Conceptual art or “conceptualism” refers to art that values the “concept” or idea being communicated over the aesthetic of the art. It is also referred to as art-as-idea for obvious reasons.
This type of art emerged in the late 1960s as a reaction to the traditional values associated with art, namely that the form or aesthetics of the artwork were more important than its meaning or “message”.
Conceptual artists challenged this notion by creating artworks that were primarily ideas or concepts, with the understanding that the viewer would “get” the idea and thus the artwork would be successful.
In many ways, conceptual art was a reaction to the Abstract Expressionist movement which emphasized the importance of form and aesthetics over meaning. For conceptual artists, the idea behind the work was more important than anything else.
One of the most famous examples of conceptual art is the performance piece by Yoko Ono called “Cut Piece”. In this work, Ono sat on a stage with a pair of scissors in front of her. Viewers were invited to come up one at a time and cut off a piece of her clothing.
The idea behind the work was to create a sense of vulnerability and to challenge the traditional power dynamics between artist and viewer.
While conceptual art is often associated with the late 1960s and early 1970s, it is still a prevalent force in the art world today. Many contemporary artists are using conceptual strategies in their work, whether they are aware of it or not.