‘A’RT = Object + x

‘A’rt = Object + x

A subjective Art/Non-art analysis:

From an ontological perspective the Art and Non-art binary as reconfigured or reinstalled by the  artworld, constitutes a structure of mutual entailment where one term derives meaning and existence from the opposite term. In this subjective analysis of Art, Non-art binary the primary consideration is to reassess the author’s position as an artist who situates his practice in the realm of contemporary art and pursues his subjects from a conceptual and political angle.

Since the emergence of  Anti-art and conceptual art in the west in 1960s  as a historical movement in reaction to a specific politics of ideas implied by the phrase “formalist hegemony, artists have emphasized the role of the ‘conceptual’. This emphasis on the “idea” has become the most important element in artistic development in some cases replacing or deemphasizing formal, representational, and expression-based aspects of art. However, this heightened importance of “the concept” reflect a fundamentally new philosophical conceptualization of art and non-art.

The emphasis on the ‘conceptual’:

Developed in reaction to the reductionist approach of modernism, the approach of the early conceptualists, like the Dadaists, sought to break down the artificial barrier between art and life. They turned to sources outside their field to achieve that.41 As Thomas McEvilley has written, this rejection of the commercial artworld has its roots in Marxist social theory: Under the influence of both the Frankfurt critics and Louis Althusser, the impulse arose to make artworks that would not only avoid the trap of commodification and fetishism but reveal them as well.

  • Conceptual art included an antiskill, antiobject, antigallery orientation; a rejection of the commercialization of art; and a feeling that old concepts and art forms no longer suffice.
  • With conceptual art’s emphasis on process and appropriation, textual messages became more significant for access and interpretation
  • Conceptual art  claimed an end to style; to traditional criteria of quality such as beauty, unity, and craftsmanship; to any sense of permanence, to the conventionality necessary for communication; and to form, imitation, or expression as central to art.
  • Idea dictates everything in Conceptual art. Even at times artists emphasize idea over skill the manipulation of materials. Decision making is stressed as the central activity in art, but it tends to be decision making about processes and problems of the artist’s own invention rather than decisions required by traditional techniques.
  • Conceptual art included performative acts, events, documentations, and manipulated environments.
  • Conceptual art values particular relationships to media to emphasize the development of nontraditional ideas and media in art (mostly linguistic in origin), along with intermedia experiments,

Thus in this transformation of the artist’s role from being a creator to a manipulator one might question – as much is relinquished by conceptual art, what is substituted for the aspects sacrificed?[i] Observing the excessive emphasis on the artistic context in the transfiguration of the commonplace Alan Kaprow pointed out that in conceptual art the documentation of a practice or event seems to have become more important than the event itself. [ii]The critics may include that in the following decades it turned out that conceptualism’s dependence upon the increasingly inbred systems of academic and governmental institutions, has increasingly distanced art from life -exactly the opposite of the conceptualists’ original goals.

The cognitive, ethical and the aesthetic :

The emphasis on the “idea” in conceptual art does raise questions of value in art, but does not distinguish clearly between kinds of artistic expression on the basis of idea alone. Hence it may appear that conceptualism as a philosophy of art fails at times to distinguish art from non-art. In Kant’s Critique of Judgment or Hegel Aesthetics  the analysis of the relationship of philosophy with art was driven by their primary interest in aesthetics. For Kant, the imagination was a faculty for generating specifically aesthetic ideas, whereas conceptualists seem to emphasize cognitive ideational processes of the kind that occur in logic; the cognitive along with the ethical faculties were the very areas that Kant sought to prove are distinct from the aesthetic. This inability of conceptual art theory to distinguish art from non-art is not surprising, since the movement is decidedly neo-Dadaist in its concern for breaking down the distinction between art and other areas of life. The overlap, perhaps even the equivalence, of the cognitive, ethical, and aesthetic is an implicit assumption of conceptual artists.[iii] The definition of art according to this theory as a distinct activity is different from that used by traditional aesthetics. Hence this very overlap of the cognitive, ethical and aesthetic is central to the subjective analysis of art and non-art.



