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Viewing the Value of Contemporary Artistic Work from the Angle of Conceptual Art

Zhao Kuiying
p. 49-62


Conceptual art plays a crucial and continuous role in the generation and development of contemporary art, and thus is also the reference point of contemporary art. Conceptual art is an art centered on ideas, and it is dominated by the use of language. These two characteristics have induced three important tendencies of de-materialization, anti-formalism, and anti-visual aesthetics in contemporary art. It is these three tendencies that have led to a new understanding and evaluation of the value of work or labor in contemporary art. Put briefly, contemporary artists pay more attention to the concept value, process value, and Complex Polysensoriality value of art work, rather than the physical object value, commodity value, and visual aesthetic value in the past. These changes are not only caused by art itself, but also have root and basis in techonology, philosophy, society, and the existing condition of human beings, which raises further questions.

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Testo integrale

1. What is “conceptual art”?

  • 1 Art & Language 2006: 113-135.
  • 2 Kosuth 1999: 164.

1Conceptual art is an art movement that emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and has played a crucial role in the contemporary art world. As the “Art & Language” Group commented in a reflection of conceptual art,“in its widest popular usage the term conceptual art serves well beyond the historical confines of the movement in question to designate a continuing current of art that is generic, […] indeed, in the world of artists, conceptual art has been waved as a banner.”1 Joseph Kosuth, one of the most important representatives of conceptual artists, also once said that “all art (after Duchamp) is conceptual (in nature) because art only exists conceptually”.2 From this we can see the status and influence of conceptual art in contemporary art. Contemporary art not only shares the common origin with conceptual art, but also takes conceptual art as its main representative or spiritual banner. This is the reason why we investigate the value of contemporary artistic work through conceptual art. Then what is conceptual art? Or, what are conceptual art’s prominent features that can be identified?

  • 3 Alberro 1999: xvii.
  • 4 Flynt (1996), 2nd ed. 2012: 974.
  • 5 Alberro 1999: xxvii.

2One prominent feature of conceptual art is its extensive use of language. Eve Kalyva, a conceptual art researcher contended that conceptual art, “as a point of reference for contemporary art practices, is generally identified by its use of language. For many, it has even redefined writing as an artistic practice”.3 Henry Flynt, the first American musician to use the term “concept art” (1961), once remarked that “concept art is a kind of art of which the material is language”.4 The characteristic of conceptual art represented by Kosuth is also called “linguistic conceptualism”.5 This shows the critical significance of language use for conceptual art. Conceptual artists use language in a variety of ways. Languages not only appear in a large number of conceptual art works, but also in many conceptual art exhibitions without any artworks and purely using language. In 1963, Edward Keinholz created The Art Show, which is a mere textual description of two imaginary art exhibitions in New York and Los Angeles.

  • 6 Kosuth 1985: 221.
  • 7 Kosuth 1999: 466. Note 2.
  • 8 LeWitt 1999:107.

3The other prominent feature of conceptual art, which is also the most essential feature of conceptual art, is highlighting or emphasizing the role of ideas. One of the important reasons why conceptual art makes extensive use of language is that language is the most suitable medium for expressing ideas. In Joseph Kosuth’s words: “Art as Idea as Idea”.6 For Kosuth, “the art itself, which is neither the props with which the idea is communicated, nor the signed certificate, is only the idea in and of the work”.7In Sol LeWitt’s view, “once the idea of the piece is established in the artist’s mind and the final form is decided”.8 It’s just that the ideas in LeWitt’ sense is a little different from what we usually think of as ideas. For him, ideas are not just logical, rational, and conceptual artists are mysticists who explore the boundaries that logic could not reach. In any case, idea or concept is the core of conceptual art, as is clearly conveyed in the definitions or “manifestos” of many conceptual artists.

  • 9 Alberro 1999: xxxi. Note 3.

