Conceptual art places value on meaning

By Lucas Skye

Those who disdain modern art, or art that doesn’t solely rely on technical skills, can occasionally be overheard asking, “This shouldn’t be considered art. A child can do this.” The fact of the matter is, they very well might be able to, but that’s not always the point.

“Conceptual art is a movement that prizes ideas over the formal or visual components of art works,” according to a 2018 article published by The Art Story, a non-profit that works to further art education and appreciation.

Conceptual art is important because it goes beyond an artist’s attempt to flex their technical prowess; it is a philosophy which places more value on the idea the artist gets across than creating a pretty final presentation, though the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Even the materials used often further the idea they’re trying to get across, rather than fulfilling the audience’s visual expectations.

A classic yet humorous example of this idea in action is the 1961 piece “Artist’s S–t,” a work that sold for over $200,000 in 2016 at Milan’s Il Ponte Auction house, by Italian artist Piero Manzoni. The work consists of 90 tin cans allegedly filled with its creator’s feces.

While there is little justification for the price in terms of visual reward, it’s understandable how easy it is to write off conceptual art as lazy. However, “Artist’s S–t” derives value from the statement its artist attempts to convey.

“I sell an idea, an idea in a can,” Manzoni said in reference to his work.

“Artist’s S–t” is widely understood to exist in protest of the overcommercialization of art, so much so Manzoni accepted 30 grams of gold in exchange for his 30 grams of feces, literally valuing his defecation as much as its weight in gold.

Since the goal of the artwork was to get people to realize the overcommercialization of “sh–ty” art, as well as the lack of intimacy in art. The materials he chose are effective in getting his idea across.

The piece is an introspective look into what the art community shouldn’t be, a community in which “s–t” is continuously produced for the sole purpose of generating profit.

Much like written language, art doesn’t need to be visually stunning; its purpose is to effectively share ideas and information with others.

So when someone decides to use the cheeky insult “You’re so ugly; you look like a modern art masterpiece” from the 1987 movie “Full Metal Jacket,” those aware of conceptual art can reply, “Sometimes, but for good reason.”