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Wittgenstein in Conceptual Art: Illuminating the work of Sol LeWitt and Mel Bochner in the 1960s-70s

  • The Journal of Aesthetics and Science of Art
  • Abbr : JASA
  • 2017, 50(), pp.197-238
  • DOI : 10.17527/JASA.50.0.07
  • Publisher : 한국미학예술학회
  • Research Area : Arts and Kinesiology > Other Arts and Kinesiology
  • Published : February 28, 2017

Jung Eun Young 1

1한국교원대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

This paper aims to explore the ramifications of Ludwig Wittgenstein's analytic philosophy in conceptual art of New York in the 1960s-70s, particularly in the work of Sol LeWitt and Mel Bochner. The genesis of analytic philosophy in the early twentieth century in Europe has been characterized as ‘the linguistic turn’ in the history of philosophy; the emergence of conceptual art in the late 1960s in America may well have been understood as ‘the philosophical turn’ to philosophize art under the influence of analytic philosophy. Conceptual art, in its attempt to ‘do philosophy,’ sought to find its philosophical foundations in analytic philosophy, particularly Wittgenstein's vision and methods. Wittgenstein's writings, including Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus(1922), which is representative of his early logical positivism, Philosophical Investigations(1953), the key book containing the philosophy of ordinary-language of his later period, and On Certainty(1969), the book Wittgenstein wrote during the last couple of years in his life, left many implicit and explicit marks on LeWitt's and Bochner's conceptual art. Starting their artistic career as Minimal artist or critic, LeWitt and Bochner embraced Wittgenstein's philosophy of language in attempting to overcome the literalist stance of Minimalists on art objects and the phenomenological world. They paid keen intellectual attention to the philosopher's emphasis on the limits of logical language, the mystical connotation (“There are, indeed, things that cannot be said. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical.”), and the language game as the indubitable ground of our life. Revealing the rich ramifications of Wittgenstein's thoughts on language and the world in LeWitt's theoretical writings and his series of Wall Drawings and Bochner's Wittgenstein Illustrations(1971) prompted by the philosopher's On Certainty, this paper illuminates that LeWitt and Bochner attempted to manifest in their work the irrationality of logic and rationalism and the gap between conceptual language and material phenomena. Their work shows the wide scope and multiple layers of conceptual art; it was not merely a dematerialized form of linguistic practice, but an art doing philosophy with many different means including contradictions and doubts.

Citation status

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This paper was written with support from the National Research Foundation of Korea.