On Conceptual Art

Emanuele Ardillo

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A few days ago, I was actually thinking of talking about how bad conceptual art is. How it is downright ugly, uninteresting, meaningless, and sometimes just plain offensive. Well, I wasn’t entirely right. It wasn’t as simple as I thought it was.

Every art movement had its purpose. For example, the purpose of Neoclassicism was to go back to the old days of the ancient Greeks and the Romans, the purpose of Impressionism was to rebel against the classical standards imposed by art academies, and the purpose of Romanticism was to exalt feelings. All of this while trying to be aesthetically pleasing. Instead, the purpose of conceptual art is to express concepts and ideas, be controversial, and challenge the definition of art, often sacrificing aesthetics. By saying that conceptual art should not be considered art, you are helping it reach its goal.

Take for example, Duchamp’s sculpture called “Fountain”, made in 1917, which is simply a urinal placed horizontally. People make fun of it, saying that it’s not art, not knowing that the “art” of the piece does not come from the urinal itself, but from the act of exhibiting it as art. It provokes thought and makes you rethink about the definition of art, what art can be, what it’s supposed to be.

Then, how do you know which conceptual artworks are good and which are not? Something people say is that there are no objective aesthetic standards in conceptualism, making it impossible to determine the quality of a piece of art. I mean, you need objective standards to know if something is good or not, right? Then, what are the traits of good artworks? Effort? Realism? Size? Objective standards might work with other art movements, especially those that try to mimic reality, but not with something that doesn’t have beauty as its main objective. Good conceptual art evokes some sort of reaction from the observer. Whether it’s the feeling of joy, anger, shock or disgust, it doesn’t matter.