Lowenna Waters

Conceptual art is, in my view, the cult of the Emperor’s new clothes

Conceptual art is, in my view, the cult of the Emperor’s new clothes. I attended Camberwell College of Art and Design last year and completed an art foundation course. I paint and have always enjoyed the creative freedom and expression of this medium. I did not, however, stay to do a Fine Art degree for one reason: contemporary art schools have lost their way.

They are preaching the doctrine of conceptual art, a movement pioneered by Duchamp in 1917, which eradicates skill from art, creativity from art and most importantly beauty from art. It revels in the absurdity of modern life and celebrates all that is depraved, chaotic and meaningless.

I found this environment paralyzing. I could not bring myself to create ugly, meaningless works.

Beauty has an intrinsic worth. True artwork is created when someone has a concept personal to them and then utilises it to transcend its base form as a linguistic “idea” in order to illuminate us to an ideal, to redeem the slice of the human condition it confronts us with, therefore meriting the term “art”.

Essentially, with a lot of conceptual art pieces, there is no need for the actual piece, it can be thrown away and we will still be left with the same idea it has attempted to express.

These pieces require a large chunk of writing next to them qualifying their existence. They have no intrinsic worth.

I have noticed a movement in the media recently reflecting this doctrine of thought. There have been documentaries, articles and radio programmes all discussing the topic of Beauty and the lack of Beauty in modern art. It seems that modern art despises beauty.

It mocks it and revels instead in ugliness and vulgarity in order to shock the audience into giving it some attention. For example the works of Sarah Lucas, Tracey Emin, Gilbert and George, Damien Hirst and the Chapmen brothers; they all revel in the sordid nature of life without any attempt at enlightening the viewer or transcending the base reality.

However, a turning point in the huge billion dollar edifice that is the contemporary art market appears to have been reached. People simply refuse to put up with it anymore.

The lack of skill required to create a lot of the pieces that are highly inflated in value and that flood the art market coupled with the worst recession since 1929 have had a knock on effect.

This is exemplified in Hirst’s new collection of Blue paintings shown at the Wallace Collection. He has disregarded his factory of minions churning out mass produced pieces and tried his own hand at painting. His pieces have been slated by the critics, deeming them to be worse than the attempts of a “first year” art student.

It will be interesting to see the knock on effect this has on the next decade of art, and of that of the fresh faced graduates who must try to respond and adapt.

Hopefully they will tackle this challenge and do so with an awareness of beauty and sense the opportunity that has arisen for a revolution in contemporary art.


  1. I read this column with disdain before I even knew that its author was the new ‘arts’ editor.

    Obviously, your short stint at art college did nothing to inform or educate you about the depth and variety of contemporary art. This column insinuates that all artwork should be ‘beautiful’; a bit Matthew Collins, no?

    The location of the article beneath an interview with Grayson Perry seems bizarre to say the least.

    To tar all contemporary art with the same brush either shows an ignorance or an arrogance. I suggest that you are the Emperor wearing the new clothes, and they fit badly.

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  2. Modern, Contemprary these genres find beauty much in the same way artists have found beauty and artisitc merit in the past.

    Simply slating the ‘new’ into one basterdized category won’t help you as a History of Art student or as a critic trying to fill the pages of Nouse.

    Once upon a time Carravagio and De Vinci were new. They found shocking subjects and ways of depicting beauty, much like today.

    Did you manage to watch Waldemar Januszczaks documentary…

    “beauty today can be electronic or scientific; subtle and elusive. It can be found in the LCD sculptures of Tatsuo Miyajima or the subtle light installations of James Turrell. Carl Andre discovers a stern modern beauty in squares of industrial materials dropped around a goods yard. The cancer paintings of Damien Hirst find a terrible modern beauty in the deformed human anatomy…The world today needs beauty more than it has ever needed it – and modern art is one of its few suppliers.”

    Richard Wright the Turner Arts prize winner seems to have an incredible skill as well as the principles of Duchamp.



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