Willful confusion – complicity – collusion – occlusion  in Contemporary art :

It has been long known that anything and everything can be art, but in the contemporary cultural climate this equation has taken on a different quality, one in which, conversely, contemporary art can be anything and everything. The early twenty-first century works that implicate themselves in the functioning of consumer culture, involves a complex  play of production, consumption and use in artistic practice that questions the very concept of artistic autonomy and critical thought in the context of today’s global postmodern world. That issue of complicity is fundamental to an analysis of contemporary artwork. The difficulty of analysis from ‘outside’ requires an artistic position necessarily inside contemporary culture, and therefore potentially in collusion with it. Yet there is a vast difference between collusion and critique. Hence, it has to be acknowledged that the process of willful confusion is so characteristic of that which is specifically “contemporary” in contemporary art, namely its very state of confusion (as to its own future, borders, and sense of “belonging”).  Alain Badiou indicts in an  alarmist, apocalyptic tenor that the “culture-technology-management-sexuality” system as has come to occlude the “art-science-politics-love” system.  This process of occlusion really goes hand-in-hand with a process of confusion—of art’s own confusion, that is, concerning its relationship to a cultural system (which previously termed as “mass culture” or “popular culture,” these terms have certainly lost their legitimacy today) that it clearly desires to be immersed in, or just belong to. It can be argued that in the process contemporary art has become a hugely influential affirmative force in itself. Contemporary art’s reluctance—to preclude certain forms, practices, or tropes from being named art, constructs a one-dimensionally affirmative relationship  with an essentially affirmative cultural complex, Its insistence on being “contemporary” is precisely what helps to define and determine its affirmative character: not only is it merely “of” the times ,it basically bestows value upon these times simply by so desperately wanting to infiltrate, inhabit, and if possible even shape it. [iv]

The nature of complicity, willful confusion, cultural collusion, critic and occlusion as well as the overlapping or equivalence of the cognitive, ethical and the aesthetic in contemporary art are explored in following case studies to examine the subjective art non-art binaries, but before exploring this hybridity a few more issues  should be addressed –

Art and Artifact:

The embodiment of art is not possible without a medium, whether plastic, musical, spoken, written, or kinesthetic. The particularity of an artistic expression that results from its medium is one of an artwork’s defining features. So it can be argued that, all art is artifactual-something is created-though it need not be a physical object. Critics may claim that If an idea exists solely as a conceptualization, such activity can be considered to be in the domain of philosophy, but not art. If the conceptual medium is philosophical argumentation, the artifact that is produced belongs to philosophy rather than art. [v]

Instrumetalism in Art:

In contrast to the ontological challenge to formalist theory’s view of art found in the use of language made by early conceptual art, recent conceptual artists ( Berbera Kruger, Jenny Holzer, Adrian Piper, Clarissa Sligh, Carrie Mae Weems) use language in a performative manner to convey to or persuade the audience of an ideological and social perspective. It is in this sense of depending upon a combination of text and visual expression for ideological purposes that conceptual art is related to other instrumentalist art forms. This instrumentalism runs counter to the assumed “disinterestedness” of aesthetic experience, the personal “expressiveness” of art making, or the ability to of art to encompass a “representation” of the world in its own terms. The joining of visual art and language in political contexts moves art closer to propaganda, advertising, and other rhetorically instrumental forms of communication. The gradually the work of the conceptual artists became work is much more “social or ideological” than the work of the early conceptualists. [vi]

High and low art:

In the contemporary, global sphere of cultural production the embrace of design as an artistic medium is not only something unexpected. In the wake of 1960s conceptualism as Rosalind Krauss has observed, the modernist idea of  a materially specific art medium has given way to artistic practices that dive into the heart of mass culture and use all media at hands. Artists, Krauss writes, ‘have recourse to every material support one can imagine, from pictures to words, to video to readymade objects to films.’[vii]The relationship between art & consumer culture has been ever-present issue in art practice in the twentieth –century, most notably in the work of Pop artists in the 1960s, the subsequent attempts to grapple with the relationship between art & commerce represents a continuation, rather than a renewal, of those concerns.

Case studies:


Damien Hirst- Pharmacy- First shown at the Cohen Gallery, New York in 1992.

The gallery space is covered with wall-to-wall medicine cabinets, stocked with empty pill packaging.One side of the room, a receptionist’s desk holds four apothecary bottles representing earth, fire, air and water. The traditional symbol of the pharmacy on the walls. At the centre of the room hangs an Insect-O-Cutor, surrounded by stools on which sit bowls of honey and honeycomb. The artist created the work after witnessing that pharmacies “provoke an idea of confidence.[viii] He explains: “I went to the Chemist’s and thought, ‘I wish I could make art like that.’ Then I realised I could have it as it was.” [ix]


Cai Guo-Qiang, Fallen Blossoms: Explosion Project, realized at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2009

The artist Cai Guo-Qiang was trained in stage design at the Shanghai Theater Academy. But while living in Japan from 1986 to 1995, he explored the properties of gunpowder in his drawings, an examination that eventually led to his experimentation with explosives on a massive scale, and ultimately to the development of his signature explosion events.