4Thus, we could reiterate the two essential characteristics that conceptual art has: first, conceptual art is centered on ideas; second, conceptual art is dominated by the use of language. And in contemporary art, as suggested by Lucy Lippard, “the notion that the work of art by necessity employs a certain type of materiality, visuality, and aesthetic quality is far from assured”.9 This is to say, these characteristics of conceptual art, its radical pursuit of ideas and extensive use of language, have led to three important changes in contemporary art represented by or deeply influenced by conceptual art, namely, the tendencies of “dematerialization”, “anti-formalism” and “anti-visual aesthetic”. These three significant tendencies have led to a new understanding and evaluation of the value of contemporary artistic work or labor.

2. Conceptual art and three major changes in contemporary art

  • 10 Graham 1999: 93.

5Dan Graham, an American conceptual artist, aid that “the conceptual artist conceives of a pure art without material base, conceived simply by giving birth to new ideas”.10 Lucy R. Lippard and John Chandler also pointed out that:

  • 11 Lippard, Chandler 1999: 46.

During the 1960’s, the anti-intellectual, emotional/intuitive processes of art-making characteristic of the last two decades have begun to give way to an ultra-conceptual art that emphasizes the thinking process almost exclusively.[…] Such a trend appears to be provoking a profound dematerialization of art, especially of art as object, and if it continues to prevail, it may result in the object’s becoming wholly obsolete.11

6This is the first important tendency of conceptual art and also of contemporary art, the “dematerialization” tendency. The concept of dematerialization has been questioned by some people, but this has not prevented it from becoming an important term to describe contemporary conceptual art. Dematerialization does not mean completely removing materiality from art, but it represents an ideological trend that contemporary conceptual art attaches importance to ideas and deemphasizes images, production, and visual aesthetic form. Examples of dematerialization of conceptual art are numerous, and this trend actually started in the 1950s. John Cage’s 4’33’’ (1952), Robert Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning Drawing (1953) and Yves Klein’s exhibition of The Void (1958) are all pioneering works of conceptual art and dematerialization.

7When the material basis of art works is removed, the visual form of art works will be out of the question. Therefore, dematerialization is accompanied by the tendencies of anti-formalism and anti-visualization in contemporary art. Lippard and Chandler points out in The Dematerialization of Art that “ultra-conceptual art” is as anti-formal as the most amorphous or journalistic expressionism. It represents a suspension of realism, even formal realism, color realism, and all the other new realisms”.12 Likewise, Ian Wilson contended that “we must move further into a more precise definition of the non-visual and formless nature of conceptual art”.13 When art is formless, and no longer accentuating visual forms such as lines, colors, shapes, and compositions, there will be “not enough to look at”.14 An art that has “not enough to look at” is bound to be anti-visual and devisualized aesthetic, because the aesthetic represented by Kant’s aesthetics mainly refers to a visual formalism, which is mainly related to people’s sensory perception rather than to their reason and cognition. Without the formal factors such as color, line, shap and composition, and without the material factors such as material media, the traditional formalist aesthetic would lose its material base. Therefore, Kosuth clearly proposed the separation of “aesthetics and art”. In his view, “formalist art” is the “leading proponent of the idea of aesthetics as art”, with art being asserted as analogous to an analytical proposition, and the separation of aesthetics from art is necessary or inevitable.15 Harold Rosenberg directly raised the issue of “de-aestheticization” of art.16 In November 1963, the minimalist artist Robert Morris signed the Statement of Aesthetic Withdrawal for his metal sculpture LITANIES, and thus declared the de-aestheticization of art in the form of performance art.17

8The de-aestheticization of contemporary conceptual art is a rather complicated situation, some of which are reflected in artistic theories and concepts, and some in the media materials or structural forms of artistic works. Some of them still seem to have aesthetic characteristics, but this aesthetic feature mainly exists not in the works that can be placed in the museum as physical objects, but in the on-going vents, fields or situations that cannot be collected by museums and cannot be bought or sold. For example, some land art works built by land artists in deserts or distant seashore are still aesthetic. This shows that the tendency of contemporary art towards de-aesthetization, as well as the tendency of dematerialization, anti-formalism and anti-visualization, actually share a common sociological basis, that is, to oppose the commodification of art, and this issue has actually been linked with the change of contemporary artistic work and how to evaluate the value of contemporary artistic work.

