UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The art and language group : 1966 to 1973 Mitchell, David Brian


The history of Post-Object art can be dated from about 1966. The term Post-Object describes two classes of art activity: Post-Minimal and Conceptual. Post-Minimal art (ie. Earthworks, Bodyworks, Process, and Systems art) derives from the phenomenological interests of some of the major Minimalist figures (ie. Morris, Andre, leWitt, and Smithson). Conceptual art, stringently defined, entails the use of word language to state artistic intentions. By 1969, many of the more progressive Conceptualists in America and England became associated with the "Art & Language group" (hereafter cited as A & L). This group published Art-Language--The Journal of Conceptual Art. An analysis of A & L has had to deal with various historiographical problems. These include: the lack of historical perspective; the failure of contemporary art writers to produce a sensible critical-historical framework; the unintelligibility of A & L writings. This study refers to the art-works and articles produced by the members of Art-Language's editorial board (ie. Atkinson, Bainbridge, Baldwin, Hurrell, Kosuth, Burn and Ramsden, and Harrison. The discourse that was carried on by these eight individuals is analyzed with reference to a four phase developmental model: "early" (c.1966-8); "insular" (c.1969-70); "transitional" (c.l970-1); and "pluralistic" (c.1972-3). A & L contended that the condition of Post-Object art enabled art theory and art criticism, as well as art-object production, to be viewed as art-making. In order to understand this notion, one must be first acquainted with the relationship between Post-Object art and Modernist art. In the course of its historical development, Modernist art shifted the creative (ie. active, central) sector of art-making from the role of object maker to the role of critic. The Modernist conception of art is a highly self-referential one. Post-Object art, in particular A & L, developed this insular conception of art to its ultimate conclusion. In this sense, A & L's "early" work with theoretical art-objects and theoretical frameworks is discussed in the context of both traditional art-making, and Post-Object art-making. Then, A & L's position vis-a-vis Post- Object art is clarified with reference to the criticisms that the group levelled at this wider community. These criticisms are interpreted historically as polemical writings which served to establish A & L's priority within the Post-Object domain, and prepare the ground for the subsequent production of a general Post-Object theory of art. The group was familiar with the methodology of Analytical philosophy and sought to employ this knowledge to construct a rational "art-language". This notion was developed in the "insular" phase according to a positivistic viewpoint that was originally suggested by Kosuth. In the course of this programme though, difficulties were incurred and the group was forced to gradually relativize Its viewpoint. During 1970 and 1971 (ie."transitional" phase), A & L's inquiry shifted from Its self-referential position towards an analysis of the dominant force. in contemporary art--Modernism. The group felt that Modernism could be effectively described with reference to Richard Wollheim's 'Physicalist" theory. They further suggested that Modernism could be interpreted as a reductive extensional logic based on Wollheim's Physicalist principle. Wollheim suggests that a Physicalist theory coordinates the entire development of Modern art history. In response to this contention, A & L used. T.S. Kuhn's theory of Paradigms(developed for the History and Philosophy of Science) to characterize Modernism as the established sector of a wider "Material-Character/ Physical-Object Paradigm of art. In 1972 and 1973 (ie. "pluralistic" phase), A & L became conscious of contemporary developments in Linguistic philosophy, and accordingly accepted "contextual analysis", or "pluralism", as "their viewpoint". This analytical stance enabled them to investigate the Material-Character/Physical-Object Paradigm in the context of contemporary culture. This investigation revealed the ideological background of this paradigm, and outlined some of the reasons why this phenomenon had become entrenched in the contemporary art community.

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