Into contemporary art ~ an evolving lexicon

Conceptual Art

n. Term ‘concept art’ first used by by Fluxus Artist Henry Flynt, to describe artwork that ‘deals with language’. Sol leWitt was probably the first to use the term ‘Conceptual Art’ in his essay ‘Paragraphs on Conceptual Art’ in 1967. Art and Language published their ‘Art-Language, the journal of Conceptual Art’ from 1969. In the same year Joseph Kouth declared: ‘all art after Duchamp is conceptual (in nature) because art only exists conceptually’, whilst, for Marzona …’within conceptual art there is an explicit emphasis on the ‘thought’ components of the art and its perception’.  (Daniel Marzona, Coinceptual Art, Tashen  2004). Explicit too is an understanding that traditional/commodity oriented ways of producing art were at best antiquated, at worst, banal.


n. an artistic process in which a three-dimensional artistic composition is made from putting together found objects. The origin of the word (in its artistic sense) can be traced back to the early 1950s, when Jean Dubuffet created a series of collages of butterfly wings, which he titled assemblages d’empreintes. However, both Marcel Duchamp (and other Dada artists such as Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven and Louise Nevelson) and Pablo Picasso had been working with found objects for many years prior to Dubuffet. In 1961, the exhibition “The Art of Assemblage” was featured at the New York Museum of Modern Art. The exhibition showcased the work of early twentieth century European artists such as Braque, Dubuffet, Marcel Duchamp, Picasso, and Kurt Schwitters alongside Americans Man Ray, Joseph Cornell and Robert Rauschenberg, and also included less well known American West Coast assemblage artists such as Wallace Berman, Bruce Conner and Edward Kienholz. William C Seitz, the curator of the exhibition, described assemblages as being made up of preformed natural or manufactured materials, objects, or fragments not intended as art materials

For more evolving lexicon visit this earlier post

One thought on “Into contemporary art ~ an evolving lexicon

  1. final essay

    4th June 2pm

    1500-2000 words
    Martin Creed’s ‘Work No 227 the lights going on and off’, 2000: A product of the institutionalisation of conceptual art?

    In this essay Martin Creed’s relationship with the theorists and artists of conceptual art will be examined. With particular reference to Creed’s ‘work no. 227 lights going on and off’ 2000. Martin Creed is considered to be a conceptual artist by historians and critics, despite his own claims that he is neither an associate of such a category or an artist (IIluminations 2002: 96).

    To answer the title question the institutional theory and the possible effects of institutional validation within the “artworld” with of other writings will be examined. Adding that the birth of conceptual art to its integration in the Institute of art by Museums and galleries has allowed work from Martin Creed to be described as art, despite controversy of public opinion.

    The introduction of a bicycle wheel to a kitchen stool in 1913 by Marcel Duchamp, who later described this as a readymade, is widely accepted to be the starting point of conceptual art (Osborne 2002: 193). According to Joseph kosuth(1969: 232) this changed the focus of art from the form of the language to what was being said: ‘Which means that it changed the nature of art from a question of morphology to a question of function (Kossuth 1969: 232). Instead of studying the forms of objects in art, Duchamp questioned there purpose.

    John cage (1963: 196) quotes Duchamp as likening his and Rouschenberg’s conceptual practice to mathematics because of their adding and subtracting to already pre-existing art works. Creed’s piece ‘work no. 227: 2000’ adds and subtracts light from the given space. This could be seen as a culmination of both Duchamp and Rauschenberg’s practice.

    Sol Lewitt (1964: 214) wrote about his ideas on conceptual art. Like a game, he sets a framework of rules within which conceptual art may be played. He goes on to say an artist should have an air of mysticism and not be so concerned with rationale or logic. (Lewitt, 1964: 214) ‘The logic may be used to camouflage the real intent of the artist, to lull the viewer into the belief that he understands the work, or to interfere a paradoxical situation’ (such as logic Vs. logic) ( Lewitt 1964: 214). Creed illustrates his ability to confuse the listener when talking about ‘work no. 132’ A door opening and closing and a light going on and off, 1995. he insist that there is nothing being added by him to the work, ‘No extra materials are being added, apart from the door from the the door operator to make it happen. Nothing been brought in..'(Creed quoted in Illuminations 2002: 111)

    Kosuth (1969: 232) quotes an artist Richard Serra saying ‘ I do not make art, I engaged in an activity’, similar to Martin Creed. Kosuth (1969: 232) questions this idea claiming that Serra’s actions tell us his work is art, he sells it in galleries and exhibits in museums. Activities it seem is a tautology of art.

    Martin Creed studied at Slade School of Art, London from 1986 to 1990. During this time his contemporaries from the neighbouring art school Goldsmiths were putting on exhibitions such as Freeze, led by Damien Hirst (Berens: 2008). Hirst would later join the exhibition Sensation and cause a media storm with his conceptual art work, winning the Turner prize in 1995, preceding Creed (Button 2003: 112).

    A constant theme throughout creeds work is his anxiety towards producing objects. Work No. 227 the lights going on and off’ 2000, shares this sentiment. Creed wrote a song ‘I don’t know want i want’ describing his thoughts on wether or not he wanted the lights on or off, Creed (2000). Martin Creed describes the piece as an instillation. to him art galleries are like theatres, like music the art needs to be played to be experienced, Work no. 227 in a way is like a live theatre, with the viewer engaging in the theatrical experience, Creed (2000).

