Art & Language Chapter 6

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S.R. My next question is exactly about that. I want to ask you, do you think the Conceptual paradigms are still in function? And it's also the question: What are the conceptual paradigms?

Michael: If you talked to most of the artists who might be included in, I think they don't know how to answer that question. I think one artist would give you an answer in particular that would be Joseph Kosuth. Joseph has the notion that artists make meaning. He also [...] labors under a dreadful misapprehension regarding the role of intentionality in the production of art, to the extent of being in danger of committing a fallacy which was abolished some time in the 18th century, an intentional fallacy. I think that there were those who saw for saw moment [...] conceptual art as »white collar« art as distinguished from blue collar art which was involved in dirty things like painting, manual dexterity. I remember being quite hot for the idea that one did not need a studio, don't need a place to work. The place was connected to the conversations taking place. This is okay when you're 20, 22, 23. I mean one has no regard for the historicity of one's practice. One would better not have any regard for the historicity of one's practice. This is sort of natural avant-garde that occurs to young artists in the sense that they can't afford expensive materials. They can't be self-regarding or shouldn't be self-regarding in certain ways. And therefore a sort of aesthetic emerges from that, a sort of A4-Xerox, or photocopy in those days. An aesthetics of sorts, a taste anyway can live or own that, and one can make a lot or a little of that, as one wishes.

Mel: I suppose some people would answer that question, I've been just trying to think about it, by saying that it's actually associated with a particular historical period. And that historical period was between 1967 and 1972. But I don't think I could really defend that all that well. [...] What I mean is, [...] it had a historical and transitional character during a particular period, but I can't really identify that with any particular works –  which is okay which is why I would have to call it a historical period.

Michael: But that transitional or provisional character which grew out of, if you like, complexities which were immediately presented by an appropriative type of practice that produces conditions in which purism really cannot flourish, because if a practice is self-transforming in certain senses, which is not disconnected to the modernistic program in certain senses, if it is self-transforming then all bets are on regarding the appearance of the work. Is the work that is produced merely indexical in the sense of merely being a trace or does it arrogate to itself some appearance, which serves to identify it in some stylistic sense, whatever that might be. These questions remain open, or had to remain open at that time, and anyone who has tried to perform any sort of closure on that is... [...] they have reasons, but my own sense is that they were those who tried to continue the morale, as Mel calls it, of that moment, and those who gave up and became the police and saw their role essentially as policing that rather limited set of ideas that they managed to feel important about between 1967 and 1972. [...] If you are searching for differenti here you'd better not search for them in the appearance of the work even though there is a characteristic appearance of that work which is typing and typesetting [...]

Mel: As the people we think of as conceptual artists have grown older, their work has tended to become much more grand and installational. So what was once [...] a sentence on an A4-paper now occupies a whole wall. So in a sense a lot of the early character of conceptual art, as I understand it, had a kind of homeless quality. [...] You didn't know where it belonged. Did it belong in a book, on a wall? Was it his, was it mine? All of those characteristics have completely gone because the work has been taken into the installation, [...] into the museum. So it's its uncertainty about its place which was part of its [...] discursive vividness in the first place, has disappeared.

Michael: But you should also admit...

Mel: I admit doing that myself.

Michael: [...] But it's not just that. It's a question of making the admission. It's a question of saying if we have some reason to give some degree of physical embodiment to the work [...] you might ask what that might be – it still does not constitute anything like an identity that could be purified. I think that's a fundamental mistake in those artists who have sought to do it. It's not just a mistake regarding the morale. Actually it's an ontological mistake. Because you can only, since these people are dematerializers and still see themselves as that, how the hell can you be a purist except in terms of some form of physical embodiment of that? I don't see how you can be. They are in a paradox and they'd better shut up. (laughs)

S.R.: [...] I asked Dan Graham the same question and he was talking about some younger artists who define themselves as late conceptual artists or something like that. And he was really going on them... [...] For me it sounded much more like a style question.

Mel: Well conceptual art is a generalistic term now. It's replaced modern art as being the thing that scandalizes the public.

Michael: If you read a newspaper in England you have even critics now talking about conceptual art. They are entirely unaware that there was this moment in the 1960s, entirely unaware. The »art has no history« slogan. [...] They confirm it daily.

Mel: There is a strip in a satirical magazine in England, it's called Young British Artists. They are celebrating New Year and they are saying: »Out with the old and in with the new«, and in the next frame it says: »Except conceptualism, of course«.

Michael: Whatever that is. It's now become nothing more than a journalistic category for anything that isn't basically painting and sculpture.


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