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WHAT IS…CONCEPTUAL ART?

Posted 1 March 2016 by Kat

Did you know that another word for ‘idea’ is ‘concept’?  With conceptual art the artist’s idea (or concept) is the most important thing about the artwork. What it looks like doesn’t matter as long as the idea comes across.

Conceptual artists don’t make traditional paintings and sculptures but use whatever techniques are best for putting across their idea – and because ideas can be expressed in lots of different ways, conceptual art can look like just about anything.

Find out what kids think about Conceptual Art at Tate Britain when they visited the Conceptual Art in Britain exhibition at Tate Britain.

When did it start? 

Marcel Duchamp was an important influence on conceptual art. In 1917, he turned a toilet upside-down and put it in an exhibition with the title of Fountain.

Marcel Duchamp Fountain 1917, replica 1964, © Succession Marcel Duchamp/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2016

Marcel Duchamp, Fountain 1917, replica 1964, © Succession Marcel Duchamp/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2016

Conceptual art started in the mid-1960s and was a big thing until the mid-1970s Lots of artists around the world made conceptual art. Some of the most important of these were: Joseph Beuys, Jenny Holzer and Sol le Witt.

So what were they thinking?

  • They didn’t think that traditional painting and sculpture could put across their ideas very well
  • They didn’t like it that the art world had become so commercial. Like cars, shoes and hoovers, art had become just another product that could be bought and sold
  • They also thought that artists shouldn’t be seen as celebrities with special skills. They believed that everyone has ideas…so everyone can be an artist

By making the idea the important thing, conceptual artists felt they were liberating art. After all no one can own – or buy and sell – an idea. One conceptual artist called Lawrence Weiner said: ‘Once you know about a work of mine you own it. There’s no way I can climb inside somebody’s head and remove it.’

Keith Arnatt Portrait of the Artist as a Shadow of his Former Self 1969–72 © Keith Arnatt Estate

Keith Arnatt, Portrait of the Artist as a Shadow of his Former Self 1969–72 © Keith Arnatt Estate

Conceptual art influenced lots of art that came later, in fact many artists making art now – such as Martin Creed and Simon Starling – still make conceptual art. This is a work Martin Creed made in 2000. It’s called Work No. 227: The lights going on and off (and that is exactly what it is!).

Martin Creed The lights going on and off 2000 Photo: Tate Photography © Martin Creed

Martin Creed, The lights going on and off 2000, Photo: Tate Photography © Martin Creed

Instead of putting traditional objects in a gallery he fills it with light and darkness. This makes us think about the space we’re standing in, about what art is…and even about what we are doing there!

Conceptual artists don’t care about being able to draw or paint very well or about making an artwork that looks good – because to them the idea is the important thing.  But because this is the opposite of what people traditionally think art should be (a powerful painting or skilful sculpture), conceptual art is sometimes dismissed as not ‘real’ art. Do you agree?

Carl Plackman Backward Look at Landscape 1984, © The estate of Carl Plackman

Carl Plackman, Backward Look at Landscape 1984, © The estate of Carl Plackman

Here are some other ways conceptual artists make art…

Acting out or performing their idea

Bruce McLean Pose Work for Plinths 3 1971 © Bruce McLean

Bruce McLean, Pose Work for Plinths 3 1971 © Bruce McLean

Artist Bruce McClean wondered what the point of traditional sculpture was. So he acted out some funny poses using his own body draped over plinths. (Plinths are the boxes that traditional sculptures stand on in galleries).

Using existing (or found) objects

This artwork may look a bit boring, but Michael Craig-Martin said the reason he used four very ordinary boxes was to make the viewer focus on ‘the idea embodied in the piece’.

Michael Craig-Martin 4 Identical Boxes with Lids Reversed 1969, © Michael Craig-Martin

Michael Craig-Martin, 4 Identical Boxes with Lids Reversed 1969, © Michael Craig-Martin

His idea was to explore what happens when a mathematical sequence is applied to four identical structures. The box lids were made by cutting away the top surface of the boxes in a sequence of 6, 12, 18 and 24 inch intervals. (An inch is around 2.5 cm).

Creating ‘interventions’ in landscapes

An intervention is like an interruption: they dig a hole, make a temporary sculpture out of rocks or stones…or, they just go for a walk! Artist Richard Long walked forwards and backwards across a field until his footsteps made a line of flattened grass.

Richard Long, A Line Made by Walking 1967, © Richard Long

Richard Long, A Line Made by Walking 1967, © Richard Long

What do you think? Do you think art has to be skilfully made? Or do you think that if art makes you think, that’s enough? Let us know in the comments.