Doris Salcedo  - Shibboleth

Doris Salcedo –  Shibboleth – 2007

Doris Salcedo’s Shibboleth is the first work to intervene directly in the fabric of the Tate Modern Turbine Hall. Rather than fill this iconic space with a conventional sculpture or installation, Salcedo has created a subterranean chasm that stretches the length of the Turbine Hall. The concrete walls of the crevice are ruptured by a steel mesh fence, creating a tension between these elements that resist yet depend on one another.Shibboleth asks questions about the interaction of sculpture and space, about architecture and the values it enshrines, and about the shaky ideological foundations on which Western notions of modernity are built.[x]


James luna –  artifact piece

James Luna -The Artifact Piece- 1986.

In The Artifact Piece, performed in 1986 Native American artist James Luna challenged the way contemporary American culture and museums have presented his race as essentially extinct and vanished. In this performance piece, Luna “installed’ himself in an exhibition case in the San Diego Museum of Man in a section on the Kumeyaay Indians, who once inhabited San Diego County. All around were other exhibition areas with mannequins and props showing the long-lost Kumeyaay way of life. Among them, Luna posed himself, living and breathing, dressed only in a leather cloth, with labels around him pointing out his scars from wounds suffered when drunk and fighting. Various personal items were displayed in a glass case, including contemporary ritual objects used currently on the La Jolla reservation where Luna lives, recordings by the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix, shoes, political buttons, and other cultural artifacts. The mixture of elements revealed a living, developing culture.This piece exemplifies a contemporary attitude towards manipulating museology and the idea of artifact.[xi]


Takashi Murakami – Tan Tan Bo Puking – a.k.a. Gero Tan, 2002
Acrylic on canvas mounted on board 
11.9 feet x 23.7 feet x 2 1/2 inches (4 pannels) unique

Murakami adopts the language of Manga & Anime in his art which represents the contemporary visual culture of Japan. The immense popularity of Manga & Anime is characterized by the ‘Otaku’ subculture of fan-ship among the Japanese youth. The origin of manga could be traced back as a being shaped by American culture during and after the U.S. Occupation of Japan (1945-1952) by the influence of the images and themes from U. S. television, film, and cartoons (especially Disney)  [xii] .These influences fused with the decorative, flat & eccentric traditional Japanese art developed a  transpacific economic and cultural transnationalism in Manga, Anime & popular video game culture, in post-war Japan. Murakami borrows this language to develop his Poku ( Pop + Otaku ) which in turn echoes the lack of depth in the contemporary Japanese culture – completely immersed in consumerism & play without any deep socio-political consciousness. Takashi Murakami’s art & his practice actively participates in the same consumer culture which he seems to critique. His superflat art paradoxically promotes the cultural conditions associated with the ‘Global Postmodernism’ & the Globalization process. On the other hand the deliberate territoriaillisation in his work as a reflection of contemporary Japanese cultural identity is contradicted through the global circulation of his work & deterritoriallisation through its iconographic hybridity with aesthetic-cultural identities of the west. On deeper observation it becomes evident that Murakami simultaneously expresses & exposes the forces of global capitalism not by resolving the contradictions of the globalization process but rather by magnifying them.

Barry Mcgee

Barry McGee  – Installation view.

By bringing the urban condition into the space of the gallery, his installation environments express the anarchic vitality of the inner-city street, incorporating overturned cars and trucks, and often spill beyond the frame of the gallery or museum. Using a visual vocabulary drawn from graffiti, comics, hobo art, and sign painting, McGee celebrates his Mission District neighborhood while at the same time calling attention to the harmful effects of capitalism, gentrification, and corporate control of public space. His often-humorous paintings, drawings, and prints—all wrought with extraordinary skill—push the boundaries of art: his work can seem refreshingly informal in the gallery.[xiii]

Cal Lane – Shovel, 2004
The work manipulates form and function to generate  an image of opposition that creates a balance – as well as a clash – by comparing and contrasting ideas and materials. Similar distortion can be seen in the following piece by Dario Escober.

Dario Escobar, Untitled, 2007, wood, polyurethane, and steel, dimensions variable

Dario Escober –deconstruccion, wood, plastic and stainless steel,variable dimensions, 2007.

For All That We Lose, 2011

Sudarshan Shetty-For All That We Lose, 2011, Media: Carved wood, electromagnetic mechanism, steel sword, mild steel; 354 x 278 x 106 cm

This artisanship in the craft of the carved wood have been recontextualized in association with other objects and elements in this piece. Shetty’s work engages with ‘memory at large’ and explores the social life of objects and their capacities to offer new kinds of subjective experience by creating hybrid devices that engage with the idea of a philosophical ‘loss of body’ as a social and biological condition[xiv]


El Anatsui – Earth’s Skin, 2009, found objects, alluminium and copper wire,

Examining the history of use, Anatsui converts found scrap material into monumental tapestries (that lie between sculpture and painting) combining aesthetic traditions of tapestry crafts from Africa.

