples ai wei wei
Ai Wei Wei’s works have a political content that is not obvious.

There are many and very different artists and works that can be cited as an example of conceptual art. However, the following are some particularly representative examples:

  • Erased de Kooning drawing by Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008). This is a 1953 work by the American painter, important in the Pop-art movement of the mid-20th century, which features an empty canvas, on which there was supposedly a drawing by the Dutch painter Willem de Kooning, which Rauschenberg erased. The work of art was that: the erasure of someone else’s work of art.
  • artist shit by Piero Manzoni (1933-1963). In 1961, this Italian artist exhibited a set of cans in which there were supposedly samples of his feces, and he proposed to sell it in grams of gold. In that same exhibition he also sold balloons with his breath, “Artist’s Breath”. Clearly, the work was in the gesture, and not in the breath or the feces themselves, if it were true that they were for sale.
  • Western and Christian civilization by Leon Ferrari (1920-2013). It is a 1965 sculpture by this Argentine plastic artist, whose work focuses on political and cultural denunciation. It presents the figure of Jesus Christ crucified on a US military plane. With that work, he won the Golden Lion at the 52nd Venice Art Biennale, and it is a highly controversial and controversial work that has often sparked protests among conservative and religious sectors.
  • 4’33” by John Cage (1912-1992). This is perhaps one of the best-known pieces by this American composer, painter and philosopher, one of the names of mandatory reference when talking about the contemporary artistic avant-garde, especially musical. It is a piece lasting four minutes and thirty-three seconds, which can be played by any musical instrument, since the score has only one indication: “tacet”, a term used in musical notation to indicate the silence of an instrument. . Thus, the entire piece is made up of four and a half minutes in which the musical instrument is not heard.
  • white chess Yoko Ono (1933-). This Japanese conceptual artist, member of the Fluxus visual arts collective that was very active between 1960 and 1970, she is also famous for having been the partner of ex-Beatle John Lennon. Her artistic work, however, is very famous for its pacifist message and against violence, as in this case: a chess set of pure white pieces, on a board of pure white squares. The concept behind the work is, clearly, that in reality there are no enemies or rival factions in humanity.
  • sunflower seeds by Ai Wei Wei (1957-). The son of Chinese intellectuals opposed to Mao Zedong’s regime, Ai Wei Wei grew up in the countryside of communist China and emigrated to the United States, where he has become one of the most critical voices in the artistic world regarding rights violations. of the government of your country. This seems to be expressed in works like this one, from 2010, in which he covered an area of ​​1,000 square meters of the Turbine Room of the Tate Modern museum in the United Kingdom, with one hundred million porcelain sunflower seeds, handcrafted by 1,600 workers. Chinese from the Jingdezhen region over two years.
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  • “Conceptual art” in Wikipedia.
  • “Conceptual art” in HE HAS!
  • “Conceptual art” in wikiart.
  • “Conceptual art”in The Encyclopaedia Britannica.