Conceptual Art with Paul Mulgrew

In our final online workshop exploring important moments and techniques in the history of contemporary art, artist and designer Paul Mulgrew asks a big question: ‘what is conceptual art anyway?’ Thanks to Halifax Foundation NI for their support for this series!

Conceptual art is art for which the idea (or concept) behind the work is more important than the finished art object. Often it is a piece of art which questions the very idea of art itself. So conceptual art can be – and can look like – almost anything. It can be ugly, strange, foolish and even disposable.

It is definitely very different to the traditional idea of art as a beautiful painting or piece of sculpture… and that means conceptual art can often make some people very annoyed! If you ever hear someone angrily saying ‘That’s not art!’, there’s a good chance they are talking about a piece of conceptual art!

Conceptual Art emerged as an art movement in the 1960s and the term usually refers to art made from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s. Some artists who were part of the movement were pushing back against the popular idea of art as valuable objects, only to be viewed in galleries and bought and sold by the very wealthy at auctions. These artists wanted to get away from this by putting more importance on the value of the ideas and thoughts behind the work, concepts they wanted to explore or confront, and the methods, process and materials they chose to make the work.

Sometimes they deliberately chose art forms which do not produce a finished object such as a sculpture or painting. This meant that their work could not be easily bought and sold – and certainly not mass produced on souvenirs!

There was often a strong social and political angle to the work conceptual artists created too, reflecting their unhappiness and anger at society and governments. 

Some of the most important and influential artists in the area included Joseph Kosuth, Sol LeWitt and Yoko Ono.

Header Image Credit: Joseph Kosuth
Clock (One and Five), English/Latin Version 1965
© ARS, NY and DACS, London 2021

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