​The effect of the conceptual art movement on how art is seen and taught

And is there meaning behind it?”, my art tutor asked me as he sat looking at a large circular piece of weaving I had just finished that morning. It was a question I have learnt to expect, and normally I welcome it with a lengthy explanation of my thought process and intentions behind the work. But today I did not welcome the question. I have grown weary of this expectation put on me as an artist to have something interesting to say. “What if I don’t have anything to say?”, I want to cry out, “some art is just meant to be beautiful.”

My favourite piece of conceptual art is Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’*. It is easy to see why so many people hate this piece of art, as it is very simply a urinal. Context is everything, however, and at this point in history no one had ever dared to do something so avant-garde. It ended up pissing off a lot of people. At the time ‘Fountain’ was conceived, the highest art was put into salons and assessed by art critics, the rich, and royalty. Duchamp completely questioned this whole system and what the word ‘art’ really meant. It was revolutionary.

The Dadaists were a fringe group who thrived on the chaos that the First World War brought and created little artist havens in Zürich, Berlin, and New York. Within these groups, conceptual art was born. It was a movement founded by people who felt like the ‘art world’ was alienating, elitist, and taken too seriously. It now seems quite odd and sad that those things are what many people associate with conceptual art instead of the humourous, rebellious, and chaotic movement that it once was. Barbara Kruger puts this into words, saying: “I remember going into galleries and seeing this thing called conceptual art, and I understand people’s marginalisation from what the art subculture is because if you haven’t crashed the codes, and if you don’t know what it is, you feel it’s a conspiracy against your unintelligence. You feel it’s fraud.”

I should emphasise that I don't by any means hate conceptual art or any conceptual artist, as I myself am one and most of the work I make is born from ideas instead of aesthetics. But what the conceptual art movement did is start by questioning and rebelling against elitist art and the exclusive art scene, before slowly rising through the ranks to become what it hated so much. Now art that is simply aesthetic is often seen as inferior, shallow and frivolous.

This impact can be seen across schools of art. It is easy to see how art teaching has been transformed by the conceptual art movement. I am part of a school of art and have never felt pressure to further my skill or technique. I have often made sculptures out of whatever I could find, as my belief was that the message I was putting across was the most important part of the artwork. This of course helps to create a level playing field for artists from less wealthy backgrounds as they don't need to buy the most expensive materials because artwork can be made out of anything. Art could simply be some words on a piece of paper. But the downside that comes with all this is that technique is put second to concept and beauty put second to the idea.

As views of conceptual art are on a downturn, I believe that there should be a balance struck between the value we place on conceptual art and aesthetic art. They should be taught with the same merit, and we should learn to appreciate the beauty that can come with skill, technique, and taking time just as much as the ideas behind them.

*Duchamp’s name is in air quotes because there is some debate as to whether his work was actually conceived by Baroness Elsa (one of the greatest performance artists of the early 20th century).

*Illustration by Isi Williams*

New Year, New Kink

Recently I returned to Edinburgh, where I was met by my flatmates with yet another fun, if not quite lengthy, quiz - the BDSM test. It promises to reveal your sexual desires and preferences, and along with being sufficiently surprised by my results, I also didn't understand some of them. Therefore, I decided to undertake a research journey to understand more about kinks, fetishes, and all things whips and chains. So here I am, having learnt a lot more in the past three weeks about kinks and ready to teach you just a little about what I know. Disclaimer: half my information came from a questionable fetish party in which about 7 attendees were dressed as sexy school kids.

  • Domination/Submission

It seems to me that this is to the kink world what the cappuccino is to coffee. Although, for some of you this may seem exciting and interesting, it is probably one of the most vanilla kinks I've come across. For those of you that don’t know (I’m fairly sure I’m only speaking to my parents here, as most 20 year olds know) this kink consists of either being dominated in the bedroom or submitting. It can involve props such as blindfolds or handcuffs, but mostly just means someone is in charge.

  • Role Play

For those of you obsessed with the idea of sexy school teachers, provocative pizza delivery guys, or seductive Santas (we don't judge), then this kink is definitely for you. It can be exciting, thrilling, and as I learnt at the aforementioned fetish party, can come in all manner of costumes. If you’re just starting out however, I’d suggest trying a classic to ease you in. Is that a leaky pipe? Should I call the plumber?

  • Age Play

Age play probably sounds like something weird and underground, where older men dress in nappies and suck on dummies. To be quite frank, occasionally that’s what it is, but if you’ve ever called someone ‘baby’ during a sexual act then you've unintentionally gotten involved in age play. Seemingly trending in recent years is the use of the word ‘daddy’ in a sexual context, as well as the interestingly up and coming ‘mummy’ (again, absolutely no judgement from us). I imagine Freud is laughing in his grave.

  • Rope Bunny

I won’t go into too much detail on this one, as I’m sure this is pretty easy to guess and genuinely quite common. A rope bunny is someone who likes being tied up and, from what I've gathered, it’s more about submission, restraint and ‘the struggle’ than the actual rope. So go, grab whatever fabric you have at home and give this kink a try if you feel up to it.

  • Hybristophilia

Hybristophilia proves to be somewhat relevant (and always problematic) this month following the publicity of ‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile’, a film in which Zac Efron plays Ted Bundy. This film has got people everywhere questioning if they really fancy a rapist and a mass murderer. Although I’m sure that most people are confused about whether in fact they just like Zac Efron, if you seriously are deeply drawn to Ted Bundy and people like Charles Manson, then you might just be a hybristophiliac - someone who is sexually aroused by people who have committed crimes, such as rape and murder.

  • Furries

If you don’t know what a furry is, where have you been? A furry is someone who dresses up in an animal costume but with human characteristics and clothing. Although they claim it is not a sexual thing, we all know that most of the time it is.

  • Psychrophilia

This kink is PERFECT for any of you students out there who can’t afford the heating like me, because phsychrophilia is when you get sexual arousal from being cold or watching other people freeze. Honestly, sitting on the meadows at 9am must be an absolute gold mine for people with phsychrophilia, and although it’s not technically a kink (it’s a fetish), we won’t tell if you don’t.

Although a short collection, I’m hoping that this list has given you all a couple of ideas (maybe not hybristophilia), and with Valentine’s Day just behind us, remember that if the sex was bad, you can always do some experimenting with a banana costume and a length of rope.

For those of you wanting to try the BDSM test then here is the link: https://bdsmtest.org/

*Illustration by Phoebe Langham*

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