Ghada Amer – Love Grave

Ghada Amer – Love Grave, 2003.

Amer’s piece is an example of the performative role played by the Text. Amer uses the unexpected to question that which is expected  —particularly as it pertains to women and men and their roles in society.


The institute for figuring – Hyparbolic Crochet Coral Reef

The CCR is a project that resides at the intersection of mathematics, marine biology, handicraft and community art practice, and also responds to the environmental crisis of global warming and the escalating problem of oceanic plastic trash and is an excellent example of handicraft technique applied in a fine art context.


Keith Tyson, ‘Large Field Array’, 2006

Keith Tyson’s work combines lunatic laboratory humour with screeds of information that stymie recollection. Everything is connected with everything, the artist suggests, and the role of the viewer is to forge the comic and complex links between the presented elements.


Paco Pomet – Practicas, oil-on-canvas, 50 x 60 cm-2010

Pomet exploits the acceptance of photographs in the media saturated environment as documents of real events. Through renderings that mimic the look of old photographs pomet challenges viewer’s reading of the content.


Fabio Marcaccio – Multiple-Site Paintants – 2001/2002.

Fabio Marcaccio creats the multiple site paintants that play with the definition of what painting is and what painting can be. http://vimeo.com/37796618

GuillermoKuitca Le Sacre 1992

Guillermo Kuitca – Le Sacre, 1992 – Maps painted on fifty-four child-sized mattresses

Another piece that streatches the definition of painting. The way that the maps are painted onto the cloth makes the buttons in the mattresses seem like city markers. Kuitca believes the piece expresses an instance where the private and the public experience collide.

Suzanne Anker- Z00semiotics

Suzanne Anker – Zoosemiotics –1993, Glass Vessel, water,steel, hydrocal,metallic pigment.

Suzanne Anker’s work deals with biological, morphological and genetic themes. Zoosemiotics invoke the idea of a universal biological language as the  chromosome shaped glyphs form a secret script.

4 Public Notice 2, Jitish Kallat, 2007, 4479 fibreglass sculptures, Dimensions variable

Jitish Kallat- Public Notice 2, 2007, fibreglass sculptures, Dimensions variable

The artist reproduces Mahatma Gandhi’s speech against the salt tax instituted by the British, in the early 30s  with 4500 letters shaped like bones. Each unit of the text successfully narrates the history of violence where as the whole spreads a message of peace through the collective reading of the Mahatma’s speech.

Kerry_James_Marshall_Rythm Mastr

Kerry James Marshall -Rythm Mastr- Newspaper Comic Strip Installation

Marshall’s practice focuses on the issues of power and the absence of African-American representation in the institutional visual culture of the United States. Marshall has talked about how when he was growing up in the United States there were no African American role models in the comic books. He grew up looking at comic books and thinking, Where are the black superheroes? So he decided he was going to create his own. In the Rythm Mastr series.[xv]


Barbara Kruger, ‘School Bus,’ 2012.

Kruger’s work suspend the viewer between the fascination of the image and the indictment of the text ( subverting the strategies of modern advertising )to remind that language and its use within culture to construct and maintina proverbs, jobs, jokes, myths, and history reinforce the interests and perspective of those who control it. In this recent project Kruger has wrapped city buses in L.A. with phrases like “Art is as heavy as sorrow, as light as a breeze, as bright as an idea…” and “Belief + Doubt = Sanity.” Other works appear on billboards, bus shelters and in other public spaces in the city.

Jeff Koons

Jeff Koons – Rabbit,1986, cast stainless steel, 41 x 19 x 12 inches.

Koon manipulates the binary of High and Low, Avant-Garde and Kitsch through  reproductions of banal objects—such as inflatable toys  produced in stainless steel with mirror finish surfaces. Koons’ work has sold for substantial sums of money including at least one world record auction price for a work by a living artist. However, critics are sharply divided in their views of Koons. Some view his work as pioneering and of major art-historical importance. Others dismiss his work as kitsch: crass and based on cynical self-merchandising. Koons has stated that there are no hidden meanings in his works, nor any critiques.[xvi]

The works included in the case study articulate the willful confusion, the overlap of the cognitive and aesthetic in various ways – whether manipulating dominant cultural modes, altering older definitions or establishing new relationships. There can be many more such examples where the objects exist in that threshold zone where instead of resolving the art, non-art binary in the traditional sense, these works  seem to further entangle them. In this process the contingency of the objects to be art is expanded as the criterions for judgment becomes finer and finer.