Liking the sound of conceptual art? Check out Conceptual Art in Britain: 1964–1979 at Tate Britain, 12 April 29 August 2016. Under 12s go free. 

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WHAT IS…SOUND ART?

Posted 24 February 2016 by Kat

When you think about art, you usually think of something you look at. But did you know that you can also listen to art?

Jorge Macchi, Incidental Music 1997, © Jorge Macchi

Jorge Macchi, Incidental Music 1997, © Jorge Macchi

From ordinary everyday noises like humming traffic to sounds made by instruments or human voices (whispering, talking, singing or even just blowing raspberries and making other nonsense noises….spphhhhbbbblllzzzppphhh)…all sorts of different noises are used in sound art.

Rebecca Horn, Concert for Anarchy 1990, © DACS, 2016

Rebecca Horn, Concert for Anarchy, 1990, © DACS, 2016

Sound art is sometimes experienced live through a performance, or it can be listened to as a recording through speakers or headphones. And because sounds don’t need to have a special room to keep them safe in (like some other types of art), sound art can be put (and listened to) just about anywhere.

Imagine you are walking along by a river and you hear a voice singing from under the bridge.

The song sounds mysterious like something from a different time. Susan Philipsz recorded herself singing three versions of an old Scottish ballad and played the recordings underneath three bridges in Glasgow. The song is about a sailor who drowns and comes back to say goodbye to a loved one. You can listen to it here.

Susan Philipsz LOWLANDS 2008 / 2010 Clyde Walkway, Glasgow © The artist, courtesy Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art Photo: Eoghan McTigue

Susan Philipsz, LOWLANDS 2008 / 2010, Clyde Walkway, Glasgow, © The artist, courtesy Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art, Photo: Eoghan McTigue

This is what Susan Philipsz says about sound: ‘Sound is invisible but very…emotive. It can define a space at the same time as it triggers a memory’.

She usually uses recordings of her own singing voice to make her art, but for her piece War Damaged Instruments she used sounds made by instruments that have been damaged in wars.  Although the instruments play a tune, some of them are so badly damaged no real notes come out – just noises. The sad broken sounds echo the sadness caused by war.

Bild 5 Klappenhorn (ruin) Salvaged from the Alte Münz bunker, Berlin, 1945 Collection Musikinstrumenten-Museum Berlin. From Susan Philipsz: War Damaged Musical Instruments

Bild 5, Klappenhorn (ruin), Salvaged from the Alte Münz bunker, Berlin, 1945, Collection Musikinstrumenten-Museum Berlin. From Susan Philipsz: War Damaged Musical Instruments

When did sound art begin?

The first sound artist was called Luigi Russolo. He was a futurist artist. Futurists were making art at the beginning of the twentieth century and loved fast and noisy new technology such as cars and machinery! Between 1913 and 1930, Russolo built noise machines inspired by the clatter of factory machinery and also the boom of guns from the First World War.

Dada artists also made sound art in the early twentieth century. But rather than celebrating the sounds of modern society and the First World War… their art was against it. They hated the horrors of the war so made up nonsense poems and music consisting of just sounds and noises expressing how they felt.

Fig 3. Hugo Ball reciting Karawane in a cubist costume at the Cabaret Voltaire, Zürich 1916 Gelatin silver on paper Courtesy Fondation Arp

Fig 3. Hugo Ball reciting Karawane in a cubist costume at the Cabaret Voltaire, Zürich 1916
Gelatin silver on paper
Courtesy Fondation Arp

Musician John Cage was inspired by these early sound artists. He composed a famous piece of music in 1952 called 4’33’…which is four minutes and thirty-three seconds of…COMPLETE silence! He was friendly with artists in the Fluxus group, who also experimented with music and sound as art.

Joseph Beuys working title: BEUYS (FLUXUS) & CHRISTIANSEN (FLUXUS) 1969 Poster on paper © DACS, 2009

Joseph Beuys, working title: BEUYS (FLUXUS) & CHRISTIANSEN (FLUXUS) 1969, Poster on paper
© DACS, 2009

Words and language have always fascinated artist Bruce Naumann. In 2004 he made a sound artwork called Raw Materials for Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall. He layered recordings of voices, making a collage of sound that played from speakers dotted throughout the space. Nauman was interested in seeing how listening to the speakers would affect how people moved through the space. Here’s a sketch he drew to plan the artwork.

