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What is the relationship between theory and art?

In this essay I will be discussing the connection between art and theory from the analysis of conceptual art, modern sculpture and intermedia. I will first analyse conceptual art and its relation to theory. I will be talking about how concept and idea can become the art, and how the dematerialisation and the intellectualisation of art has affected contemporary art. I shall also look at modern sculpture and in particular discuss how sculpture has redefined itself since the occurrence of conceptual art.

Conceptual art was reborn from the contradictions of a tiring high art modernism and the opening of

a dialogue with the earlier movement of Dadaism, as a series of revolutions against the aspirations

of autonomy, visuality, medium specificity and material objectivity. These values were given consolidation by Clement Greenburg in his contribution modernist painting. Conceptual art set about deconstructing this set of criteria with momentary performances of ‘intermedia’ as a way of removing material permanence, the proposal of systematic ideals that contain the components for

what an object is. The divergence from recognised laws of political and social restraint as a critique of the collective institutionalism combined with the making of civil protest as a means of generating direct interventional art. Language and the semiotic were both introduced as the reduction of optical connotation inherent in physical forms. The corruptible values of the project modernism had been cast off again in the pursuit of the truth of art. The intellectualisation and emancipation of creativity has become the score’ sheet for the quire of the post modern and ending modern art era.

It was believed that by taking control of the language of art, that artists would be free from the domination of a self serving elitist high art establishment.

The avant-garde Movement ‘Fluxus’ of the early 1960’s late 1950’s became involved with the ideas of ‘indeterminacy’ within the musical scores of ‘John Cage’. That the created ‘Indeterminacy’ being the ‘chance’ or ‘uncertainty’ of circumstantial sound as silence and noise between or independent of musical language. The ‘unspecified’ was then applied to the practice of other category’s of art as a way to create work uncontrolled by historical opinion and bias. John Cage in turn had found inspiration in Marcel Duchamp’s sound sculptures that worked on a form of ‘none hierarchical density’. Duchamp’s departure from the canvas to the ‘readymade’ with the controversial piece ‘Fountain’ 1917’in a exhibition of the ‘Societe Anonyme’ initiated part of the original conflict between institutional conformity within art and expanded upon the question ‘What is art?. Although this divergence would take some time to affect the art world in general it now has a profound connection to all post modern art. Marcel Duchamp art takes on the form of a cerebral act, a conscious formulation with concept and ideas that are not necessarily produced as a final outcome. In Sol Witt’s ‘sentences on conceptual art’ 1969 he explains “Ideas can be works of art; they are in a chain of development that may eventually find some form. All ideas need not be made physical.” Conceptual art then is also about capturing the thought processes that lead to the formulation of ideas and the discussion of art.

It was the reaction of ‘Fluxus’ against the bonds of conventional art and the grip of ‘Greenburg’ doctrine that wished to disinfect the stagnation of modernity. The essential constituent in understanding how ‘Fluxus’ art works is the democratising ‘None-hierarchical density’, this is the consideration of Fluxus art as the self generated experiential unification of intermedia that engages the mind through the process of meaning. So rather than offer the thesis through abstract method,

an equivalent primary experience is desired so that the receiver gains direct insight into the notion of the proposal as a multiple point entry entity. In 1963 George Maciunas wrote the Fluxus manifesto stating Purge the world of bourgeois sickness, “intellectual”, professional & commercialised culture, PURGE the world of dead art, imitation, artificial art, abstract art, illusionistic art, mathematical art, - PURGE THE WORLD OF “EUROPANISM”! This is the view that art is a direct influence upon the wider world through the medium of social conscience. It is a generalisation to say that these artists believed that by changing the mental conceptions of people towards art they could affect their behaviour in all moments of their lives as a dialectical response. Politics it seems has always played a major role in the production of conceptual art and is still one of its strongest contributing factors. Using subversive strategy to commandeer existing forms of media as acts of intervention to transform the everyday subsistence. The semantic strength of conceptual art is also of considerable significance and takes the place of aesthetic and beauty as requisite for artistic article. The conduction of clear and relevant implication through whatever medium the artist selects whether it is language, text, audio, film or whatever the artist see’s as the most fitting device to transmit the meaning from origin to receiver, but to keep in consideration that the physicality is only the correct mode of transportation and is secondary to the article of its conduction.

It was and is the decisive and considered wish to make the viewer of art ‘think’, to challenge their preconceptions of art and through its negation, to change and expand upon what art can be. By trying to create conversation and dialectic, conceptual artists are trying to surface the contradictions within art that can then be investigated and edited in the pursuit of the truth of art. The attempt to test our artistic sensibilities and provoke a reaction from our reasonable faculties is the vital device of conceptual art. The provocation and deliberate dispute that conceptual art instigates can equally create frustration and a humour that is often dually contained in such work. By freeing art from the restrictions of physicality and inherited systems of evaluation conceptual art endeavours to expand the horizon to an unlimited source of topics for contemplation. The pursuit of originality in the production of art is paramount, but not in the sense of traditional values, but in the very way in which we think about art. There is a general consensus within the practice of conceptual art that the artist or creative thinker should be unconcerned with the physicality of an artefact as its place of residency is contained within the process of idea and concept method, and so exits in the mind and not as an object.

