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A ROSE HAS NO TEETH:

CONCEPTUAL ART AND ANALYTIC


PHILOSOPHY
INSTRUCTOR: NAT HANSEN (HANSENN@UCHICAGO.EDU)

A distinctive preoccupation of conceptual art between roughly 1966 and 1972 was with
what is known as analytic philosophy, which is concerned with relations between linguistic
meaning, logic, and reality. For example, Bruce Nauman took a striking phrase from
Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, “A rose has no teeth”, cast the phrase in
lead, and exhibited it nailed to a tree in a garden. Wittgenstein offers the phrase as an
example of a true statement (even “obviously true!”, Part II, xi), but the meaning of which
is not clear. Nauman’s work is not an isolated phenomenon: Joseph Kosuth, drawing
arguments expounded in A.J. Ayer’s Language, Truth and Logic, argued that art, like logic,
has no content, and produced photostats of dictionary entries of philosophically
significant words, like “universal” and “meaning”. And the British collective Art &
Language argued, in the quasi-academic format of their journal Art-Language that “the
making of art and the making of a certain kind of art theory are often the same
procedure”. What is the significance of Nauman’s appropriation of Wittgenstein’s
“obviously true” sentence, Kosuth’s argument that art, like logic, is tautologous, and Art
& Language’s content that art and “a certain kind of” theory are identical?

In this class, we will consider the relation between conceptual art and philosophy by
viewing the work of conceptual artists (including Nauman, Kosuth, Art & Language,
Paolini, Arnatt, and LeWitt) alongside the philosophical texts that were incorporated into
their art, including works by Ludwig Wittgenstein, A.J. Ayer, J.L. Austin, G.E. Moore,
and Bertrand Russell. We will assess the possibility of a purely conceptual, non-sensuous
form of art, and evaluate the historical and critical significance of conceptual art
produced during the period of 1966-1972. And we will investigate whether art can serve
as a medium for philosophical reflection.

The class is composed of six case studies of works of conceptual art that interact with,
illuminate, or are illuminated by, works of analytic philosophy. We will view those works,
talk about the context of their production, read texts produced by the artists, and
carefully analyze the works of philosophy they make use of. Our aim will be to achieve a
comprehensive understanding of those works and their philosophical context.

Assignments will include short analytic essays responding to works of philosophy and
critical responses to the art works we view in class. We will also visit Chicago’s Museum of
Contemporary Art as a class to view works by Baldessari, Kosuth, Lewitt and Nauman in
their permanent collection. As a final assignment, students will either produce a longer
essay on the interaction of analytic philosophy and conceptual art, or they can choose to
produce a work of conceptual art on their own, and write an account of how it constitutes
a significant engagement with the philosophical texts we discuss in class.
TEXTS:

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, Blackwell


A.J. Ayer, Language, Truth and Logic, Penguin
J.L. Austin, Sense and Sensibilia, Oxford
Alberro and Stimson, Conceptual Art: A Critical Anthology, MIT
Goldie and Schellekens, Philosophy and Conceptual Art, Oxford
+ electronic reserves

COURSE REQUIREMENTS

Prior knowledge of neither conceptual art or analytic philosophy is required or expected for this
class.

This is a discussion-based class. You should complete all the readings and come to class prepared
to discuss them.

Study questions for the readings will be available before class. You should think about the
questions and be prepared to talk about them, as well as any other aspects of the readings that you
find interesting. Small groups of students (3-5 students) will work together each week to produce
written responses to the reading questions. These responses will be made available on Chalk
before class to facilitate discussion.

You will write two short class papers and complete a final assignment, which will consist either in
a longer (10 page) essay or on an original work of conceptual art responding to the texts we
discussed in class.

Papers must be typed, double spaced in a twelve point serif typeface (Times, Times New Roman,
Baskerville, Garamond, etc.) with 1 inch margins. Copies should be delivered to Nat Hansen's in
electronic format (MS Word, or pdf) by 4:00 on the date due. Papers turned in late will lose one
mark (e.g. from A- to B+) for each day they are received after the deadline.

Your final grade will be determined as follows:

In-class participation and writing assignments: 25%

Course papers: 75%


First paper: 3 pages worth 15% of course grade
Second paper: 3 pages worth 25%
Final assignment (paper or art work): 35%

If you have any questions or concerns please speak to me as soon as they arise.

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SCHEDULE OF TOPICS

PART I: INTRODUCTION TO CONCEPTUAL ART


Meeting Topic Reading/Viewing Assignment
1st Week Historical overview, --Lucy Lippard, The In-class writing
1966-1972; introduction Dematerialization of the Art assignment on
to the idea of conceptual Object, 1966-1972 [excerpt] concepts and art
art, introduction to [Chalk]
analytic philosophy --Michael Dummett, “The
Linguistic Turn”, Ch.1 of
Origins of Analytic Philosophy
[Chalk]

CASE STUDY #1: JOSEPH KOSUTH, TITLED (ART AS IDEA AS IDEA)


2nd Week Art and Emptiness -Joseph Kosuth, “Art after First paper topics
Philosophy” [Chalk] distributed
-A.J. Ayer, Language, Truth and
Logic [excerpts]
-Ludwig Wittgenstein,
Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus
[excerpt] [Chalk]

CASE STUDY #2: JOSEPH KOSUTH, ONE AND THREE CHAIRS


3rd Week What makes something -Tim Crane, “The Puzzle of
a representation? Representation”, in The
Mechanical Mind [Chalk]
-Nelson Goodman, Languages
of Art [excerpt] [Chalk]

CASE STUDY #3: BRUCE NAUMAN, A ROSE HAS NO TEETH


4th Week Truth, Meaning, -Bertrand Russell, The First papers due
Context, Skepticism Problems of Philosophy [excerpt]
[Chalk]
-G.E. Moore, “A Defense of
Common Sense” [Chalk]
-Barry Stroud, The Significance
of Philosophical Skepticism,
Chs.1-2 [Chalk]
5th Week Skepticism and --Ludwig Wittgenstein, Second paper topics
Nonsense Philosophical Investigations, Part distributed
II, xi
-Stanley Cavell, “The
Availability of Wittgenstein’s
Later Philosophy” [Chalk]

CASE STUDY #4: KEITH ARNATT, TROUSER WORD PIECE


6th Week The meaning of “real” -J.L. Austin, Sense and Sensibilia
[excerpts]

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CASE STUDY #5: ART-LANGUAGE, VOL.1, NO. 1
7th Week Can theory be art? -Art & Language, Second papers due
“Introduction”, Art-Language,
Vol. 1, No. 1 [Chalk]
--Immanuel Kant, Critique of
Judgment, “Analytic of the
Beautiful”, §§1-8 [Chalk]
--Elisabeth Schellenkens,
“The Aesthetic Value of
Ideas”, in Philosophy and
Conceptual Art
8th Week Language and seeing --Ian Burn and Mel
Ramsden, “The Role of
Language” [Chalk]
--Sapir, “The Status of
Linguistics as Science”
[Chalk]
--Whorf, “Science and
Linguistics” [Chalk]

CASE STUDY #6: SOL LEWITT, FOUR COLOR DRAWING


9th Week Idea, responsibility, -Sol LeWitt, “Paragraphs on Proposals for final
action Conceptual Art” [Chalk] papers or projects
-Gregory Currie, “Visual due
Conceptual Art”, in Philosophy
and Conceptual Art

CONCLUSION: THE LEGACY OF CONCEPTUAL ART AND ART’S RELATION TO PHILOSOPHY


10th Week Theory and Practice -Art & Language,
“Emergency Conditionals”,
in Philosophy and Conceptual Art