In the case of conceptual art, the essence of the work is in the ideas or the concepts rather than the completed work. These concepts allow the artist to express the true meaning of their work through execution, as opposed to the meaning being dictated by the final product. The art of instruction is the leading technique for artist, Sol Lewitt, who is notorious for his instructional pieces, specifically his ‘Wall Drawing’ collection.
“LeWitt believed the idea itself could be the work of art, and maintained that… an artist should be able to conceive of a work and then either delegate its actual production to others or perhaps even never make it at all.” (The Art Story Foundation 2012)
The process of instruction and procedural action was a key contributor to Lewitt’s impact in the world of conceptual art. He used this process to emphasise the idea that the concepts behind the creation of a work can exist at their own art form. Lewitt’s ‘Wall Drawings’ series was the catalyst for this process, and thus his work in conceptual art, as he used written instructions in order to produce his work and dictate it to others. These instructions would be provided to either and individual or an organisation who purchased Sol Lewitt’s work, as opposed to receiving the completed artwork, for which they were to complete themselves. The instructions that were used to execute his work exist as part of the artwork, rather than a means of reaching the final product.
In order to maintain his artistic principles throughout his collection, the instructions that were set were to be followed as intended. While each completed work had varying interpretations of the instructions, those that diverged from the instructions were unable to be included as a part of the series, as they weren’t entirely connected to Sol Lewitt’s concepts. To ensure these artworks remained authentic to Sol Lewitt’s ideas, he would oversee the execution of the piece. This process still continues regardless of his death in 2007, with a representative of Lewitt taking his place in the installation process.
All of Lewitt’s Wall Drawings were intended to display his artistic aesthetic. The style he adopted through his introduction to conceptual art was based around mathematical principles, heavily involving lines and shapes, as well as bold colours. This style was vital for others to adopt in order to participate in the movement.
However, these ‘Wall Drawing’ instructions exist as a demonstration that no individual processes instructions in the same way as others, as “each person draws a line differently and each person understands words differently.” (Searle 2006) While the instructions were to be followed closely, they did not specify what materials the executer had to use, allowing them to have the freedom to create a unique piece. This ultimately proves that while instructions may lead an individual in a certain direction, each person is able to show their individuality through procedural action.
“In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art.” (Lewitt, 1967)
The final sentence in this statement by Lewitt can be compared to the creation of digital art in most recent years. The ability to create art using technology follows the same process of providing instruction and processing these tasks in order to create the piece. The encoding and decoding of instructions will differ depending on the type of technology used to create the piece, similar to the varying interpretation of individuals to produce unique work.
The conceptual art movement changed the way we perceive art and the artistic process. The emphasis on the importance on the process and ideas behind the work paint a more complete picture of the meaning of the work itself. The processes that are present in Sol Lewitt’s artistic techniques, along with society’s technological advances, have shaped the way artists produce their work and have allowed for new forms of art to develop.
Smith, E.S. 2009, Reinstallation, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Blackbird Archives, viewed 15 August 16 < http://www.blackbird.vcu.edu/v8n1/gallery/smith_e/lewitt_541.shtml >
Searle, A.S. 2006, Second Thoughts, The Guardian, viewed 15 August 16 < https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2006/dec/07/2 >
N.D. Sol Lewitt Biography, Art and Analysis of Works, The Art Story, viewed 15 August 16 < http://www.theartstory.org/artist-lewitt-sol.htm >
Lewitt, S.L. 1967, Artform (Paragraphs on Conceptual Art), International Arts and Culture, viewed 15 August 16 < http://sfaq.us/2011/11/sol-lewitt-on-conceptual-art-1967/ >