Am I making Conceptual Art?

I’ve been obsessed with this lately.

Reflecting upon my latest work, “Dinosaur in the Cage”, I keep getting lost in thoughts about how to describe my piece. It’s not a garment, it’s not a full sculpture. It’s more like… a research finding, an interpretation and visualization of photographs, dinosaurs and Victorian fashion I gathered, churned and digested. I felt that my concept and idea was in the end, the essence of my work.

My thoughts drawn me to research Conceptual Art. Yes, that weird kind of art people usually frown upon.

According to Tony Godfrey’s book, Conceptual Art:

“Conceptual art is not about forms or materials, but about ideas and meanings. It cannot be defined in terms of any medium or style, but rather by the way it questions what art is.”

In other words, conceptual art can be anything and nothing. It’s paper thin between the greatest masterpieces and utter rubbish (and again beauty is in the eye of the beholder). Lawless.

Over the weeks I thought if this is it. 

I’ve been analyzing Duchamp’s much debated readymade Fountain (literally an autographed urinal showcased in a museum). Placing an everyday object (some say vulgar object) in the museum, Duchamp challenges the viewer to see the urinal as a piece of fine sculpture. But the real ‘art’ is not the object itself.

Why a urinal? How vulgar! Remove it! Housewives shrieking and covering the eyes of their young children.

Why in the museum? Why sign it with a pseudonym? Art connoisseurs circling and rubbing their heads, cleaning their glasses.

What was he thinking? Why would anyone do that? What does he want to convey? Why Why Why? Wonder I wonder.

This is his art.

Fountain, Marcel Duchamp, French, 1917; Photo: Artstor

So, what makes good conceptual art?

Just like many attempted definitions of art, there is no one answer. Since conceptual art lies on the IDEA, such idea has to be formidable and mesmerizing enough to draw the attention of its audience and transcend all flaws in execution, mediums and perhaps even poor aesthetics.

To achieve this, I think this once again lies in creative research. Yes, the spontaneity element is crucial to jumpstart the initial ideas, but first tries may not be the strongest thoughts. One needs the extensive amount of images, references, photos, prints, maps and linkages to back up such idea.

Another element that separates the good from the bad is the level of controversy.

Is it raising commonplace questions or roiling debate? Does it instigate disgusted faces or mere nonchalance? Does it lure the audience to stare or even glare? Does it urge people to touch, understand, analyze, wonder? Or do people pass by with a mere glance? As mentioned earlier about Duchamp’s work, it is such controversy that fuels the idea, separating it from common rubbish and everyday objects.

Marcel Duchamp as Rrose Sélavy, Man Ray, American, 1890 – 1976; Photo: Artstor

So, am I making conceptual art?

Well, simply put, I don’t know.

It is true that I am leaning towards this realm in such that I am focusing on the concept more than the used medium. It is also true that I find more joy in honing my ideas (through different mediums) than actually making my 3D piece. But according to the criteria I set on good/bad conceptual art, I am unsure.

Did my work raise controversy? Am I pressing too many, perhaps even useless and unnecessary meanings on my work? Was it mesmerizing for the audience? Did my work challenge the traditional meaning of art? Does it have to? After all, there is no restrictive framework to conceptual art.

Does that mean my other work without any research,  just mere spontaneity, equal meaningless commonplace rubbish?

I feel I’m setting up boundaries, categories and criteria for myself in one minute, and destroying them in the next.

I’ll conclude with a thought to self: need more research.

More on Conceptual Art:

More on Fountain:

More on Duchamp:


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