Week 5 at Claremont College

How can intention be more important than content?

There will no doubt always be differences in opinion on this matter. For some the touch of the artists’ hand/brush/pencil/etc. is the pure essence of creativity. But for others it is the artists’ thought/idea/concept/etc. that is more important. Conceptual art does tend to favour the latter, but not always. Many performance artists and their followers would argue that only the artist with the idea can deliver the performance. However, it is interesting to note that in Marina Abromovic’s recent exhibition The Artist Is Present at MoMA, her current performance was accompanied by a horde of artists recreating her performances from decades ago. Performance art is often defined by its not being acting, i.e. people pretending to be characters in a play or film. That is a fair point, but that doesn’t mean that another artist cannot have the same intention when re-performing someone else’s work. The very nature of the performance, such as Abromovic’s would be difficult to reenact without that same intention.

Abromovic reperformance
Point of Contact (1980/2010), in which two performers stand face to face with arms bent, just barely touching the tip of each other’s index fingers. This piece was originally created and performed in 1980 by Abramović and the artist Ulay, her partner from 1975 to 1988. The Museum of Modern Art. Photo by Scott Rudd.

Another way of looking at it is that artists have the ability to think of the ideas but not necessarily the means to create the physical work. Is it really any different to an architect like Frank Gehry designing the Guggenheim Bilbao, and then being expected to build it himself? When traditional art forms such as painting and drawing are left behind, and scale and form are only limited by the artists imagination, then the expectation of the artists’ hand always being present is no longer always plausible. As was noted in an earlier post many of the grand works of old were the result of many hands. Some contemporary art work is on such a scale, and involving so many technicians, that the role of the artist is much like a director of a play or film. But it is not necessary for it be a case of either/or, but rather of both/and, that is that contemporary art can incorporate everything form the traditional to the experimental.

Designed by American architect Frank Gehry, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao building represents a magnificent example of the most groundbreaking 20th-century architecture.

If artists are to be limited to only producing that which they can themselves do, then the world would be a poorer place. The artists ability to observe and reinterpret the world over and over in ever increasing scale and content is wonderful! Technology and materials have changed enormously over the past hundred years or so, and it is often artists that are at the forefront of these new forms. To use Gehry as an example again, when talking about Guggenheim Bilbao, he has observed that his ideas were around long before the technology was that could create them. There is a proliferation of amazing art and architecture all around the world now, that is the result of imagination now having the means to create in reality.




arts@work is the industry development unit of Arts Tasmania. Our brief is to increase the capacity of the arts sector and the viability of a career in the arts.

We do this through strategic initiatives and a range of programs including the Tasmanian Government’s Art Site Scheme, a professional development program, the Corporate Art Scheme and projects that support national and international export.

We also provide studio and exhibition space through our 146 arts programs.

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Julie Rrap

Julie Rrap

Julie Rrap’s involvement with body art and performance in the mid-70s in Australia continued to influence her practice as it expanded into photography, painting, sculpture and video in an on-going project concerned with representations of the body. Between 1986 and 1994 Rrap lived and worked in France and Belgium where she exhibited widely. This opportunity to broaden her horizons grounded her work in a more international context and she exhibited in Belgium, Switzerland, France, Holland, Germany and Italy.

Rrap returned to Australia in 1994. In 1995, she held a survey of her work at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne and in 2007, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney held a major retrospective of Rrap’s work titled Body Double, curated by Victoria Lynn.


Marina Abramovic Meet Ulay

This performance retrospective traces the prolific career of Marina Abramović (Yugoslav, b. 1946) with approximately fifty works spanning over four decades of her early interventions and sound pieces, video works, installations, photographs, solo performances, and collaborative performances made with Ulay (Uwe Laysiepen). In an endeavor to transmit the presence of the artist and make her historical performances accessible to a larger audience, the exhibition includes the first live re-performances of Abramović’s works by other people ever to be undertaken in a museum setting. In addition, a new, original work performed by Abramović will mark the longest duration of time that she has performed a single solo piece.

Week 4 at Claremont College

So what exactly is conceptual art?

Conceptual art is art where the concept or idea involved in the work takes precedence over traditional aesthetic and material concerns. Many of works of conceptual art, sometimes called installations, can be constructed simply by anyone, that is, there may not be any specialized skill required, unlike, for example, traditional figurative oil painting, which may require many years of practice to develop.

