"The point is this: aesthetics, as we have pointed out, are conceptually irrelevant to art."
Joseph Kosuth is an American conceptual artist. In his works, Kosuth strives to explore the nature of the definition of art, rather than producing "art" in a traditional sense. Many of his works reference Sigmund Freud's psycho-analysis and Ludwig Wittgenstein's philosophy of language. Thinkers such as Wittgenstein concerned themselves with the idea of what makes knowing knowing; an idea Kosuth extended to what makes art art. In 1965 Kosuth began making his first conceptual works (right) consisting of an object, a photograph of said object [where it sits in the exhibition] and a dictionary definition of the words denoting it. These works later evolved into a series of 'investigations' comprising propositions on/about/ relating to 'art' entitled Art as Idea as Idea. Also in '65, Kosuth produced One and Three Chairs (below), following his blueprint for conceptual works. One and Three Chairs asks the viewer the question: If both the photograph and the words describe the chair, then how is their function any different than that of the real chair? In this work, Kosuth brings the fact that there are three different ways to be a chair [a wood chair, a photo of a chair or the definition of a chair] to the viewers attention. The pleasure of this artwork doesn't stem from the aesthetics of the piece – there is nothing artistic or precious in either the construction or the photograph of the chair – but instead the viewer derives pleasure from their own thinking. Slyvia Wolf has said that
In his book, Art After Philosophy, Kosuth has cited Marcel Duchamp as the inventor of conceptual – and therefore modern – art :
"The ambiguity that the work suggests is a provocation and therein lies the art as far as I’m concerned."
|Kosuth's One and Three Chairs on display|
"The event that made conceivable the realization that it was possible to “speak another language” and still make sense in art was Marcel Duchamp’s first unassisted Ready-made. With the unassisted Ready-made, art changed its focus from the form of the language to what was being said... it changed the nature of art... This change – one from “appearance” to “conception” – was the beginning of “modern” art and the beginning of conceptual art. All art (after Duchamp) is conceptual (in nature) because art only exists conceptually."Writer Terry Smith has deemed One and Three Chairs 'Pop-like,' explaining that "its statement about what constitutes a sign is all there, all at once, and obvious, as in your face as Richard Hamilton’s 1956 collage [Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?], but without the fascinated irony that informs the British artist’s perspective." Art critic Boris Groys has commented that One and Three Chairs "reduces spectatorship to supermarketlike art consumption, and artmaking to the provision of competitive goods" due to the fact that it seemingly gives the viewer a choice as to which item seems the most attractive constituent of "chairness." It is unclear if these were a part of Kosuth's original intentions for the artwork or not; but perhaps that does not matter – after all Kosuth once said that "Actual works of art are little more than historical curiosities."