glass of water1

This post is about the visual arts course with reference to contemporary art, conceptual qualities, conceptual art and found objects

***The visual arts “Conceptual Qualities” criterion does not necessarily mean Conceptual Art, and Conceptual Art does not necessarily mean Found Objects.

In the recent examination session a number of students went down a strongly ‘conceptual’ route and having chosen that route then went down the avenue marked ‘Found Objects’.


Conceptual art can be – and can look like – almost anything. This is because, unlike a painter or sculptor who will think about how best they can express their idea using paint or sculptural materials and techniques, a conceptual artist uses whatever materials and whatever form is most appropriate to putting their idea across – this could be anything from a performance to a written description. Although there is no one style or form used by conceptual artists, from the late 1960s certain trends emerged. Browse the slideshow below and read the captions to see examples of conceptual art and to find out about some of the main ways conceptual artists explored and expressed their ideas”.

Fountain Marcel_Duchamp

LINK to Conceptual art PowerPoint (from MoMA)

In the August 2015 lBLOG I wrote “just because the student artwork has links to a contemporary art idea does not automatically mean it’s going to get good marks, and not getting good marks does not automatically means that the examiner does not have a good understanding of contemporary art…There is also the issue of what “contemporary art” means – art made over the last 10 years? Emergent art movements? Socially conscious art?  Art reflecting issues such as feminism, multiculturalism, etc.?”

Those concerns and issues are as relevant now – after the first examination of the new course – as they were then – for the last examination of the ’old’ course.

It’s 99 years since Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’ (1917) and 17 years since Tracey Emin’s “My Bed”  – both of these in the context of their time were of course ‘contemporary’ – but were also provocative, creative and imaginative.

Emin bedTo do well in terms of concept moderators are expecting to see some degree of sophistication, as opposed to “imagery, signs and/or symbols that are obvious, contrived or superficial”.

Ideally, the work should show evidence of a thoughtful and considered approach with subtle and/or complex ideas and imagery.

But some students seem to have interpreted the ‘conceptual qualities’ criterion as meaning that all you need is an idea and that it’s OK to submit a simple/simplistic depiction of the idea. Unfortunately, some concepts/ideas – and the interpretation – were obvious and/or

Unfortunately, some concepts/ideas – and the interpretation – were obvious, and lacked the degree of sophistication moderators are hoping to see

For example, a photograph of a bag of rubbish. This was supposed to express ideas about waste, the things we are doing to the environment and global pollution.

  • A student exploring the theme of teenage pressure and anorexia presents a plate full of artificial sweeteners – because that is a ‘conceptual art’ expression of anorexia.
  • A collection of bottles means alcohol abuse.
  • A piece of rope fashioned into a noose means suicide
  • A glass of water means the world’s resources are running out (and/or global warming).

None of these show evidence of a thoughtful and considered approach. All are predictable and show minimal elaboration of ideas, concepts etc and/or minimal use of imagery.

They demonstrate lazy thinking and a very simplistic approach to what can be a provocative, intelligent and clever form of art

sharkOf course, the mark is holistic and so a few weak ideas do not mean that the whole exhibition is weak – but in terms of “Conceptual Qualities” these artworks do seem to fit in the 1 – 3 level descriptor.

If you are going down the conceptual route please try to avoid the obvious, predictable, easy and/or lazy options.

These may be examples of conceptual art – but they are not particularly good, thoughtful or imaginative.

Also, remember that in most cases the examiner will not see your Process Portfolio.

So if you are including some form of conceptual art in your exhibition, in addition to using the curatorial rationale to explain the selection, arrangement and relationship between your artworks and the viewer within your space, provide the moderator with some evidence of your intentions and knowledge/understanding of conceptual art.