Sol LeWitt was an American conceptual artist, an expert in his domain who held numerous exhibitions in museums and galleries, and wrote the “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art.” In those “Paragraphs” he wrote that “the idea becomes the machine that makes the art.” LeWitt saw this principle as a basis of art-creation and explained his position through several points.
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To begin with, LeWitt believed that in conceptual art the idea is the major component of artwork, and all the rest is secondary. The hackneyed subject or the total absence of the concept cannot be rescued by the performance and outstanding execution. What truly matters, from the viewpoint of LeWitt, is the point an artist wants to convey to the public. It matters much more than the form – the physical shape is only the way to transfer the message and to contribute to the apprehension of what the artist actually means. Naturally, everyone perceives art from one’s own perspective, but if there is no real concept behind, the value of work equals to zero.
Sol LeWitt stated that the successful piece of art does not depend on the crafting skills of an artist. Conveying a message is possible through simple means and forms. At this point, he differentiates conceptual and perceptional art by function. The latter one is created for the eye and calls for our visual senses. On the contrary, conceptual art requires the engagement of the mind and certain mental efforts. Hence, the structure and complexity of shape are not the goals. In fact, an artist risks to lose the initial objective of his work by making it complex and catching, it “disrupts the unity of the whole.”
As for the creation of an idea, LeWitt wrote that “ideas are discovered by intuition.” They are carried through the whole process of creation, and managing to enclose it in visual form, in the end, is of great importance for an artist. The steps that the artist takes to make an artwork are sometimes even more interesting than the final result because they represent the train of thought of an artist, and according to LeWitt, this is exactly what matters most in art. The development of an idea, its steady growth which ends up in shape represents the power of a human mind. Although it was not said directly in “Paragraphs,” this motive seems to be standing behind the position of LeWitt.
LeWitt also stressed that an artist should not confuse new materials with new concepts. Some new way to make a performance occurs constantly. Thus he reminded us that the physical shape is only an “expressive device” which leads to the engagement of mind through eyes. However, LeWitt warned us to be cautious with the size of the work. If it is dominating visually over the viewer, there is a risk that the size will only stress the physical power of the form, and the philosophy of work will remain unnoticed.
Finally, LeWitt asserted that the will of an artist is secondary to the process he initiates, from the moment when an idea occurs to the stage of finishing the product. Personal caprice leads to subjectivity and expresses only the author’s ego. Working with a preset plan is a means of avoiding subjectivity, as “the plan would design the work.” Altogether these principles illustrate LeWitt’s method of creating conceptual art. The ideas drive an artist, and all the rest is an addition that makes the performance.