plein air landscape painting
Painting From Life vs. From Photos

Art without a “conceptual edge” can nowadays seem “out of it”, un-hip, old-fashioned. Art that is little more than the ultra-minimalist depiction of a concept can sell for millions. Why is the conceptual trendy, and how to cash in?

In my previous post I argued that conceptual art is just another representational art form. The illusion created — that of a concept — is comparable to the illusion of space created with linear perspective. Why should the representation of concepts in particular be so fashionable these days?

Looking back, we see that two great art movements of the 19th and 20th centuries were, in essence, anti-conceptual. Impressionism freed the landscape from the pedantic framework of “history painting.” Abstract Expressionism avoided the representations of concepts as much as of space or form. The non-conceptual natures of Impressionism and Abstract Expressionism, which gave these movements much of their freshness and life, were of course reactions to the, before then, norm that all art should have a conceptual component.

The come-back of the concept can be seen as a reaction, in turn, to the virtual ban on concepts in the above-mentioned art movements.

What is striking about the purer form of conceptual art today is its claim to transcend much of the material/technical components of art. True, someone spent a lot of time cutting diamonds for Damian Hirsch’s diamond skull, and someone spent a lot of time mounting them, but both of these activities are non-artistic craft operations. The artistic aspect of the diamond skull rests almost solely in the concepts which it represents. The work is, artistically-technically speaking, as flat as a perspective painting seen from the side; indeed, that’s part of the point.

Thus, the conceptual craze is in part a return to the old norm (art should contain a conceptual component), in part a claim to transcend art’s basis in the material-technical — a nice mix of the comforting and the revolutionary.

But with art as with fashion, it is a mistake to focus too much on Now, since the art of Now was made in a Past that is already, by definition, out of date. If one is thinking about how to make the next great conceptual art piece, one is already lost playing catchup derivative baseball. The challenge is to do The Next Big Thing.

What will that be?

The answer is obvious: Ultra-Minimal Non-Conceptualism.

Yes, Ultra-Minimal Non-Conceptualism. Think of it as conceptual art, without all those stuffy concepts. Indeed, contemporary conceptual art will reek of musty arm chairs and stale cigar smoke in comparison to the freshness of Ultra-Minimal Non-Conceptualism. Ultra-Minimal Non-Conceptualism, the art of the future and, most important, where the money will be.

Time to get to work…