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I hope my points here won't be too disorganized. I'm hoping for other people's input on this:
So, according to MoMA, "Conceptual Art" is a "term applied to work produced from the mid-1960s that either markedly de-emphasized or entirely eliminated a perceptual encounter with unique objects in favour of an engagement with ideas."
That makes sense, but how do we categorize artworks formed around perceptual concepts? Are they still considered conceptual artwork or do they have a different designation?
I've talked with a couple of people before now who are of the opinion that pieces formed around perceptual concepts would fall into the category of decoration. They can be well executed, but since they're formed around appearances, they are still decoration, with decoration being a designation that makes them less intellectually or artistically valuable. They're basically seen as "shallow."
I think that visual concepts can be just as interesting and well thought out as any concept that only uses visuals as a medium, but I'm not sure how to justify this position.
If I look around at modern/contemporary art, there are many respected artists for whom perceptual concepts seem to take precedence throughout an entire body of work or a piece. When most people talk about Jesús Soto's penetrables, they seem to focus on the perceptual experience of it. They're installation pieces. Viewers of the artwork get inside the sculptures, touch them, and move them around. However, Soto is adhering to a preformed idea when he creates them. Even though he conveys a perceptual experience, he also wants to express ideas about impermanence, etc.
--SotoIn the future as in the past, my art will remain linked to the uncertain, taking care not to try to express the permanent, the unchangeable. For I have never sought to show reality caught at one precise moment, but, on the contrary, to reveal universal change, of which temporality and infinitude are the constituent values. The universe, I believe, is uncertain and unsettled. The same must be true of my work.
He's considered a totally legitimate artist, but I have trouble seeing how he's any different from a lot of artists that would be considered decorative according to the discussion that I mentioned before. I'm not saying that he isn't different from them or that he isn't the same, it's just that I don't understand.
For comparison, I'll bring up James Jean. I don't know everything about his work, but from appearances it SEEMS that the primary focus of his work are the strong visual concepts that he is able to portray through it. There might definitely be another, deeper meaning behind his work, but if there is I'm not currently aware of it. I don't intend to be disrespectful toward him or misrepresent him by doing this (as I said, I don't know the whole truth), but here I'm going to posit that his visual concepts and execution are the primary idea behind his work. I don't think it would be inaccurate to assume that this is the primary element that draws most people to his work.
Are his works really just considered decoration because of this? In conclusion/TL;DR: If they are considered decoration, what's the difference between decoration that is "merely" decoration, and decoration that is lauded and be featured in modern galleries? Is it just execution?
If it is considered conceptual, then why are some perceptual concepts considered valid, while others are considered "just decoration"? Is it just because some perceptual work is just subjectively better? How does an artist working with visual concepts gain legitimacy?
Please help! I don't know that much about art terms and history, so I'm trying to get this sorted in my head.
It's purely a political matter. The commonly held answers to your question have been controlled for political and marketing purposes. They don't make sense in terms of philosophical aesthetics or semantics. The only reason to know the commonly held answers is so that you can parrot them for the purposes of self-promotion and networking in institutions or social milieus where toe-ing the political line is considered mandatory for inclusion.
Before the tidal wave of politics forced semantic stupidity on everybody interested in visual art, decoration meant that there was no subtext to the design that provided insight. There was no crux, or conclusion to the work that provided understanding.
By design or stupidity, semiotics in communication has been confused with the symbolism of fashion. So that now wearing a tie is considered to be a statement that has subtext, in that it shows that one belongs to a group of people who conform to a capitalist business model or the formalities of society.
Decorations that are legitimized by the fine art world tend to be those that are ugly in the particularly fashionable way. The criteria for fashionability seems to me to generally include the following:
1. If figures appear they are rendered mannequin-like or inert and do not appear in a believable environment, ennui important
2. Scraggly, edgy, rough textures and surfaces. Painterly splatters, drips, tears, etc.
3. Networks and nodes create meaningless linear connections between elements, meaningless juxtapositions
4. Colors to be inharmonious or depressing, tacky or garish or campy in some way.
5. Variety exits for no reason other than to fill space, proliferations of random elements
6. Disturbing, taboo-breaking, anti-christian, porn, vaguely erotic elements combined with machine-like qualities
7. The use of worthless elements, garbage, newspapers, bodily excretions, as art materials.
8. Makes a direct political statement against whatever is considered normal or meaningful.
It's generally, again, a political as to what concepts gain legitimacy. If you visually "say" the right things politically, or have the right "fashionable" stylistic elements (see above list) which are in political fashion and somebody can sell the work in a gallery, your concepts will "gain legitimacy."If it is considered conceptual, then why are some perceptual concepts considered valid, while others are considered "just decoration"? Is it just because some perceptual work is just subjectively better? How does an artist working with visual concepts gain legitimacy?
In time, all this political influence will fade, but you and I will be long dead.
At least Icarus tried!
My Process: Dead Rider Graphic Novel (Dark Horse Comics) plus oil paintings, pencils and other goodies:
My "Smilechild" Music. Plus a medley of Commercial Music Cues and a Folksy Jingle!:
Now tell us how you really feel kev. I see it as desperate perpetuation. When a system had been generated, whether from a real inquisitive standpoint or not, and maintains a level of success then there is a bandwagon syndrome. Once this is repeated over and over again we lose certain abilities. Having been a part of the education world forever have seen the results. You can only teach and pass on what you know. If you can't draw you subvert the necessity to draw and so on.
Decorative as a pejorative is a label favored by people who can't make purty things. That's a short version but it is very real.
Hey good for you for considering and thinking about some of these more challenging aspects of art. Kev nailed it well but I'll just add my perspective.
"Art" today has expanded far beyond the confines of what we typically think of as "art" (a fairly typical and encompassing term is post-modern pluralism simply meaning "anything" you want to say is art and write enough about to justify). Personally I point to Duchamp's "Fountain" (a urinal displayed as a sculpture) as the breaking point in art history (someone with more knowledge may shed more light on specific works or arttists - that's just a well known piece and where I tend to put the mark). At that point an entirely new direction in art was born and opened up...but it has little or nothing in common with art throughout the history of mankind, imho. It's just a different thing at that point.
So Soto's work is about a lot of things...writing, ideas, architecture, sculpture, time, space, whatever he says...while James Jean's work is probably about the same things but has much more in common with DaVinci than Duchamp. In other words DaVinci and Jean could hang out together and enjoy mutual common points of view while Soto could not.
Anyway, for whatever that's worth, just my take on the topic.
Edit: Oh yeah, on the decortative thing...the terms have been so subverted, misaligned and used indiscriminately in marketing contexts to not even mean anything.
The word Art, by lack of clear definition, has been rendered over time, through semantic entropy, into nothing more than a variable. You can’t define Decorative X, Conceptual X or Fine X if you don’t know, definitively, what X is.
Every now and then you may decide to call something a duck, when you hear it eke out what sounds like a quack.