Approaching Conceptual Art | What is conceptual art?


The term ‘conceptual art’ can be used to describe a number of different experiences. For our purposes we’ll stick to a relatively loose definition: as art that is concept led; where the importance of the piece lies in the concept, with technical and aesthetic considerations being secondary to this idea – or, as is often the case, hardly relevant at all.

A lot of conceptual art can be seen to lie somewhere between traditional art and philosophy. Philosophy is concerned entirely with ideas, and we mostly gain access to it through text – through books, articles, and so on. However, to the layman a lot of philosophy can be intimidating and confusing. In this sense, conceptual art can act as an approachable in-between; it allows access to philosophical ideas in a different way to that in which they are normally communicated to us, and in doing so attempts to bring philosophy to a wider audience.

In a similar sense conceptual art can also have ties to psychology, sociology and many other fields. This proximity was written about by influential psychologist Carl Jung: “[in reference to modern art] though seeming to deal with aesthetic problems, it is really preforming a work of psychological education on the public by breaking down and destroying their previous aesthetic views of what is beautiful in form and meaningful in content.” 1

With his interest in a variety of fields, the conceptual artist can be seen as a metaphysician. Many famous artists that we may refer to as ‘traditional’ can also be seen as metaphysicians. Leonardo Da Vinci is a good example of this; whilst being an accomplished painter, he was also a pioneering scientist and inventor, with interests in a diverse range of fields. Such diversity was expected of artists of the time: in keeping up to date with the latest ideas and innovations from a variety of fields they were able to combine this knowledge within their own practice, and bring their insights to the general public.

In this sense we can see conceptual artists as modern equivalents to the metaphysicians of the past; their art if often a distillation of their interests; philosophy, psychology, sociology and more.

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1. Jung, Carl Gustav. The Undiscovered Self, p.77

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