Sol LeWitt on Conceptual Art

In Paragraphs on Conceptual Art, Sol LeWitt lays out a set of principles found in his style and creative process. In conceptual art, LeWitt says, “The idea of concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair (Artists, Critics, Context 181).” I wonder how strictly LeWitt followed this guideline and if the formulation of the idea and execution of the concept is always sequential for LeWitt, or if at times they overlapped and the execution informed the artist so that he modified the concept and re-executed. The author mentions that the artist may surprise himself through intuition. I would find it surprising if intuition was extinguished during the execution process. I am also interested by LeWitt’s idea that, “it doesn’t really matter if the viewer understands the concepts of the artist by seeing the art (182).” Perhaps the artist does not care about the viewer, perhaps he relies on didactic material, or perhaps he values meaning in art that exists regardless of the viewer’s awareness of it. I do think there is value in art that can telegraph a concept through itself, but LeWitt does not seem preoccupied with this idea.

The most avant-garde quality of conceptual art may be its rejection of opticality and materiality as necessity. LeWitt actually considers some new and experimental materials as a vice of contemporary art and sees a tendency of artists to use materiality in such an extreme way that materiality itself becomes the concept. He also marks three-dimensionality, color, surface, texture, and shape as qualities that may further distract from the idea. The important point here, I think, is that LeWitt is advocating for art made with “the most economy of means (184).” I found the conclusion to Paragraphs on Conceptual Art as a survey of the art world, where the author is looking out and finding that artists are using more materials than necessary to execute their ideas, thus making the art more about their material and less about their ideas.