A philosophical conceptualism:

As seen in the previous case studies, the contemporary artists utilize various strategies in the conception and execution of visual rhetorics to create psychological effects.Their works are informed at various levels, be it the artistic context, historical narrative, embodiment of meaning through the choice and processing of the medium or the socio-cultural contexts. To make judgments about the quality of the expression of artistic ideas in such persuasive, recombinant rhetoric/aesthetics one has to see from an wider philosophical angle considering Wittgenstein’s dazzling question: ‘What remains over when you subtract from the fact that you raised your arm the fact that your arm went up? What remains over when you subtract from the fact that something is a work of art the fact that it is an object?’ If a work of art is an object plus x, the problem is to solve for x, just as, if a basic action is a bodily movement plus y, the task is to solve for y.[xvii] Again coming back to the belief that, contrary to previous notion that everything can be art, now in a contemporary context art can be everything – the ‘thing’ is to be judged not only on the cognitive, ethical, conceptual basis but also on a larger consideration of the aesthetic decisions and the various contexts at work, to substantially obtain the value of ‘x’ or ‘y’. In addition the institutional recognition of the artist as well as, relation of a single piece to existing body of work should also be considered in the value judgement to analyze whether it is art or not. It may appear that this subjective analysis almost pushes the binary to conceptual/ contemporary art vs non-art, the rationale in doing so is the emphasis on such positions in the author’s own practice.

[i] Leuthold  Steven, Conceptual Art, Conceptualism, and Aesthetic Education,Journal of Aesthetic Education , Vol. 33, No. 1 (Spring, 1999), Published by: University of Illinois Press, Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3333734, pp. 43.

[ii]  Ibid, 42.

[iii] McEvilley, “I Think Therefore I Art,” p. 76

[iv] McQuilten, Grace. “Art,design,mis-design.” In Art in consumer culture: mis-design. Farnham, Surrey UK, England: Ashgate Pub. Co., 2011. 10.

[v] Leuthold  Steven, Conceptual Art, Conceptualism, and Aesthetic Education,Journal of Aesthetic Education , Vol. 33, No. 1 (Spring, 1999), Published by: University of Illinois Press, Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3333734, pp. 38

[vi] Ibid, 44.

[vii] Krauss Rosalind, ‘A Voyage on the North Sea’: Art in the Age of Post-Medium Condition ( London:Thames & Hudson,2000), 15.

[viii] Damien Hirst cited in ‘Life’s Like This and Then It Stops’, Adrian Dannatt (Flash Art, no. 169, 1993)

[ix] Damien Hirst cited in ‘An Interview with Damien Hirst’, Stuart Morgan, ‘No Sense of Absolute Corruption’ (Gagosian Gallery, 1996), 21

[x]  “The Unilever Series: Doris Salcedo: Shibboleth | Tate.” Home | Tate. http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/unilever-series-doris-salcedo-shibboleth (accessed March 29, 2013).

[xi] “Luna, Artifact Piece.” The College of Fine Arts at The University of Arizona. http://www.cfa.arizona.edu/are476/files/luna.htm (accessed March 29, 2013).

[xiii] “BAM/PFA – Art Exhibitions – Barry McGee.” Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. http://bampfa.berkeley.edu/exhibition/mcgee (accessed March 28, 2013).

[xiv]  “‘For All That We Lose ‘ by artist Sudarshan Shetty at Art 42 Basel.” MORFAE: The shape of things. http://www.morfae.com/0950-sudarshan-shetty/ (accessed March 29, 2013).

[xv] “Kerry James Marshall: “Rythm Mastr” | Art21.” Art21. http://www.art21.org/texts/kerry-james-marshall/interview-kerry-james-marshall-rythm-mastr (accessed March 28, 2013)

[xvi] Dada, exploring these three artists after a discussion of the role of, Pop in art, perhaps not always critically accepted, of using the perpetually derided into the coveted. There is a role for kitsch, and the banal beyond mere punchline.. “A Commercialized Modern Life | mashrabiyya.” mashrabiyya | Absorbing.Drinking.Observing.Overlooking. http://mashrabiyya.wordpress.com/2011/04/14/a-commercialized-modern-life/ (accessed March 30, 2013).

[xvii] Danto, Arthur C. “Ontology, Criticism, and the Riddle of Art Versus Non-Art in The Transfiguration of the Commonplace.” Contemporary Aesthetics 6, (December 2008): Art Full Text (H.W. Wilson), EBSCOhost (accessed March 30, 2013).


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