Dr Abid Hadi/ The Cognitive and Perceptual Theories in the Modern Art Movements

Dr. Abid Hadi

Associate Professor

Department of Fine Arts

Aligarh Muslim University



The word perception is made of the relation between aesthetic and cognitive value in conceptual art. When the growth of human civilization and different art movements entered from one segment to other, a new thought spawned with this journey. Artist and Art enthusiast accepted and hailed the new concept. The present research article is an attempt to explore a new way of thinking that paved a new path with its innovative dimensions.

Keywords: conceptual art, traditional art, beauty, aesthetic pleasure, cognitive value.

Conceptual art is not about forms or materials, but about ideas and meaning. Conceptual art challenges the traditional status of the art object as unique, collectable and saleable. Conceptual art begins with a similar negativity or doubt, but then moves beyond it by imagining, or making a proposition that underlies it. 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 the planning and decisions are made before hand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. Conceptual art, simply put, had it basic tenet an understanding that artists work with meaning, not with shapes, colours, or materials. Conceptual art is not a style, nor can it be limited to a narrow period in time. It is arguably, a tradition based on the critical spirit, although the use of the word ‘tradition’ is paradoxical given the opposition of much conceptual art to the very notion of tradition. Art form and theory evolved in the later 1960s, the logical development from minimal art. It questions the whole idea of art, e.g. whether it has reference outside itself, and especially the validity of the traditional art object, and uses concepts as its traditional art object, and uses concepts as its material. Since physical form is not essential in the presentation of concepts, and as a concept is usually the starting point of a work of art, conceptual artists propose that traditional media and manifestation are unnecessary. The artwork is a process rather than a material thing, and as such it is no longer something that can be grasped merely by seeing, hearing or touching the end product of that process. The notion of agency in art-making is thus particularly emphasised. In many cases, the ‘art-making‘ and the ‘artwork‘ come together, as what is sought is an identification of the notion of the work of art with the conceptual activity of the artist.

The most fundamentally revisionary feature of conceptual art is the way in which it proclaims itself to be an art of the mind rather than the senses: it rejects traditional artistic media because it locates the artwork at the level of ideas rather than that of objects. As process matters more than physical material, and because art should be about intellectual inquiry and reflection rather than beauty and aesthetic pleasure, the work of art is said to be the idea at the heart of the piece in question. For conceptual art, the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. Art is de-materialised; art is prior to its materialisation and is ultimately rooted in the agency of the artist. If art is de-materialised in this fashion, it is less likely, or so the early conceptual artists held, to be institutionalised. The claim that the conceptual artwork itself is to be identified with the idea that may be seen to underlie it has far-reaching ramifications. It not only affects the ontology of the conceptual artwork but also profoundly alters the role of the artist by casting her in the role of thinker rather than object-maker. Moreover, it calls for a thorough review of the way in which we perceive, engage and appreciate artworks. Further still, it links art so intimately to ideas and concepts that even a principled distinction between the domain of art and the realm of thought seems difficult to preserve. “In conceptual art, the representation at work is generally semantic rather than illustrative. That is to say, it sets out to have and convey a strong meaning rather than to depict a scene, person or event. It is important to note that the representation favoured by conceptual artists is not merely semantic in the sense of words or language appearing quite literally on the work of art, but rather in the sense of representing a meaning, or having a meaning. So that even in cases where a work makes use of illustrative representation, conceptual art is still putting that representation to a distinctively semantic use, in the sense of there being an intention to represent something one cannot see with the naked eye. Accordingly, the conceptual artist’s task is to contemplate and formulate this meaning – to be a meaning-maker.

Conceptual art can be said to have reached both its apogee and its crisis in the years 1966-72. The term first came into general use around 1967, but it can be argued that some form of conceptual art has existed throughout the twentieth century. The earliest manifestations are often seen to be the so-called ‘readymade’ of the French artist Marcel Duchamp. The most notorious of these was Fountain; a urinal placed on its back on a plinth and signed R Mutt, which Duchamp offered as a work of art to the 1917 exhibition of the society of independent artists in New York. Before Fountain people had rarely been made to think what art actually was, or how it could be manifested; they had just assumed that art would be either a painting or a sculpture. But very few could see Fountain as a sculpture. Initially the art critic and art lover did not ready to accept this art form when they attached the psychology of Duchamp and his conceptual idea the picture is clear and it is acceptable by the critic and artists

Conceptual art was, and is, a truly international phenomenon. In the 1960s you were as likely to find it being made in international arena, it has been the centre of art distribution and promotion in this period, the work made there has been the most heavily discussed. I would like, to some extent, to redress that balance. If it is not defined by medium or style, how can you recognize a piece of conceptual art when you encounter it? Generally speaking, it may be in one of four form: ready-made, a term invented by Duchamp for an object from the outside world which is claimed or proposed as art, thus denying both the uniqueness of the art object and the necessity for the artist’s hand; an intervention, in which some image, text or thing is placed in an unexpected context, thus drawing attention to that context; e.g. the museum or the street; documentation, where the actual work, concept or action, can only be presented by the evidence of notes, maps, charts or most frequently, photographs; or words, where the concept, proposition or investigation is presented in the form of language.

