An art movement is a style in art with a specific philosophy, followed by a group of artists over a specific period. Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Cubism, Fauvism, Expressionism, and Surrealism are some of the modern art movements. In the past few years, we are seeing an overwhelming resurgence of Dadaism, an art movement of the European avant-garde in the early 20th century; the proliferation of this “defiantly anti-art” movement is more popular than ever. Conceptual Art Movement prized ideas over the visual elements of art. Conceptualism took myriad forms, such as performances and ephemera. From the mid-1960s through the mid-1970s conceptual artists created art and literature that completely rejected the existent ideologies of art and design. Their claim is: the articulation of an artistic idea is in itself art – implying that standards such as aesthetics, expression, skill, and marketability were all irrelevant criteria by which art was being evaluated. 

Art became so drastically simplified, that it seemed to a section of art enthusiasts that what passes for Conceptual art isn’t “art” at all; Jackson Pollock’s “drip” paintings, or Andy Warhol’s Brillo Boxes (1964), contradicted everything that was previously accepted as art.  Art movement: Conceptual art is a succession of avant-garde movements, Cubism, Dada, Abstract Expressionism, Pop, etc., that was achieved by strategically pushing the limits of art. It is irrelevant whether this intellectual form of art matches one’s personal views of what art should deliver because the fact remains that conceptual artists successfully redefined the concept of art to the point where their work became widely accepted as art by collectors, gallerists, and museum curators.


Conceptual artists linked their designs to a tradition of Marcel Duchamp, whose ready-mades had rattled the definition of art. Like that of Duchamp, these designs abandoned beauty, rarity, and skill as standards of art. Conceptual artists recognize all art, irrespective of these measures, as essentially conceptual. To emphasize this, several Conceptual artists minimized the material presence of their designs to an absolute minimum – a tendency that was termed as the “dematerialization” of art. “Conceptual artists were inspired by the simplicity of minimalism, although they rejected minimalism’s embrace of the conventions of sculpture and paintings as mainstays of artistic production”, TheArtStory reported in a 2021 post. For Conceptual artists, art need not mimic the traditional styles of art or even take any physical form at all. Most Conceptual art is self-conscious or self-referential. Like Duchamp and other modernists, they conceived art that is about art and expanded its boundaries by using minimal materials or text. John Baldessari, Joseph Beuys, Jenny Holzer, and Joseph Kosuth were amongst the most significant personalities of the Conceptual Art Movement. 

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Duchamp’s Fountain (1917)_©Marcel Duchamp via Wikimedia Commons


Contemporary Conceptualism is the term commonly used to refer to conceptualism in contemporary practice. Contemporary conceptual art employs interdisciplinary approaches. Audience participation, critique institutions, political systems, structures, and hierarchies are key to contemporary conceptual art. Artists who employ various techniques and strategies associated with Conceptual art include Jenny Holzer for her use of language, Sherrie Levine for her photographic critique of originality, Cindy Sherman’s play with identity.  As we take a look at the complex and extensive history and presence of the Conceptual Art Movement, many things come into the picture. Taking responsibility to truly investigate the nature of art and institutions was one of its greatest strengths. “Sometimes, it was an art of resistance to the dominant order and at other times it was a cynical mirror held up to the design world, or a deeply philosophical undertaking”, TheArtStory added. Many artists disliked being put inside the cage of the movement, as they disliked being restricted by any boundaries. 

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Joseph Kosuth-Clock (One and Five)_©ARS, NY and DACS, London 2022
Lineage (2008-2019) by Lucio Salvatore_©CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Fall of the Movement

The portrayal of ‘chaos and control’, one of the greatest achievements of the Conceptual Art Movement, can only be represented in certain ways. The smallest deviation from Newman or Rathoko’s evolved art styles would be unjust to the movement’s splendor. Within such stringent restrictions, movements often die. In the same way, abstract expressionism did not live long with artists channeling their efforts in other directions of expression. Although the movement was losing traction for various reasons, it was the advent of Nazi power that eventually killed the Conceptual Art Movement . It strived to maintain some momentum through the war but any such efforts were trivial and they died out, giving rise to New Objectivism and such. Several factors work parallel in leading a movement to its death. But the underlying factor is the strife for constant change.

The art depicts the state of society. It starts to stagnate when it is controlled by overarching and rigid values and principles. As the world moves forward, art must evolve with it. In its quest to advocate for a single cause, such movements are often stretched to an extent where they lose sight of balance or meaning. As a result, shifts are forced to happen and new forms of art are born out of this, as they should be. 


Sowmya is an architectural journalist and writer. In this column, Sowmya takes you through stories on eco-architecture, biophilic design, and green buildings from across the globe.

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