    Martin Creed in 2001 won the Turner prize, an annual award that receives backing from the Museum Tate (Bishop 1997: 19). The Turner Prize is highly popularised due to the substantial media attention it receives, as a result Martin Creed’s work has helped contributed to changing the cultural consciousness of conceptual art by winning the award, Collins (1999: 145). Although this is not necessarily positive. During 2001 one critic picked up on the supposed elitist nature of the Turner prize and there use of language. There was an overly complicated in-crowed language that needed changing (Irving quoted in Button 2003: 170). Another critic attacked the panel, accusing them of being dictated by the tastes of Nicolas Serota, Director of Tate Modern (Sewell quoted in Button 2003: 170).

    ‘I think people can make of it what they like. I don’t think it is for me to explain it’ (Creed quoted in Tate 2001). This attitude of allowing for all interpretations when the work itself is based on an idea, could account for the varied responses towards his work.

    In philosophy the basics by Nigel Warburton (1992: 127) under the institutional theory, he talks about the philosopher George Dickie and his attempts to explain the wide variation of all that can be considered as works of art. He argues artifacts are given the status of art by a member of the art world. “Such as a gallery owner, publisher, a producer, conductor, or an artist. In every case someone with the appropriate authority has done the equivalent of christening them as works of art” (Warburton 1992: 127)

    The prominent art critic and famed apologist of contemporary art Mathew Collins (1999: 143), describes his experience of the opening of a show by Martin Creed. When socialising in a pub close to the show with people from the London art world, the occasional mentioning of the event was all that was needed to ensure its aproval as art.

    A further philosopher Arthor Danto (1964: 581) explains what it is that differentiates a ready-made which is described as art and the same object in commercial use e.g. lights. ‘ it is the theory that takes it up into the world of art, and keeps it from collapsing into the real object which it is (in a sense of is other than that of artistic identification)”. “It is the role of artistic theories, these days as always to make the artworld, and art, possible (Danto1964: 581). This backs up the opinion of Dickie that the description of an object as art is determined by the opinions of an elitist group, who once succeeded in gaining acceptance aims to maintain there proposal.

    Nigel Warburton (1992: 128-129) goes on to say the the institutional theories inability to classify what is bad and good in art is considered to be it’s floor. He also adds that for a privileged few, from particular social class, to have the ‘Midas touch’ of christening an object art, may have unsettling political implications.

    Martin Creed’s relationship to conceptualism has been expanded upon. From Kosuth’s writings the importance of Duchamp’s development of a new style of linguistics in art, demonstrates the birth of conceptual art. There are similarities between Creed and Duchamp’s ideas about adding and subtracting to pre-existing objects. Sol Lewitt talks about mysticism and the trickery of viewer as a key component. Qualities that Creed has been found to have. Kosuth solves the problem of the unwilling artist by proving their activities are no more than a tautology of art.

    Martin Creed studied at a time and location which is famed for its birth of Damien Hirst’s conceptual art which so challenged the public’s perception about what art is. Creed’s anxiety about producing work paradoxically is the driving force behind his work. When Creed won the Turner prize it seems the public were reluctant to accept his work as art. Despite receiving the backing from Nicolas serota. Creed constantly give out mixed messages if any at all about his work.

    Creed’s work it appears is the result of the conceptual theory of art being introduced into the institution of art. Without this theory a light going on and off would not be seen as art. With the backing of Nicolas Serota it is clear that for now the institution will promote conceptual art as valid.

    it also seems the general public have not truly accented this fact. This is partly down to the nature of conceptual art. For the public to accept conceptual art as being legitimate they would need the be educated in the theory for the subject specific terms to be understood. Art it then seem is not about what you see but what you know.



    Bishop, C. and Button, V. (2003) The Turner Prize Twenty Years, Tate Publishing Ltd, London

    Cage, J. (1963) ’26 Statements Re. Duchamp’, in Osborne, P. (ed.) Conceptual Art, Phaidon Press Limited, London

    Collins, M. (1999) This is Modern Art, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, Great Britain

    Illuminations. (ed.) (2002) Art Now: Interviews with Modern Artists,Continuum, Great Britain

    Kosuth, J. (1969) Art After Philosophy, in Osborne, P. (ed.) Conceptual Art, Phaidon Press Limited, London

    Lewitt, S. (1967) Paragraphs on Conceptual Art, in Osborne, P. (ed.) Conceptual Art, Phaidon Press Limited, London

    Osborne, P. (ed.) (2002) Conceptual Art, Phaidon Press Limited, London

    Warburton, N. (1992) Philosophy: The Basic, Routledge, London


    Berens, J. (1st June 2008) ‘Freeze: 20 Years On’, The Observer, available from: 10 June 2010

    Creed, M. (2000) ‘Work no. 227 the lights going on and off, 2000’, film,, 11 June 2010

    Creeed, M (2001) ‘Martin Creed quoted in BBC News, December 2001’,, 11 June 2010

    Danto, A. (1964) ‘The Artworld’, The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 61, No. 19, available from: 10th June 2010


    Photo: Tate Photography (-) ‘ Martin Creed’s installation for the 2001 Turner Prize’, [Online image] 11 June 2010

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