Tate Research Workshop: Art Writers in Britain

7 June 2013
Convenors: Mark A. Cheetham and Christopher Griffin

In an account of Art & Language’s working priorities published in Critical Inquiry in 1995, the late Charles Harrison wrote that ‘the first principle was that the work of art was not simply a matter of the skilful manipulation of physical materials; there was also work to be done on the conceptual and linguistic materials of art and of its attendant theory’. Harrison’s reassertion of the centrality of ideation and theory in artmaking underlined the strong influence of 1960s and 1970s conceptual art on later generations of artists. If conceptualists successfully made ‘attendant theory’ into more than a supplement to material art objects, can we say the same about their ‘art writing’? What was the status of this work in Britain and elsewhere as conceptualism took hold internationally? What are the legacies and lessons of conceptualist art writing for present practices?

The workshop provided a forum for the discussion of conceptualist art writing produced by a wide range of artists and thinkers in Britain and elsewhere. The historical specificity of conceptualist art writing and its more recent ramifications were examined, as were specific art writing practices as well as attendant theoretical and practical issues. The importance of and methodological approaches to archival resources on art writing in Britain was of special concern.

Relevant research questions addressed included:

  • What aspects of the history and practice of conceptualist art writing in Britain need to be understood (and recovered), and to what purposes?
  • Is it possible to historicise conceptualist art writing in the same way that Conceptual art (with a capital C) can be distinguished from conceptual art?
  • The term ‘artwriting’ was coined by David Carrier in the 1980s and was not directed towards the practices under discussion in this workshop. Is it useful, nonetheless, or problematic?
  • What can be said about the materiality of art writing in relation to the dematerialisation of the object?
  • What were the key organs of conceptualist art writing and how did the ways in which they were published and distributed impact upon the status of the writing?
  • What are the legacies and lessons of conceptualist art writing for present practices?
  • How can more recent discussions of conceptualist art writing inform our understanding of historical practices? 

Mark Cheetham and Christopher Griffin