Approaching Conceptual Art | Opinions


It would be interesting at this point to think about how quickly, and how willing we are to form opinions. In growing up, most of us are taught to formulate and voice opinions. We assess cultural products with a list of qualifications: how good they are; how effective they are in achieving their goals; how they affect us emotionally; how well they entertain us - the list goes on. We are used to making quick judgments, and this is reflected in our conversation; we frequently ask, “What did you think of it?,” and the ability to form a quick and inspired opinion is often a virtuous one.

We may frequently feel that we should be able to form an opinion on something, and that to not be able to do so is a sign of weak-mindedness - of ill education, or a lack of understanding. Social convention mostly dictates that opinions matter; in conversation, opinions are currency.

With most forms of culture, opinions can be a useful device, so it is perhaps no surprise that we approach the gallery ready to form opinions on what we see. With conceptual art however, our urgency to form opinions may hinder our appreciation of what is on offer.

As we’ve discovered, concept art can often act as a way into a philosophical or psychological idea. In this sense, to react to what we see with an immediate like or dislike would be akin to rejecting or admiring a book of psychology based upon its cover, when really the heart of the work lies within.

It is often hard to formulate instant opinions in areas such as these, especially if we have no previous experience within the field. Often, the best we can do is to approach the material with an open mind and to reserve judgment as much as possible, at least to begin with. Thinking about an idea is often a way of gaining knowledge, of learning, and an idea or concept can often affect, or at least contribute towards, an unconscious psychological change within a person. In forming quick judgments we may be denying ourselves these benefits.

If we return to the analogy of the psychology book; when we are able to form opinions upon a work like this, they will most likely be based upon the ideas expressed within the book. Do we agree with what the author is proposing? Do we have conflicting ideas of our own? By this point the cover of the book is almost an irrelevancy, and we are within the ideas - these are the purpose of the work.

The same can also be said for conceptual art. When we are ready express opinions, those that are most relevant are those based on the ideas that the gallery piece has allowed us access to, not those based on the piece itself; which we now see was only ever a cover – a first port of call, a way in.

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