Bruce Nauman Layout for Raw Materials 7 July 2004 2004 © Bruce Nauman/ARS, NY and DACS, London 2016

Bruce Nauman
Layout for Raw Materials 7 July 2004 2004 © Bruce Nauman/ARS, NY and DACS, London 2016

Sound art can also be made by machines. Some artists make sculpture or objects that move, (this is called kinetic art), and the sound these sculptures make is part of experiencing the work. What sort of sound do you think this sculpture makes? (CLICK, BANG, WHIZZ, GRRR…MIAOW)

Jean Tinguely Débricollage 1970 © The estate of Jean Tinguely

Jean Tinguely, Débricollage, 1970 © The estate of Jean Tinguely

Since the introduction of digital technology sound art has changed even more! Artists can now create visual images in response to sounds, and make sound art that the audience controls through pressure pads, sensors and voice activation.

And get this – It’s also now possible to make a sound that goes on for pretty much ever!!  On 1 January 2000 Longplayer a sound composition by Jem Finer started to play…it will continue to play for 1000 years.

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WHAT IS…OP ART?

Posted 3 June 2015 by Kat

Does this look funny to you? Does it make you feel a bit sea sick?

Victor Vasarely, Supernovae 1959–6, © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2015

Victor Vasarely, Supernovae 1959–6, © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2015

Well if it does, its probably Op Art.

Have you seen an Optical Illusion before? These are very similar. It’s all to do with geometry, shapes, colours and patterns and was started in the 1960s.

What shapes can you see in the painting below?

Victor Vasarely, Banya, 1964 , © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2015

Victor Vasarely, Banya, 1964 , © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2015

These artworks mess with your eyes and alter your perception of the artworks.

Some of the coolest Op artists are Bridget Riley, Jesus Rafael Soto, and Victor Vasarely. Look at the way they use colours and shape to change the way you see the 2D image? How do you feel when you look at these artworks?

Bridget Riley, Hesitate 1964, © Bridget Riley 2014. All rights reserved, courtesy Karsten Schubert, London

Bridget Riley, Hesitate 1964, © Bridget Riley 2014. All rights reserved, courtesy Karsten Schubert, London

Bridget Riley, Fragment 5/8 1965, © Bridget Riley 2014. All rights reserved, courtesy Karsten Schubert, London

Bridget Riley, Fragment 5/8 1965, © Bridget Riley 2014. All rights reserved, courtesy Karsten Schubert, London

Jesus Rafael SotoLight Trap 1965 © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2015

Jesus Rafael Soto, Light Trap 1965 © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2015

There are also some abstract artists that sometimes slip into Op art, like Frank Stella below. His colours are bright and jazzy! I wonder what this would look like in black and white?

Frank Stella, Untitled (Rabat) 1964, © ARS, NY and DACS, London 2015

Frank Stella, Untitled (Rabat) 1964, © ARS, NY and DACS, London 2015

Some of these artists involved movement into their artwork, which is sometimes called kinetic artwork. Julio Le Parc used mobiles in his work. You can see one of his images below. How do you think this would move in a gallery?

Julio Le Parc, Continual Mobile, Continual Light 1963 © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2015

Julio Le Parc, Continual Mobile, Continual Light 1963 © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2015

Pssst did you know we have an awesome exhibition in the summer at Tate St Ives called: Images Moving Out Onto Space which has some of the best Op artists in! Great stuff!

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WHAT IS…SURREALISM?

Posted 24 September 2014 by Kat

Why has an artist painted a massive sunflower at the top of some stairs? What has a lobster got in common with a telephone? Why paint a fish flying?

Dali (one of the most famous Surrealists) once wrote, ‘I do not understand why, when I ask for a grilled lobster in a restaurant, I am never served a cooked telephone’.

Salvador Dalí, Lobster Telephone 1936, © Salvador Dali, Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation/DACS, London 2014

Salvador Dalí Lobster Telephone 1936, © Salvador Dali, Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation/DACS, London 2014

A bit confused? Don’t worry, so are we.

Let’s start at the beginning. Surrealism began in the 1920s. It was all about experimenting with your imagination. Surrealists looked at Sigmund Freud for inspiration. He thought and wrote about the mind, memories and human instincts.

Surrealists liked to put objects together, that were not normally seen together! Like a starfish and a shoe in this painting below by Marcel Mariën. How about drawing a tree with a scarf on or a squirrel with a monocle?

Marcel Mariën, Star Dancer 1991 © DACS, 2014

Marcel Mariën, Star Dancer 1991 © DACS, 2014

There are mainly 2 types of Surrealist artworks. The first is about dreams. Here is Paul Nash’s Landscape from a Dream. What do you think about when you look at it? Does it look like your dreams?

