Introducing Sol Lewitt (1928-2007) -- one of the fathers of "conceptual art", a giant, a genius, someone who has inspired leagues of other artists, and a handy guy to know about.
For him, the CONCEPT was the art. He asked, why can't a visual artist work the way an architect, or a composer works? Each are considered artists, and teams of others follow the blueprint or the score to "make" the work. No need to get your hands all painty making the thing.
Lewitt was famous for his "wall drawings". These are purchased by buying a set of instructions written on an index card. This is the "art". Whoever owns (or has been lent) the card, may execute the drawing wherever they like. If the instructions change hands (through a sale, or loan) -- the drawing must be painted over... and now may be executed somewhere else. The art is attached to the instructions... not just to the wall.
Here are some instructions (the art) that were faxed and then followed.
Check out his manifesto of sorts, from 1971, on conceptual art (and Lewitt clarifies that tho these are words about art, they are not art themselves!).
Also significant about Lewitt's work was how it invited other people to participate in the process of interpreting the instructions (sometimes huge teams were needed to execute these big wall drawings) and that the input of others — their take on the instructions, their joy, boredom, frustration or whatever — was part of the art. And, he would credit them (see below) in the exhibition of the work.
In his words, "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. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art."
Along these lines... there are many artists working now that employ such "systems" for making their art -- for instance Lee Walton who uses a set of rules for making drawings of baseball games, or Elise Engler's "tax-onomies" that employ the concept of drawing an inventory to visually represent where U.S. tax dollars amongother kinds of inventories. Neither artist can predict ahead of time what the end results will look like -- they must apply their system and see what results.
Lewitt also loved exploring all the permutations of a set of shapes or lines, as above (one of 64 drawings that showed ALL the possible solutions). You can find this impulse alive and well in many contemporary artists; one instance is Barbara Cohen.
And I think my brother, as a toddler, must have been channeling Lewitt when early one sunday morning in the 70s, while our household slept, he undertook the following wall drawing. "Outline every tile in your bathroom by following the grout in orange magic marker. Dimensions variable."
Want to learn more about Lewitt? Check him out on this Guggenheim site.
Know any artists whose work would make a home a lovelier place? Send ideas to The Gallery. Thanks!