Conceptual art is characterized by the belief that the artist’s idea is the actual art and the finished product is merely a by-product of the process. According to the artist Sol LeWitt, the art itself is in all the planning and creative decisions, not in the finished product. This idea was first contemplated by art critic Clement Greenberg in the 1950s. He believed that art should question many things about itself including the idea that the role of an artist is to create unique, tangible objects. The idea caught more steam in the 1960s, with the introduction of the Beat Generation and others like them who created art solely from the spoken word.
The creations of the Beatniks were most certainly considered to be art by many but there was no material item at the end of the creation. The conceptual art movement gained steam through the 1960s and early 1970s and increasing numbers of artists became involved.
Not everyone in the art world is a fan of the idea of conceptualism, however. During the 1990s, the term began to be associated with all contemporary art due to its links to the Turner Prize and Young British Artists. This drew the scorn of some, most notably the Stuckists. This group, started in 1999 described their art as “pro-contemporary figurative painting with ideas and anti-conceptual art, mainly because of its lack of concepts.” This group actively spoke out about the pretentious nature of concept art and protested by leaving a coffin labeled ‘The Death of Conceptual Art’ outside the White Cube gallery and by staging yearly protests against the Turner Prize. Conceptual art is still alive and appreciated by many.
There are likely to be debates over it forever but one thing is certain…love it or hate it, everyone is moved by it in one way or another.
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