A pyramid constructed of oranges
​Installation view: Roelof Louw, Soul City (Pyramid of Oranges)
1967
Aspen Art Museum, 2015
Photo: Sara Fowler​

There has always been debate over what ‘art’ is and what is deserving of this title. As new types of art come and go, on goes the flux of public outrage and eventual acceptance. When conceptual artists decided their ideas were more important than the final artwork, this was arguably the most controversial moment in art history. And so, to this day, many are left wondering ‘Can an idea be art?’…

Yes, because…

‘The thought process can be more interesting than the final product’

LeWitt, ‘Paragraphs on Conceptual Art’, Artforum Vol.5, no. 10, Summer 1967

2. Ideas can be works of art; they are in a chain of development that may eventually find some form. All ideas need not be made physical.

6. Since no form is intrinsically superior to another, the artist may use any form, from an expression of words (written or spoken) to physical reality, equally.

7. All ideas are art if they are concerned with art and fall within the conventions of art.

10. It is difficult to bungle a good idea.

Sol LeWitt, ‘Sentences on Conceptual Art’, Art-Language, 1969

Ideas can push boundaries

Rather than devoting their lives to mastering a medium, [conceptual] artists began to push the boundaries of those mediums, or even forgo them altogether… It’s not that [conceptual art] doesn’t take skill, it just takes different kinds of skill; research; deduction; collaboration; exploration of new materials; radical thought… We should value work by artists focused, not just on craftsmanship, but on the effective execution of good ideas. It’s the thought they bring to the forum, or have others bring to the forum, and not just the forum itself that counts.
Sarah Green, ‘I Could Do That’, The Art Assignment, 2015 


Bruce McLean
Pose Work for Plinths 1971
© Bruce McLean
View the main page for this artwork

No because…

Legally an idea cannot be art

The law does not protect ideas unless they are “reduced to material form” and therefore within the laws of copyright… Rob Grose, an art lawyer who lectures at the Surrey Institute of Art and Design, agrees. “Intellectual property law comes from old-fashioned property law, the aim of which was to protect tangible objects. It has not translated well to conceptual art, where often the only physical evidence of the idea is its documentation… No one knew anything of dadaism, Marcel Duchamp and conceptual art when the legislation was framed.” 
Alex Wade, The Guardian, 2003 

Everyone should be able to understand art

 A cleaner mistook empty bottles of champagne, cigarette butts, colorful confetti and pieces of clothing scattered around one of its exhibition rooms of The Museion Bozen-Bolzano for a mess left behind by partygoers at an event.

Instead, she “cleaned up” an installation by artists Sara Goldschmied and Eleonora Chiari called “Where shall we go dancing tonight,” which the museum’s website says is meant to represent hedonism, consumerism and financial speculation in the 1980s Italian political scene.

Vittorio Sgarbi, one of Italy’s most popular art critics, said the cleaner “was right” to throw the installation in the trash.

“If she thought it was rubbish, it means it was. Art should be understood by everyone — including cleaners… The fact that the museum could simply pick the pieces from the trash bin and put them back together shows you that wasn’t art in the first place.”

Claudio Lavanga, NBC News, 2015 


Michael Craig-Martin
An Oak Tree  1973
© Michael Craig-Martin
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Here are some of your responses…

The artwork is not the idea. The artwork is a conduit for the idea. People who disregard conceptual art do not realise that the function of the object is to facilitate thought and discussion.
Adam S.

Not as a final artwork, but as an important part of it, yes . Can an idea be a movie? How would audience than see and experience it?
Irena V.

Art is not a concept but the realisation of that concept. 
Robert T. 

This is the interesting thing about art… It’s so subjective and the definition is constantly evolving and changing. I don’t think anything can ever be definitively decided because something will come along and change all that has been decided. With every new art movement came criticism and disapproval… I think the question may better be asked is, what makes art.. ‘Art’. If there is an authentic process of exploration, process and creation then perhaps it is art regardless of what it looks like.
Kathleen W.

It depends if the artist has visualised their idea in a unique way, and/or whether the visualisation represents the idea in a new or informative way.
Sarah M. 

Can art be anything but an idea?
Piortland O.

Traditional art is the aesthetics of painting and sculpture. Modern art is about communicating the thought process and examining perceptions by striving to redefine academic, aesthetic traditions. Art is not just about producing pretty figurative paintings and classically recognizable nudes in marble and bronze. The process of contemporary artistic practice is an analysis of the function and social role of art, art should look in the mirror and deconstruct what it sees, peeling away the layers to expose new potential and propose alternative perspectives for interpreting reality.
DW P.

Everything is art. 
Cheryl B. 

* All responses taken from Facebook.

What do you think? Come to the exhibition and decide for yourself.