Joseph Kosuth

(b. 1945, Toledo, lives and works in New York and Rome)

“Being an artist now means to question the nature of art. If one is questioning the nature of painting, one cannot be questioning the nature of art… That’s because the word ‘art’ is general and the word ‘painting’ is specific. Painting is a kind of art. If you make paintings you are already accepting (not questioning) the nature of art.” Joseph Kosuth (1969)

Joseph Kosuth is an artist, lecturer and writer. In his 1969 essay “Art After Philosophy,” Kosuth argued that traditional art-historical discourse had reached its end. In its place he proposed a radical investigation of the means through which art acquires its cultural significance and its status as art. The function of art, as a question, was first raised by the artist Marcel Duchamp. The focus had changed from the form of the language to what was being said, from “appearance” to “conception.” Kosuth commented that the “value” of particular artists after Duchamp can be weighed according to how much they questioned the nature of art; and what they added to the conception of art or what was not already evident.

Kosuth’s works are titled Art as Idea as Idea (1966), highlighting an important difference between the artwork/concept and the representation of this concept in the form of an object, a photograph or a definition from the dictionary. This provides a critical reflection on the nature of art as the very idea of art making and the art object within a context in which it assumes its meaning. The Second Investigation (1969-1974) makes use of The Synopsis of Categories from Roget’s Thesaurus (1852). Peter Mark Roget was an English physician and philologist who wrote a detailed catalogue of English words and phrases having similar meaning. This has been one of the most important classification systems in the English speaking world, which Kosuth looked at as a taxonomic description of the world. The use of material sourced from public media gives the artist the opportunity to depart from what he calls formal art, as he wrote; “I had the feeling that I found a way to make art without formal components which could be confused with an expressionistic composition. The expression lay in the idea, not in the form; the forms were merely a means to serve the idea.” (1970) Through this approach, his idea of art became distributed all over the world by way of public media.