The Future of Conceptual Art - Adrienne Chaplin
The Turner Prize, Stuckists, and the Future of Conceptual Art
by Adrienne Dengerink Chaplin
What does it mean for art to be too conceptual? The term "conceptual art" has been used in many different senses; let me just mention five.
First, in its original technical sense, it refers to art in which (as Sol LeWitt put it) "all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair." Sometimes this means that the work is not executed at all: The viewer is left to contemplate a blueprint or a set of instructions on the wall.
The second sense refers to art which takes as its primary subject matter the development of art itself, turning the work into an in-house conversation. Although this is often criticized as navel-gazing, we ought to remember that all ground-breaking art throughout history has had such an initial in-house dimension, as innovations can only be introduced—and be recognised as such—against the backdrop of established practices in the past.
The third sense applies to art which deals with complex social or cultural issues—gender, neo-colonialism, identity—but in such a heavily theory-laden way, often drawing on specialist, deconstructionist, literary theory, or media studies, that it loses all connection to the average viewer's day-to-day experiences and can end up seeming pretentious and elitist.
Fourthly, for some—including some Stuckists—the term is used for any art which is not conventionally figurative or aesthetically pleasing.
In its fifth and most general sense, however, the term "conceptual" refers to all art in which the concepts or ideas involved in the work take precedence over its sensuous, aesthetic, and affective dimensions.