Agreed. And I’ll add that to be compelling visually, art must also be compelling conceptually. We’re in a new century, and it’s time we stopped categorizing art by medium—photography, painting, sculpture, video, installation, and so on, with conceptual art in another category. To succeed, all art must be conceptual, just as it must address formally its reason for being considered visual art.
The test is in how well the conceptual and the formal elements are synthesized—to the point that the ultimate experience of the art is about neither, but something else entirely.
Of course the wonderful thing about art is that it operates in a realm beyond language, so we may not be able to explain the concept—in fact it may be better if we can’t, because if it can be grasped fully in words, then the execution has no role other than that of illustration. Further, the best art may engage numerous concepts, which may or may not have been intended by the artist.
[And BTW, unless I’m doing graduate crits, I’m not interested in the “artist’s intention.” The experience is the experience, and what the artist was trying to do is of no value. This is why artists’ statements are irrelevant and, in fact, if not on a par with the art, can detract from it.]
So while we can’t define concept—or “content” as we’ve become accustomed to calling it—we know when it’s there and when it’s not. We can tell when abstraction crosses the line and becomes simply “design.” We know when realism is about rendering rather than something bigger, or when “concept” turns out to be no more than novelty.
The last century was about experimentation with media—as well as what could be done without it. But we’re over that. We’re over being excited about something just because it’s video, or because the artist figured out how to make something out of bat shit, and we’ve discovered that painting is still interesting because it’s the most plastic, and therefore most expressive of materials. Now that the toolbox has been opened and found to hold every possibility, the question is, in service to what? And how do we evaluate the results?
My garden, at the moment, is very visually compelling--and edible. Now if I could just plant a little concept...