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Sol LeWitt (b. 1928) 'Parapraphs on Conceptual Art'


In these paragraphs, LeWitt states what the most important core and characteristic of conceptual art are and its relationships with other aspects which complete the final physical piece or series of pieces artworks. The idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work, so that according to LeWitt, "all of the planing and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art." The work is executed by the objective will of the artist and usually made "mentally interesting" but "emotionally dry". That is to say, they are made to "engage the mind of viewers rather than his eye or emotion." It doesn't need to be neither theoretical nor logical. LeWitt states it explicitly that ideas are discovered by intuition.

When the idea takes physical form to exist in reality, it opens for all to percept. Here with perception, LeWitt indicates the apprehension of the sense data, the objective understanding of the idea and simultaneously a subjective interpretation of both. He puts forwards the contradictory of conception and perception (pre-fact vs post-fact). If the artist wants to explore his idea thoroughly, the less arbitrary he works with the better. As I understand, all would be in the service of the initial idea, no matter it will look well or not. So Being provided with a pre-set plan is one way of avoiding subjectivity. What the artist would select are the basic form and rules that would govern the solution of the problem.

The condition and rules would simply generate a form, which in fact is the grammar for the total work. What's more, the simpler the form is, the easier for it to become intrinsic part of the entire work. If I understand correctly, all above is for viewer to take consideration with not only the final piece of the work but also the idea, the whole working procedure(thought process). The simpleness and repetition of form leaves space for mental engagement.

Later on, LeWitt explains how conceptual artist would deal with sizes, space, and materials. The principles according to LeWitt, "the piece of artwork must be large enough to give the viewer whatever he needs to understand the work and placed in such a way that will facilitate this understanding." As for space, in short, what are not important can be regularised and make the important obvious. When there are components kept regular, whatever irregular gains more importance. "Art is not utilitarian", LeWitt argues with the example comparing three-dimensional art with architecture. There is no purpose that art work for, otherwise, "it wakens its function as art". The same situation in choosing materials, he thinks if conceptual artists take the materials so important that it will replace the idea of the work. Above all, "conceptual art is made to engage the mind of the viewer rather than his eye or emotions"

LeWitt's work:

the work of repetition and permutaion
systematic exclusion of any individuality of touch
in 20s, open-framed, rectangular structures presented in series
in 60s, formulating proposals for wall drawings, to be executed according to his insturctions

The original text is taken from the first publication in Artform, vol.5, no.10, Summer 1967, pp.79-83

Points extracted from original text

- conceptual form of art - all of the planning and decisions are made before hand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art.

- mentally interesting - emotionally dry

- The logic of a piece or series of pieces is a device that is used at times only to be ruined.

- logic used as camouflage

- In terms of idea the artist is free to even surprise himself. Ideas are discovered by intuition.

- The work of art can only be perceived after it is completed

- Art that is meant for the sensation of the eye primarily would be called perceptual rather than conceptual

- conception vs perception

- to work with a plan that is pre-set is one way of avoiding subjectivity

- the artist would select the basic form and rules that would govern the solution of the problem. After that the fewer decisions made in the course of completing the work, the better

- In fact it is best that the basic unit be deliberately uninteresting so that it may more easily become an intrinsic part of the entire work

- using a simple form repeatedly narrows the field of the work and concentrates the intensity to the arrangement of the form. This arrangement becomes the end while the form becomes the means

- those that show the thought process of the artist are sometimes more interesting than the final product

- the internals and measurements can be important to a work of art. When the interval is kept regular whatever is irregular gains more importance

- the danger of new materials - in making the physicality of the materials so important that it becomes the idea of the work (another kind of expressionism)

- conceptual art is made to engage the mind of the viewer rather than his eye or emotions

- the conceptual artists would want to ameliorate this emphasis on materiality as much as possible or to use it in a paradoxical way (to convert it into an idea). This kind of art then, should be stated with the most commom of means

Sol LeWitt (b. 1928) 'Sentences on Conceptual Art'

- mystic vs rationalist

- rational vs illogical

- artist's will vs process initiating from idea to completion

- concept vs idea - ideas implement the concept

- convention of art vs works of art

- banal idea/good idea vs execution

- perception of ideas --> new ideas

Book: ART IN THEORY 1900-1990, An Anthology of Changing Ideas edited by Charles Harrison & Paul Wood

Sol LeWitt