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  Conceptual Art
  by David Bailey  
Arabian Scene by Sanchia Lewis

Please note that the views expressed here are not necessarily those of Welshpaintings. The full text may be viewed on www.stuckismwales.co.uk (magazine section).



One can trace some of the philosophical origins of Conceptual art back to the English philosopher R G Collingwood who was also one of the leading propounders of a version of the expression theory of art which is discussed later. At this point, we are more interested in Collingwood's view of the work of art being non- physical.

The following comments on Collingwood are taken from Nigel Warburton's "Philosophy: The Basics" (P125)
"The idealist theory of art, given its most persuasive formulation by R. G. Collingwood (1889-1943) in his Principles of Art, differs from other theories of art in that it holds that the actual work of art is non-physical: it is an idea or emotion in the artist's mind. This idea is given physical imaginative expression, and is modified through the artist's involvement with a particular artistic medium, but the artwork itself remains in the artist's mind."
In one sense, we are all accustomed in ordinary life to the view that most, if not all, our activities start with an idea. We say : "I have had an idea" or "It all started when I thought of....." In this sense, it is unsurprising to view a work of art as being based on an idea. However, it is quite another thing to say as Collingwood does that the actual work of art is in the mind and is only given physical expression by the art object itself. Yet clearly, Conceptual artists have taken over this feature from Collingwood....and gone on to extend the idea further.
For, if it is indeed strange to argue, as Collingwood does, that art works are primarily ideas in the mind of the artist, at least Collingwood does allow that these ideas are to be given "physical imaginative expression" even if this is still dis-associated from the artwork proper which remains in the artist's head. But Conceptualists on the other hand have taken this matter further by reducing the importance of, or omitting altogether, the actual physical artwork such that all we may see in galleries of their works are traces of the artist's creations which are in his/her mind.
I would propose initially that a more balanced view of the artistic process would emphasise both the initial creative idea or concept in the artist's head and also the necessity of the creative realisation (making real) of that idea through the finished work of art. If either part of the process is omitted or sidelined, then there is no art.

David Bailey


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