Comment: Conceptual Art, what's the Big Confusion?

Comment: Conceptual Art, what's the Big Confusion?

At the mention of ‘Conceptual Art’ many of us look on in confusion. Not knowing what to think, it’s no surprise that even people involved in the art scene can be just as confused. So, Not So Popular's Tara Parmar digs a little deeper, to shed some light so we can really understand what that thing called ‘conceptual art’ is actually all about…

Let's admit it, on the face of it, conceptual art can seem laughable at times. However, when it comes to viewing conceptual artwork, it’s all about what you don’t see. It’s pretty much what is says on the tin. It's all about the 'concept', that’s what takes precedence in the work over and above the physical work.

Take a house for example. We don’t see the time spent planning for the foundations and structure; but every detail has had time and thought dedicated to it. There is purpose to everything and nothing should be underestimated.

Its origins lie with Duchamp’s 1917 artwork, ‘Fountain’, one of the most significant works of art to come from the 20th century; and nobody could have foreseen the path this one work would pave for conceptual art.

'Fountain', Duchamp, 1917.

'Fountain', Duchamp, 1917.

Turning a urinal on its side, he removes any functionary significance of the object and instead forces us to look beyond. But what he intended to do with this work, was simply question, what do we call art and what are its boundaries? Questions we are still asking ourselves today.

Duchamp opened the door (conceptually, of course) for the art world's Joseph Beuys. While pop artists mocked the rising power of the commercial world, Beuys, unlike his contemporaries, turned his head to it completely by choosing to embrace everyday materials in his work.

A notable work, Fat Chair (1964), consisted of nothing but a wooden chair with fat resting on it. Both materials are easily manipulated and moulded, and chosen by Beuys to represent the human body’s fragility; as fat slowly decomposes over the years into the chair, it brings to life the notion of our tendencies to conform to conventions and societal structures.

'Fat Chair', Joseph Beuys, 1964.

'Fat Chair', Joseph Beuys, 1964.

Cutting to the heart of human existence and social pressures, it’s full of depth and insight, but this peculiar little sight is difficult to access to say the least. Conceptual art definitely doesn’t make it easy for you, that’s for sure.

The nature of it means it continues to be difficult to connect with; it feels like there’s a barrier between the work and the public. People don’t understand it and don’t have the time to jump through hoops to try to.

However, the rise of installation and digital art seems to be breaking down this barrier - these evolving forms of art are more inclusive and promote conceptual thinking. Works such as Random International’s, Rain Room (2013), at the London’s Barbican is just one example of an enjoyable art experience that’s easily accessible.

The fact is conceptual art forces you to think beyond the surface of things, and that’s not a bad thing.

Although there are perks to digital media and art, unfortunately in the modern world, most objects are quickly replaced by the next big thing - which is always just hanging around the corner. We’re the generation of the ‘wow’ factor and we want everything bigger and better than what came before.

Conceptual art certainly makes you work for it. So, something to bear in mind when you're next viewing conceptual work is that you have to be willing to lend your time to the work. It's worth it.

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