Deconstruction is a form of criticism first used by French philosopher Jacques Derrida in the 1970s which asserts that there is not one single intrinsic meaning to be found in a work, but rather many, and often these can be conflicting

  • Joseph Kosuth, 'Clock (One and Five), English/Latin Version' 1965
    Joseph Kosuth
    Clock (One and Five), English/Latin Version 1965
    Clock, photograph and printed texts
    support: 610 x 2902 mm
    Purchased 1974© ARS, NY and DACS, London 2002

A deconstructive approach to criticism involves discovering, recognising and understanding the underlying and unspoken and implicit assumptions, ideas and frameworks of cultural forms such as works of art.

In Derrida’s book La Vérité en peinture (1978) he uses the example of Vincent van Gogh’s painting Old Shoes with Laces, arguing that we can never be sure whose shoes are depicted in the work, making a concrete analysis of the painting difficult.

Since Derrida’s assertions in the 1970s, the notion of deconstruction has been a dominating influence on many writers and conceptual artists.