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Con Art:

Do we need a redefinition of conceptual art?

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  • The Talk

    Con Art

    As controversial as ever, and fresh from the success of his book Con Art: Why You Ought to Sell Your Damien Hirsts While You Can, Julian Spalding redefines the notion of conceptual art for the 21st century.

    'One of the world’s most outspoken critics' - Intelligence Squared

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Eric Wayne on 07/02/2015 5:04pm

The material about Duchamp's "Fountain" actually being something submitted by someone else, in a different context, is particularly relevant. If Julian Spalding is correct, that would mean that the sanctity of the history of contemporary art and conceptual art is more important to the art institution than is the truth.

As regards Hirst, he has tried to make a series of paintings all on his own, and they came out as not-half bad, Francis Bacon rip-offs, mostly in Prussian Blue, with a sort of Hirst spin on them. Those we can't deny are art, even if the critics panned them, and they don't show as advanced an understanding of Bacon as one would expect of hope for. They are inferior knock offs.

I disagree with Spalding's assertion that conceptual art is not "art", though I certainly see what he's saying. If something is a creative activity, and the object is some sort of communication, than I think we can call it art in the broad sense. However, it is not "visual art" because it doesn't use visual language (line, color, form, perspective, modeling, movement, composition…) or traditional aesthetics, in the same way that it is not music because it doesn't use melody, harmony, rhythm… This is part of why conceptual art started off as "anti-art". Duchamp has boldly stated that he wanted to do away with art as others had done away with religion.

The problem, as I see it, is that conceptual art is generally accepted as stemming from visual art, eclipsing it, and rendering it irrelevant. This is a tragic mistake, because most conceptual art has little or anything to do with thousands of years of image making, and we would be compromising ourselves as a species if we were to successfully rid ourselves of visual language and visual literacy. It would be a crime to people on a par with outlawing songs. I propose that we see conceptual art as a completely different category of art-making, though this would NOT appeal to conceptual artists, because they could no longer gain easy significant by the presumption that whatever they did was automatically more "radical" and sophisticated than anything anyone was doing with visual language and sincere image making.

I wrote about this problem at length as part of a series of posts about "why people hate conceptual art":

MikeB on 14/03/2013 1:25pm

Unfortunately, this ends badly. Watch Spalding scam himself believing there is something profound about Picasso's bicycle seat. One could spout the same sort of verbiage to "interpret" Hirst's sheep, something as clever as Spalding's interpretation of Picasso's bicycle seat and handlebars. They look like a bull. So what.

MikeB on 14/03/2013 12:51pm

This is fascinating, but it's an old story. Like all those religious cults that claim to be based on historical miracles, or secular cults like the organic movement, the conceptual art cult is never, never going to go away ... because it has discovered a way to make money.

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