Monday, November 3, 2014

A Brief Post About Conceptual Art

So, I don't claim to be an expert on art, but I know what I like, at least some of the time. Now, in my last post, Maelström and Vortex, I mentioned the Vorticism movement in modern art, which Marshall McLuhan was particularly keen on. So, another movement in modern art that also influenced McLuhan, and that he influenced in turn, is called Conceptualism, otherwise known as conceptual art. Its origins can be traced back to Marcel Duchamp's 1917 work, entitled Fountain:

And if you're thinking, that's not art, that a urinal, well, yeah, that's it, you've got the concept. And you know, McLuhan did say that art is anything you can get away with

So, conceptualism is in some ways diametrically opposed to formalism in modern art, formalism being art that is about the form itself, which is to say about the medium itself, for example painting that is all about the paint and the canvas. And formalism would seem to be very much in line with McLuhan and media ecology, as the modern artist Fernand Léger expresses in the essay he wrote for the Explorations journal edited by McLuhan and Edmund Carpenter during the 1950s, entitled "Pure Color" and here are a few excerpts from that piece:

Until the pictorial realization by the painters of the last fifty years, color or tone was fast bound to an object: a dress, body, flower, landscape had the task of wearing color.

To make use of color without reservation, the wall had to be freed to become an experimental field. Color had to be got out, extricated, isolated from the objects in which it had been kept prisoner. ...

Modern publicity first understood the importance of this new value: pure tone ran away from paintings, took possession of roads, and transformed the landscape! New abstract signals—yellow triangles, blue curves, red rectangles—spread around the motorist to guide him on his way.

Color was the new object, color set free, color the new reality.

So anyway,  formalism was all about the medium without the content, which was brought to the fore as the shift from the old typographic/mechanical media environment to the new electronic media environment made at least some individuals (artists and intellectuals) increasingly more aware of media as media. And in some ways, conceptualism further reflects the new electronic consciousness by moving from pure medium to a dematerialized, ethereal sense of the medium, as in performance art.

And um, yeah, Yoko Ono is considered a conceptual artist, and the photo above is from around the time that she and John Lennon met with McLuhan in Toronto. But years earlier, back in 1965, she was a pioneer of conceptual and performance art:

And while they won't let me embed the video here on this post, please take a look at this short BBC report: Yoko Ono's Cut Piece still shocks. Here's the write up that accompanied the video:

Yoko Ono has been known for her conceptual art long before her music. In 1964 she stunned audiences were her Cut Piece where she sat on a stage and allowed people to cut clothing from her.

Now almost 50 years on she talks to The Culture Show's Miranda Sawyer about the public reaction at the time and what she sought to say through her work and what it means in a more modern context.

So, anyway, this brings me to another conceptual artist, John Baldessari, the subject of a fascinating and really well done little video entitled, A Brief History of John Baldessari, which you can view over on YouTube or right here right now:

Special thanks to my graduate student at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Anna Zepp, who is doing a blog on art called Art Around Anna for my Writing for the Internet MA course there, for bringing this video to my attention.

So, what do you think? Is it art? And did he get away with it?

1 comment:

James Ford Nussbaum said...

Proving once again that the Urinal Art movement is symbolic of how our media culture is just one vast WASTELAND of human debree....People trying to find their ways back home and simply achieving only Prisoner of War (POW) status....John and Yoko were simply slaves to this movement....Captured... and in John's case later condemned to being executed by the same media wasteland that has chewed up and spit out so many others without blinking a "bloodshot eye" (CBS)....taking prisoners and making no appologies to what it does to an individual....Let us all be warned that if you want the power and "status" of being "in the business", you better be prepared for treatment like some piece of human garbage that can be destroyed for profit and exploited by the likes of all society in front of all society....."It's a death trap...Baby you were Born To Run"