Conceptualism and Minimalism

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Reading Visual Culture
Assignment Three: Essay
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Caitlin Williams

Conceptualism and minimalism share common aesthetic qualities with the ontological condition of late modernist art. Discuss the aesthetic commonalities of minimalism and conceptualism. Also, discuss to what extent these stylistic tendencies are manifestly and intentionally different? Provide details of underlying reasons for the emergence of minimalism and conceptualism into mainstream art practice?

Your answer should include a critical selection of works from these oeuvres.

Late modernist art brought upon an ontological condition that developed out of a history of new conditions in thought and processes, and the results are seen in both conceptualism and minimalism. Through a discussion on both the aesthetic qualities and stylistic tendencies of these art forms as well as the reasons of emergence, their historical importance in mainstream art will be construed. Although aspects of both minimalism and conceptualism can be seen in their preceding periods, this essay will focus on the works of artists that best exemplify such movements within the 1960s to 1970s.

Minimal art attempted to fulfill the demand for art that would be entirely void of pictorial representational qualities and their significations. Robert Ryman shares a common Minimalist idea in saying “I was never so concerned with subject matter... I guess you could say I rejected any of the picture making, storytelling approach.” Minimalism developed out of small groups of artists within New York in the mid-1960s, extending to Los Angeles and further. Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, Robert Morris, Sol LeWitt, Frank Stella, Carl Andre and Robert Ryman best exemplify qualities of Minimalism in their work. Here was a generation of artists that were passionate in attempting to create a distinction from the European voice, as well as other colleagues working in a similar vain. It can be noted, the Conceptual Artists replicated such innovative ideas, but in a different manner which will be further explored later.

The new, fresh Minimalist movement completely changed the way art could be made and viewed. By simply observing the common aesthetics of Minimal Art, as well as an understanding of what these artists attempted to prove, it is easy to see why these innovative works being produced fell under many names such as ‘ABC Art’, ‘Rejective Art’, ‘Literalism’ and ‘Reductive Art’.

All employ an element of simplicity with the difficult task of reducing the art form to the absolute minimal necessary. This explains how the term ‘Minimal Art’ or ‘Minimalism’ as we know to be today has held its place. Many artists employing Minimalist techniques rejected this term, considering it to be derogative. However, it now represents an era of art that is sophisticated in design and intelligent in theory. David Burliuk first used the term Minimalism in writing the catalogue essay for John Graham’s exhibition held in the Dudensing Gallery in New York in 1929, defining unconventional qualities of distinction in stating “Minimalist painting is purely realistic the subject being the painting itself”

Many artists of this movement encountered the response that what was being created was not art. Modernist art critic, Michael Freid, claimed Minimal are is largely idealogical and therefore can be considered nothing more than a collection of objects, rather than a work of art. Minimal Art brought on a shift of interest in a physical embodiment in artistic form to the art “idea”, creating a stir for those art critics and viewers grounded in typical Modernist visually focused painting and sculpture.

Essentially geometric and monochromatic with a bare-bone composition and...
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