ART AND LANGUAGE. AN EXPLORATION OF ART AND LANGUAGE ARTISTS SOL LE WITT, TERRY ATKINSON , MICHAEL BALDWIN, HOWARD HURRELL, AND DAVID BAINBRIDGE. THEIR SIGNIFICANCE FOR ARTISTIC PRACTICES IN CONCEPTUAL ART IN THE 20TH AND 21ST CENTURIES. PART 1.

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Art and Language questioned the existence of art and posed important questions on the nature of artistic practices. In the first part of this exploration I will be considering the development of the Art and Language groups both in Britain and the United states.

Michael Archer, a art critic considers their role . ” Sol le Witt began by executing wall drawings in 1968. Sticking a drawing on paper onto the wall was fine but drawing directly onto the brick or plaster of the available surface made the drawing more thoroughly a part of the architecture of the space”. [1].

Turning to Baldwin and Atkinson Archer comments ” The collaboration between Baldwin and Atkinson led in 1968 to the establishment with Howard Hurrell (b1940) and David Bainbridge (B1941) of Art and Language”.[2].

” Michael Baldwin (b 1945) was an English artist who joined with Terry Atkinson (b 1939) and David Bainbridge (B 1941) and Howard Hurrell (b 1941) in 1968 to adopt Art and Language”.[3].

” In 1969 Art and Language published their journal Art- Language the first issue of which contained essays by members of the group and contributions from the American’s Le Witt, Weiner and Dan Graham (b1942).[4].

Archer continues to show that the Art and Language group posed some  problems for the art spectator. ” Less easily  formulated but equally significant is the observation that each of the works presents some problem to the spectator who approaches it as a work of art”.[5].  ” A work by Atkinson and Baldwin takes the form of photographically enlarged text mounted on a board”. [6].

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The question of quality and Art conservation is posed by many Art Historians when considering the revolutionary aspects of Conceptual art. ” It is certainly  the case that since the early 1970’s the concept of quality has became virtually unusable in art conservation  and has to be abandoned to its compromising association with the snobbery of connoisseurship  and the auction houses”. [7].

Charles Harrison a well known Open University academic and art Historian was closely associated with Art and Language in Britain and is the most qualified person to comment on these issues. ” Does this tell us something about the failure of a specific cultural regime – one that can no longer plausibly  defend the authority of values”.[8].

Harrison comments further ” Writing in 1969 Kossuth( An American Conceptual artist) claimed that being an artist means now to question the nature of Art”[9].

” But the development of conceptual art was in part impelled by a perception that the increasing cooperation of art to a Modernist culture of spectacle had been achieved at the expense of its critics and subversive content”[10].

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Michael Archer shows how the image of Vladimir Lenin the Bolshevik leader was used by Art and Language in various idioms. ” At the end of the 1970’s Art and Language had begun to work on a series of portraits of Lenin in the style of Jackson Pollock (Abstract Expressionist).”.[11].

Charles Harrison in a major essay draws attention to Art and Language and its influence in conceptual Art. ” The practice of Art and language can be identified with a specific form of the critique of the art object”. [11].  ” To identify the work of art with the passive experience of the disinterested spectator is to require that the character of art as production be masked”. [12].

The art and Language groups challenged spectators but were more concerned to challenge Curators of Art Establishments as Harrison explains. ” The role of curators. they were confronted however in Art and Language indexes of 1972-4, the first of which was exhibited in Documenta. The problem of the art object and the means of individualism in the light of critiques of Modernism, the problem of the public and the means of individualism in the light of critiques of Modernism. The problem of the public and the means of transformation  of spectator into participant. The problem of the artist as author and of the means of suppression of the individual artist as creator”.[13].

Walter Benjamin the Marxist Literary critic who was murdered by the Nazis in the 1930’s makes mention of this in his writings.

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Art & Language Paints a Picture: A Picture Painted by Actors 1999 by Art & Language (Michael Baldwin, born 1945; Mel Ramsden, born 1944)

Charles Harrison continues to make reference to Art and Language, The Index and in Studio 3Wesley place which was turned into a Portraits studio very similar but different in design and layout to Gustave Courbet’s Painters Studio. I will display the images in Parts 2 and 3 of my article on art and Language.

” No expressive brushwork on the walls no accumulations of three dimensional stuff on the floor”. [14].  ” The work my be thought of as an attempt to make a kind of map of a particular conversation world- one in which what was talked about , thought and written about was the condition of Art”. [15].

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Harrison continues to discuss Conceptual Art and the Aesthetic with his further discussion of Portrait of VI Lenin. ” Of the common features that might be expressed in positive terms , perhaps the most obvious is that each of the works incorporate a text of some kind”. [16]. ” Less easily formulated but equally significant is the observation that each of the works presents some problems to the spectator who approaches it as a work of Art”. [17].

Harrison seems to be asking is it a form of Art or is philosophical  treatise on the nature of Art. It certainly is not spectorial  any more but asking the viewer to decide what it is. ” That is to say there is a problem in identifying just what it is that is supposed to be the object of critical attention”. [18].

Harrison in the end is asking the question that Conceptual art and Art and Language was raising philosophical and theoretical questions on Art that it was no longer an object to be viewed but that artist and viewer had swopped places .

” In a larger view it could be said that the 20th century saw a gradual decline in a work of art conceived as a unique object to be regarded by a solitary spectator”. [19].

Harrison concludes with a critique of Curatorial attitudes in most art Establishments. In effect he is saying that most of the curators are heavily influenced by Modernism and are resistant to Art and Language. ” Matters were not helped by the fact that a powerful curatorial and distributive apparatus was now in place which paid lip service to the relevant Modernist protocols while sharing none of the deeper critical and ethical commitment that they were supposed to serve”. [20].

This concludes my exploration of part 1 of Conceptual art and a appreciation of the development of Art and Language . Of course there were other aspects of Conceptual Art which are very obvious in the 21st Century. I my consider other developments in my future postings.

FOOTNOTES

  1. MICHAEL ARCHER: ART SINCE 1960 PG. 69
  2. DITTO  . PG.79
  3. THEMES IN CONCEPTUAL ART : ART AND LANGUAGE :CHARLES HARRISON .PG.51
  4. MICHAEL ARCHER :ART SINCE 1960 PG.79
  5. THEMES IN CONCEPTUAL ART :ART AND LANGUAGE: CHARLES HARRISON .PG 54
  6. DITTO  PG.70
  7. DITTO PG.70
  8. DITTO PG. 71
  9.  DITTO PG  78
  10.  MICHAEL ARCHER:ART SINCE 1960 PG.139
  11.  ART OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY:  ART AND LANGUAGE:CONCEPTUAL ART. PG.208
  12. DITTO PG. 210
  13. DITTO PG. 211
  14. THEMES IN CONTEMPORARY ART: CONCEPTUAL ART:ART AND LANGUAGE:CHARLES HARRISON PG.51
  15. DITTO  PG. 53
  16.  DITTO  PG.54
  17. DITTO   PG. 54
  18. DITTO   PG.54
  19. DITTO    PG.55
  20. DITTO     PG.58-9.

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