Sol LeWitt writing in “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art”, for Artforum magazine in June 1967, says:

‘In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. 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’.

Artists seeking to engage their audience with an idea or an issue, will use the presence of actual objects and materials in real space to draw an emotional response. The art audience has been conditioned over time to view traditional art forms for their aesthetic value, and it has become increasingly difficult to solicit a reaction, positive or negative. Art made from found objects and discarded materials may well evoke a negative response, but a response it is, and this may be all that is required to engage the audience further into the realm of ideas and issues.

tracey emin my bed 1998
Tracey Emin
My Bed
Mattress, linens, pillows, objects

‘A consummate storyteller, Tracey Emin engages the viewer with her candid exploration of universal emotions. Well-known for her confessional art, Tracey Emin reveals intimate details from her life to engage the viewer with her expressions of universal emotions. Her ability to integrate her work and personal life enables Emin to establish an intimacy with the viewer. Tracey shows us her own bed, in all its embarrassing glory. Empty booze bottles, fag butts, stained sheets, worn panties: the bloody aftermath of a nervous breakdown. By presenting her bed as art, Tracey Emin shares her most personal space, revealing she’s as insecure and imperfect as the rest of the world’.


Since the late 1980’s, Hirst has used a varied practise of installation, sculpture, painting and drawing to explore the complex relationship between art, life and death. Explaining: “Art’s about life and it can’t really be about anything else … there isn’t anything else,” Hirst’s work investigates and challenges contemporary belief systems, and dissects the tensions and uncertainties at the heart of human experience.

damien hirst 2
Damien Hirst
The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living
Tiger shark, glass, steel, 5% formaldehyde solution

Hirst developed his interest in exploring the “unacceptable idea” of death as a teenager in Leeds. From the age of sixteen, he made regular visits to the anatomy department of Leeds Medical School in order to make life drawings, ‘With Dead Head’ (1991). The experiences served to establish the difficulties he perceived in reconciling the idea of death in life. Of the prominence of death in his work, ‘A Thousand Years’ (1990), he has explained: “You can frighten people with death or an idea of their own mortality, or it can actually give them vigour.”


Conceptual artists may not spend many years learning techniques to apply oil to canvas, but they may spend as many years developing concepts and building a reputation for works that stimulate and provoke an audience. Artists such as Emin and Hirst can now fetch a tidy sum for exhibiting work they have simply found or have had constructed by others. It may seem anathema to some that the artist has not even produced a work as such, merely having formulated an idea or concept. However it is well to remember the master painters and apprentices of yesteryear, who worked together on now famous and priceless works attributed to only a single person.

Interestingly, the original shark in Hirst’s work was replaced in 2006, as the other one had deteriorated. On the philosophical question, acknowledged by Hirst, as to whether the replacement shark meant that the result could still be considered the same artwork, he observed:

‘It’s a big dilemma. Artists and conservators have different opinions about what’s important: the original artwork or the original intention. I come from a conceptual art background, so I think it should be the intention. It’s the same piece. But the jury will be out for a long time to come.’ You may also be interested to know that both sharks were caught off the coast at Hervey Bay, Queensland.


Elizabeth Gower

Elizabeth Gower

Elizabeth Gower has been exhibiting innovative work, including collages and wall hanging, since 1976. Her interest lies in the human desire to create order from the chaotic. Gower creates stunning abstract compositions from humble materials, with an emphasis upon translucency, fragility and impermanence. Her practice draws much of its content and form from the world of the everyday – commercial images and objects as well as familiar and domestic materials such as newspaper and tissue paper. Exploiting the associations evoked by such banal material, her work has often been connected with a feminist sensibility, however this framing should be countered with a recognition of the strong aesthetic concerns at play.


Lauren Berkowitz

Lauren Berkowitz

Lauren Berkowitz is an installation artist, working mostly on ephemeral and site-specific works that evoke the passage of time and our place within it. Often inspired by the landscape but troubled by its degradation, her works also references the history of contemporary art, in particular American painting and sculpture of the 1960s and 1970s.

Berkowitz’s work is made with an almost obsessive attention to detail after painstaking research and, ultimately, total dedication to the moment of making. Recently she has made use of sands, gravel and salt, as well as plant detritus, to make installations that resonate meaningfully within the landscape, while paying homage to Robert Smithson’s earthworks and Frank Stella’s stripe paintings, among others.