Yoko Ono’s instructions for paintings exhibited 1961 at the AG Gallery in New York. Hoped to remove the trace index, produce directives and provided the means for the viewer’s imaginary completion of the conceptual piece. This work involves the instruction as text based item for intelligent reconstruction of a wholly cognitive image that need only exist in the mind. The implication of imaginary assemblages holding the position of art opens the door to limitless possibilities for what art can become and indicates the potential for creativity inherent in all people.

So conceptual art is the study of ideas and philosophy as an art within itself. These artists have begun to unravel the labyrinth of human invention by challenging our notions of what art is, how it works, what an artist does and how art should be perceived. This is the attempt to disturb the very fabric of art and in turn ‘actual’ existence. What is the value of a human construction, does it truly represent existence? So what then is art? A manufactured hypothesis of human conditions and worth. Worse still is that these fabrications are only a narrow definition of what art is or existence is because of cultural, historical, political, social, technological (ect) restrictions that are placed upon it

at any given time. Considering that these constructed methods of rationalising are human in origin can we as humans ever really understand the truth of existence and therefore art? Could art be anything other than a product of creative thought? It seems that through the deconstruction and dematerialisation of art and philosophy that we are unpicking the threads of our own rationalizations about the nature of existence. It is acknowledged that to conceive an answer, the question must first be fully understood.

The avant-gardes fixation on the rebirth of art from a manipulated patsy of world politics into an impartial social conscience had detrimental influence upon the character of sculpture, but in itself a contradiction because of its own bias for an alternative policy. The dematerialisation had the effect of alienating much of the population it was determined to liberate. The memorial and the ornamental had been scratched from the sculptor’s ‘palettein an exorcism of conservative ideological and political relation.

Hans Haacke’s ‘Condensation cube’ 1963-1965 acts as a closed system device that uses the natural forces to create contemplative phenomenon that has concern with transformation and a systematic approach method. Haacke’s deficient ocular discernment and grasp of contextual verse speaks volumes of his underlying political sympathy. In Edward Fry’s essay on Hans Haacke he says ‘the artists own critical/theoretical conclusions are the foundation of his art’. Fry goes on to comment that Haacke’s foundation of ‘Duchamp’ and ‘1960’s conceptualist art’ was detrimental to his belief in the ‘project of modernity’. Fry then continues to state that ‘Advertising, publicity and other forms of instrumental manipulation of the public consciousness continue to be a prime target of Haacke’s work, but he is also particularly sensitive to the economic and ideological pressures exerted on art itself’. So the appreciation of art, as a social political event that bares a finer significance to the undertaking of art and its broader implication on the world at large has become paramount to the process and production of art and sculpture.

Bruce Nauman has interest in the body as art object and self, but also the interchangeable ability of the two. This is a mergence of languages that partly obscures the entirety of the originals, but creates fusion essential to both, a place of residence for art. Is this the discussion of a type duality, or the lack of, is it the theory of separation between body and mind into two distinct subjects that are interdependent and co-operative? A middle ground is produced, a focal point that is involved with the creative process, a region of experience and conceptual space. There is a lyrical irony that is laced through so much of Naumans work, a humour that can be traced back to Duchamp, a play of contradiction. Naumans interest in the ‘missing’ through the trace index by means of imprinting and leaving evidence of what was once there in regards to the idea human position. This is a form of new memorial; a way of showing what has been there but is now has passed. This can be understood as the regurgitation of chronological thought. The Human figure in sculpture has become more than parody, it has become an ‘intermedia’ performance in contrast to the formal and authoritarian traditionalism as the contradictory individualism that socialist constructivism has endeavoured to eradicate.

Antony Gormley’s figure work is not symbolic as traditional figurative sculpture would be read, but the trace index of something that has actually existed, namely himself. His idea for the body is a locality that we can inhabit, a point where we can project our consciousness for the experience he envisioned. Gormley’s work can be seen as unworldly, uncanny and somewhat mythical, the body as a containment of space as well as being enclosed in space. These forms are disconnected and distorted from our experience of time. These objects then become another place outside of our experience, a quarter of detachment that we can theoretically occupy. The performance work of

Gilbert & George relates the figure as self and art object, in their ‘The singing sculpture’ 1970 they enacted a ritualised performance of Edwardian theatre as a rebellion against the consumer led high art establishment. The ritualistic performance of bodily movement draws upon the routine as minimalist process and its socialist philosophy. Stephan Balkenhol’s figurative art in general can be seen as the representation of ordinary people’s individuality regardless of social standing. A depiction of post-modern life as experiential existence while maintaining an independence from authority. Figurative art has been returned for some time to the body of contemporary humanities, but like art it is challenged to reinvent its meaning as a means of continuation.