Marcel Duchamp

Inconceıved Conceptual Art Part 2

Mustafa Günen

What is not art

I continue the article titled Inconceivable Conceptual Art. I put the expression “inconceivable” on the title for two reasons. First, the term “concept”, with its several variants, is an element of language that encompasses everything that is acknowledged to exist. Because of this structure in language, the term “conceptual art” has been turned into a contradiction in terms by expounders. The second is due to the works and expressions of the artists who produce conceptual art. The problem has reached at a point that, let alone conceptual art, it is necessary to determine ‘what is not art’ rather than ‘what art is’. I am writing from a perspective of what cannot be art, and I will continue to do so. So I make comments on the thought or object alleged to be art and the reasons of it. At the point that has been finally arrived, there are numerous interpretations on what conceptual art is. Unfortunately, it has been a ground for unbelievable nonsense and abuse.

The artist calls to account, and also gives the account, as he should do.

I do the right thing, and I comment on an art movement by taking into account the explanations of those who first introduced and applied it. Because great artists share and discuss with people what they think when they start a new art movement, how they put it into practice, and their reasons and criteria, through writing books and publishing them in magazines. I always repeat that I disagree the majority of their reasons and criteria but I sincerely respect and love all those artists. This is art, this is being an artist!

Let us follow our principle and continue the article with the conceptual art category that emerged in the late sixties, based on the reasons and interpretations of its initiators.

I will refer to the kind of art in which I am involved as conceptual art. In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. … all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes the machine that makes the art.” (Sol LeWittParagraphs on Conceptual Art “; Artforum, June 1967.)

“Conceptual art is good only when the idea is good.”

All art after Duchamp is conceptual because art for him only existed conceptually. ”(Joseph Kosuth, ‘Art After Philisophy’)

Joseph Kosuth
Joseph Kosuth

In those years, the definitions of conceptual art were more or less the same as those of the famous artists I have given above. In summary; according to the conceptual art movement, which is also referred to as ‘idea art’, the method of plastic figuration of the object based on talent and creativity has lost its importance in the work presented as an art object. In other words, it is not important to make art by painting and sculpting. Instead, ready-made objects are presented as objects of expressing the ideas of the artist, and according to the movement, this interpretation and practice also became what defines art.

I favor and respect Sol Le Witt‘s above statements on conceptual art. As it is understood from the expressions, conceptual art is based on the idea of ​​language use which is specific to human being and applying the feature of concept making in art production within this context. This idea is very nice and befitting the art, and magnificent works of art have been produced. I will talk about this. However, some commentators and practitioners made such definitions of conceptual art in the name of artistic freedom; in practice very tragicomic consequences occurred. I will also give examples of those.

Everything named or expressed is either directly or indirectly a concept.

Due to the broad content meaning of the word ‘concept’  the exact definition conceptual art has always been disputable. There have been many evaluations or interpretations different from the definitions of the initiators of this art movement. There are many who summarize conceptual art as making art with objects. The definition of making art with objects is apparently true. First of all, it is necessary to make the distinction here, as in many arts, plastic arts are made with objects. Objects such as paint and canvas are used in painting, and wood, stone and metal are used in making sculptures. The difference is that these objects are transformed into art objects by taking a shape and form in accordance with the thought and idea of ​​the artist. Paint is no longer the paint in the tube, wood and stone are no longer in their natural existence. They have been stripped from their original structures and became an instrument for the artist to apply his idea. Many artistic materials turn into a work of art through this process.

Objects used in conceptual art are objects produced for purposes other than art. Its shape, information and meaning have been designed in accordance with the intended use. The artist takes any of these objects as it suits his thought, and makes no changes to the present form of that object. He only changes the meaning of concept in it and transforms it into an artistic object by posting a new meaning in accordance with his own ideas. They are considered replicable art objects and they can return back to their original meaning and purpose. So you can take Duchamp’s urinal and mount it back to a restroom, then sign and hang another urinal at its previous position. This is the structure and presentation of conceptual art, and also logic dictates such a case.

Making art with objects

As I said above, there are many people who reduce conceptual art to only making art with and state that art can be made without making any change in meaning or loading ideas. I think this is a very erroneous comment. Because if you do not add meaning or an idea to a ready-made object (article, etc.) that you do not make changes to, the work you do is object design, not art. The item you use remains as it is in the display window. The display windows of  several shops are already created in the form of object design. Interior architects do the same; they design the objects in a house in an aesthetic way. They differ from conceptual art. All the items they design are tables, chairs and those are also tables and chairs conceptually. In this case, if you define conceptual art as only making art with objects, then all the objects in the shop windows become conceptual art objects.


Of course you can make an objection here: “Sir, making art with objects means only that an artist signs the object and presents it as a work of art” (that is Duchamp‘s statement).  This is not wise either. Because an ambitious conceptual artist opens a store of goods, and name it an art gallery, and then he can sign the goods inside and sell them as conceptual art objects. You cannot object because the criteria of conceptual art are fulfilled. The smartest thing you can do, you go and get goods for your house there so that your home is decorated with artistic objects in a very respectable way. However, do not buy signed urinals being inspired by Duchamp, because when you use the toilet, you would also mess up art and all your dignity would be perished.

You think I am exaggerating or mocking? No! I would never act with such disrespect. Apparently may be the opposite, but these metaphors remain very innocent compared to what many say and do in the name of art. I will write more, please wait

Translation: Semih Aydın

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