Conceptual art transformed the art world beginning in the 1960s by shifting the focus of the work from the art object itself to the ideas and concepts that went into its creation. Such works rose to prominence as a reaction to Western formalist art and to the art writings of Clement Greenberg, Roger Fry, and Clive Bell, theorists who championed the significance of form and modernism. Not far removed from the ideas of the Dadist movement of the early twentieth century and artist Marcel Duchamp's ready-mades, conceptualism insists that ideas, and the implementations of them, become the art itself; often there is an absence of an actual object. Conceptual art worked in the spirit of postmodernism that pervaded post-1960s American culture.
Joseph Kosuth, one of the primary participants and founders of the conceptual art movement, first formulated the ideas of the movement in his writings of 1969, "Art After Philosophy, I and II". Along with Sol Lewitt's 1967 treatise "Paragraphs on Conceptual Art" (which coined the term "conceptual art"), this article defined the basic ideas of the movement. In general, conceptual art has a basis in political, social, and cultural issues; conceptual art reacts to the moment. Many conceptual art pieces have addressed the commercialization of the art world; rebelling against the commodification of art, artists employed temporary installations or ephemeral ideas that were not saleable. As a result, all art, not just conceptual pieces, has since moved outside of traditional exhibition spaces such as galleries and museums and into the public sphere, broadening the audience. The expansion of viable art venues allowed for a widening scope of consideration of worthy artworks. With the prompting of conceptual artists, photography, bookworks, performance, and installation art all were validated as important art endeavors.
Conceptual artists such as Sol LeWitt, Joseph Kosuth, John Baldassari, and the British group Art and Language created works that were self-referential; the work became less about the artist and the creative process and more about the concepts behind the work. Contemporary artists like Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer adapted such tenets from earlier works, and used them in a more pointed way in the 1980s and 1990s. Their work, along with many other contemporary artists' work, addresses specific political and social issues such as race, gender, and class. Such works attempt to reach beyond an educated art audience to a general population, challenging all who encounter it to reevaluate commonly held stereotypes.
Colpitt, France, and Phyllis Plous. Knowledge: Aspects of Conceptual Art. Seattle, University of Washington Press, 1992.
Kosuth, Joseph. "Art After Philosophy, I and II." Studio International. October 1969.
LeWitt, Sol. "Paragraphs on Conceptual Art," Artforum. Summer 1967.
Meyer, Ursula. Conceptual Art. New York, E.P. Dutton, 1972.
Morgan, Robert C. Conceptual Art: An American Perspective. Jefferson, North Carolina, McFarland & Company, 1994.