Paul Nash, Landscape from a Dream 1936–8 © Tate

Paul Nash, Landscape from a Dream 1936–8 © Tate

If you were to draw your dream what would it look like? Maybe you could make the landscape of your dreams on My Imaginary City?

Dorothea Tanning, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik 1943 © DACS, 2014

Dorothea Tanning, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik 1943 © DACS, 2014

The painting above looks a bit like a nightmare! Surrealist artists liked looking at dark subjects and things that couldn’t be easily explained. That girl looks like she has had a bit of a shock! What do you think is happening in this painting? I wonder what that light is coming through the door?

The second type of Surrealist artwork is called ‘automatism’. This is about doing things automatically without thinking, like doodling on a page or word-association. For example, when I say ‘green’ what do you think about? Grass? Grapes?

Here’s Joan Miró’s The Great Carnivore. It’s like a big doodle which he then created a monster from! Have you ever drawn a scribble and then tried to find characters in it?

Joan Miró The Great Carnivore 1969 © Succession Miro/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2014

Joan Miró The Great Carnivore 1969 © Succession Miro/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2014

Quite a bit of Surrealist artwork uses collage, like this artwork by Sir Roland Penrose.

Sir Roland Penrose, Le Grand Jour 1938 © The estate of Sir Roland Penrose

Sir Roland Penrose, Le Grand Jour 1938 © The estate of Sir Roland Penrose

If you were to cut up a magazine and then place the different images together, what kind of story could you tell?

Do you like Surrealism? Which Surrealist artist is your favourite? Do you have any other questions about Surrealism? Let us know in the comments below.

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WHAT IS…IMPRESSIONISM?

Posted 22 August 2014 by Kat

I’ve been doing my research and your favourite Tate Kids blog posts are ‘Who is…Henry Moore?’, ‘Who is…Andy Warhol?’ and ‘Who is…Kazimir Malevich?’. It seems you guys are keen to learn more about artists – which is great! – but I was wondering what about art movements?! Don’t start yawning just yet!

I’ve been thinking about ‘isms’! No, I haven’t gone crazy. This is the little word at the end of important movements in art, like Surrealism, Romanticism and Realism. These can all be thought of as particular styles of art at particular points in time. But why are they important? Which artists are in these ‘isms’? What makes them so special?

To start this blog series I’m picking Impressionism! Let’s go!

Impressionism started in France in the 19th Century and it’s all about painting landscapes and scenes of everyday life, like cooking, sleeping and bathing. Artists painted outdoors and ‘on the spot’, rather than in a studio from sketches. As they were outside, they looked at how light and colour changed the scenes. What time of day do you think Monet painted the trees below? What do you think the weather was like?

Poplars on the Epte, Claude Monet, 1891, c Tate

Claude Monet, Poplars on the Epte, 1891, c Tate

These artists were not trying to paint a realistic picture but an ‘impression’ of what the person, object or landscape looked like to them. They often painted thickly and used short brush strokes.

Some of the artists to know!
Claude Monet
Camille Pissarro
Alfred Sisley
Auguste Renoir
Edgar Degas

It wasn’t just in France that Impressionism existed. There was also British Impressionism, like this painting by Philip Wilson Steer. Lots of people didn’t like this style of art and thought it should have been ignored. What do you think?

Philip Wilson Steer, Girls Running, Walberswick Pier, 1888–94 c. Tate

Philip Wilson Steer, Girls Running, Walberswick Pier, 1888–94 c. Tate

Let’s take a closer look at one painting by artist, Alfred Sisley:

Alfred Sisley, The Bridge at Sèvres, 1877 c. Tate

Alfred Sisley, The Bridge at Sèvres, 1877 c. Tate

Don’t you think the weather looks lovely?
Sisley, like the other Impressionists, liked to paint sunlight. He really liked painting this bridge and painted it all the time, from different viewpoints and at different times of day. Could you paint the same scene over and over again? What about painting in the morning and at sunset? How would they look different?

There are lots of people fishing!
At the very moment Sisley was painting, people were just relaxing, strolling and doing normal things. Impressionism was meant to show the simple things in life. Looks nice doesn’t it? Maybe have a look around you when you are next on a walk in a park. Maybe grab a sketch book and draw what people are up to. Are they playing sports? Feeding the ducks? Or just going for a walk with friends?

Have you seen any Impressionist paintings recently? What do you think? Have you tried to make an Impressionist-inspired painting on one of the Tate Kids games? Let me know if there are any other ‘isms’ you’d like me to look at in the comments or email me: kids@tate.org.uk

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