 The philosophical concerns raised by conceptual art can be divided into two main categories. First, there are specific questions to do with conceptual art itself, and the claims which underpin the project that drives it. Philosophical investigations might thus be called for not only in relation to the internal consistency and coherence of the project and its set goals, but also with regards to the particular tenets outlined above. For example, what does it mean to say that every single thing, person or event is a possible candidate for an artwork and does that claim not render the category of art redundant? Moreover, is it philosophically viable to hold that art is idea whilst retaining a distinction (if only conceptual) between the realm of thought and that of art? Second, conceptual art poses philosophical problems from a wider perspective, in so far as one might expect philosophy to provide us with unitary accounts of the nature of art, the role of the artist, and artistic experience. In many important respects, conceptual art sits very uncomfortable with other, often more traditional art forms and artworks, and this tension highlights a pressing issue for anyone interested in the possibility of a universal theory of art. For if there is to be one rule for conceptual art and another rule for all other kinds of art, are there still good grounds for thinking of conceptual art as a kind of art? Could not, moreover, every particular kind of art form or artwork demand a separate theory of art, artist and artistic experience? If so, where should these requirements based in specificity end, and might not the philosophies of art eventually loose all its explanatory power apart from when targeted at individual cases?

If we are to sidestep such an intrinsic philosophical division between conceptual art on the one hand, and other kinds of art on the other hand, then theories concerned mainly with art that is not conceptual will have to make many significant concessions in order to incorporate the problematic case that conceptual artworks presents. At the very least, a compromise will have to be reached about what we are to understand by the term artwork. One of the over-riding concerns that beset the philosophy of conceptual art is thus whether and, if so, why one should actively pursue unified accounts in the philosophy of art. Whether one comes out of that investigation embracing a broader – albeit perhaps vaguer – set of concepts and tools than one started off with, or whether one considers oneself forced to abandon any hope of anything but very specific theories of art, artist, and artistic experience, conceptual art obliges us to think about where we stand on these issues. Philosophizing about conceptual art is, then, not merely philosophizing about one specific art form. It is philosophizing about the most revisionary kind of art, one that sees its own task as being profoundly philosophical in nature.

Finally, what are we to make of the relation between aesthetic and cognitive value in conceptual art – should they be considered as in opposition or even as mutually exclusive? If the only kind of value that is of genuine artistic importance is cognitive, it will be difficult to avoid the definitional and ontological concerns mentioned above. Also, it will call for a deeply revisionary conception of art, one fundamentally hostile to the very notions we are probably most used to associate with art, namely beauty and aesthetic pleasure. Central to the philosophy of conceptual art is thus the provocative spirit of the project under investigation – conceptual art throws down the gauntlet by challenging us to reconsider every aspect of artistic experience, and it may well be up to philosophy to pick it up and address some of the questions conceptual art makes its business to raise. Conceptual art actively aims to be thought-provoking, stimulating and inspiring, and if only for that reason, philosophers interested in art should not pass it by unaffected. At present scenario we shall also look at other areas in which the legacy of conceptualism has developed: project-directed work and ongoing concern with the everyday and interpersonal communications. However, we must look first at some of the controversies that have centred in the last ten years around not just the status of ‘neo-conceptualism’, but around conceptual art.


Berger, John .Ways of Seeing, Penguin Books Publication-2008, UK, ISBN:014103579X, Page:30-33

Dixon , Andrew Graham 2008. Art: The Definitive Visual Guide, DK Publication-2008, UK, ISBN:1405322438, Page:557-562

Godfrey, Tony. Conceptual Art, Phaidon Publication-1998, ISBN:0714833886, Page: 4-7

Stangos , Nikos 1994.The Art and Artists Thames & Hudson world of Art, Thames & Hudson Publication-1994, ISBN: 0500202745, Page-89

n.pag. web. http://www.e-flux.com/journal/one-and-three-ideas-conceptualism-before-during-and-after-conceptual-art


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