Falling in and out of love – Concept verses Presentation

Posted in Debate by Adele Todd on May 15, 2009


Sarah Lucas’s installation brings back fond memories of Damian Hirst and Tracy Emin

One of the hardest things to reconcile as a student is presenting a concept in a professional way if you have very little experience at it. I remember when I was in college and survey time came around. This provided an opportunity for students and faculty to see the best of the semester. Students were allotted a specific space, and it was up to you to co-ordinate that space.

What this exercise did, was it encouraged you to see your work beyond the concept. It helped you to build character as the artist you were purporting to be, because in presentation, you literally had to stand by your work and have it represent you. One semester a student decided to do a twenty foot image of himself in caricature, hanging from the ceiling in chalk pastels. Another decided to put his entire portfolio on film, and consider that his work in presentation. Did these things work? Yes and no.

This is not only true in school, this is also true in the real world with showing work to the public. Today, Art is tested as anything and everything. The artist Cai Guo-Qiang works with fire, smoke and explosives. Sarah Sze works with chaos theory and Sarah Lucas works with cigarette butts and produce and is one of my favorite British artists at the moment. These works are not package able, nor easy to characterize, yet what these artists have in common, besides very strong concepts, is an ability to craft their thoughts into resonant, dynamic imagery. It is very easy to argue, what about work that does not look neat, clean or even healthy? Take the many works using meat in the last decade. Or taxidermy?

There are many people who deliberately misrepresent Installation Art as something beyond what it is. Installation Artists like the very famous Christo sell representations of their works that are transient. At the end of the day an artist is a professional, wanting to make a living like anyone else, and art is a fickle profession as Andres Serrano of the famous Piss Christ may attest. Today’s Art Star may be tomorrow’s window washer. The flexibility of what is Art shall always swallow and spit out its progeny. It plays no favorites. Art is best understood in the future.


Cai Guo-Qiang produces artworks with fire and explosives – (visually uncontrolled)

With that said, we in the present respond via a series of markers. Some of them are technical ability, concept, skill, intention and presentation. But of late, for some, it is also is it hard to understand? Am I revulsed? Then maybe it is good. No one wants to be caught sleeping at the wheel of the next art trend. Again, when I was in college there was a guy who had great skills, he could technically render anything to look like the real thing. However, he lacked something very crucial, concept. He was reduced to being a good draftsman because of it. When I started teaching, I came across a student who had great concepts, but she could not make them jump off the page to save her life. This reduced her to a position of idea person, needing someone else to bring her vision to light.

It is very true that presentation can make something very droll, exciting and filled with more meaning than the thing ever intended. The same can be said for concept, where more can be read into something than is actually there. These challenges of perception is one of the many things that prove that art is far from easy to do, but more so, that the argument of what is good and what is not, is not so clear cut.

Sarah Sze’s kinetic chaos motifs


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