9It is obvious that the nature and condition of contemporary artists’ work has changed greatly when conceptual artists and theorists claim that art is concept, that it is dominated by the use of language, and that artists no longer have to struggle with materials to create great works of art. When the conceptual artist advocates the dematerialization of art and makes the object of the artwork obsolete, it is also deemphasizing the material base of the commodity value of the artwork. At the same time, when conceptual artists advocate the dematerialization of art and then propose the ideas of anti-formalism and anti-visual deaestheticization, they are transforming the basis of the aesthetic value of art works. If art has neither the base of commodity value (material and object) nor the basis of aesthetic value (form and vision), what is the value of contemporary artists’ work? Or how should we assess the value of contemporary artists’ work? According to our investigation, there have also been three significant changes in the evaluation of contemporary artistic work. That is, contemporary artists are more concerned with the ideational value, process value, and complex polysensoriality value of artistic work, rather than its original commodity value, object value, and pure visual aesthetic value.

3. Conceptual art and ideational value of contemporary artistic work

10The dematerialization tendency of conceptual art has shown that contemporary conceptual artists are not committed to creating materialistic and formal aesthetic visual art works, but regard the creation of new ideas as the primary task. Therefore, what contemporary conceptual artistic work first provides is not the physical object value of the artwork available for museum collection, not the material commodity value that can be traded, or the aesthetic value that can be used for people’s aesthetic entertainment or enjoyment, but the idea or concept value that stimulates people’s thinking and discussion. In other words, the first value of conceptual artwork is to invent ideas, and to provide thoughts about the concept of art itself, or about the social, political and cultural issues related to art. But whether it’s about the concept of art itself, or about other issues, it tends to provide an institutional critique of previous ideas or existing issues. Therefore, the ideational value of conceptual artistic work is also the value of conceptual revolution and criticism.

11The revolutionary value of conceptual art is first manifested in questioning the concept of art itself. Duchamp, the founder of contemporary art, once remarked that “in France there is an old saying ‘stupid like a painter.’ The painter was considered stupid, but the poet and writer very intelligent. I wanted to be intelligent. I had to have the idea of inventing”.18 Robert Lebel believes that “what he lacked was faith in art itself, and he sought to replace aesthetic values in his new world with an aggressive intellectualism opposed to the so-called common-sense world”19. According to Kosuth,

  • 20 Kosuth 1999: 164-165.

And what holds true for Duchamp’s work applies as well to most of the art after him. In other words, the value of Cubism is its idea in the realm of art, not the physical or visual”. Kosuth also pointed out that, “the value of particular artists after Duchamp can be weighed according to how much they questioned the nature of art. […] But the very stuff of art is indeed greatly related to ‘creating’ new propositions.20

  • 21 Lippard, Chandler 1999: 49.
  • 22 Kosuth 1999: 466. Note 3.

12This ideational revolution value of conceptual art makes it not “art as art” but “art as criticism”, or even “art about art”,21 thus becoming an “art criticism” or “art theory”. The ideational value of conceptual artwork and its critical tendency, including the questioning of the concept of art itself, are directly related to its use of language. The reason why conceptual art makes extensive use of language, and even regards art as an analytical proposition, or the questioning of the concept of art itself as the nature of art, is also related to the influence of analytical philosophy, especially that of Wittgenstein. As we know, the main work of early analytic philosophy was to clarify philosophical questions through critical logical analysis of linguistic propositions. But for some conceptual artists, not only early analytic philosophy, but also Wittgenstein’s later philosophy of language is a great source of inspiration. Kosuth claimed that an important aspect of his work “was the attempt to actualize a Wittgensteinian insights”22.

13Through the use of language, conceptual art not only rethinks some basic questions about the concept of art itself, such as words and images, words and things, etc., but also critically reflects on the society, politics, and culture, in which art is generated and exists. It even reflects on the nature of language through the use of language in art so as to achieve a thorough reflection on the culture itself. The reason why conceptual art can achieve this is intrinsically determined by the social, political, and cultural nature and function of language. Language is not only the most important cultural phenomenon, but also the most basic cultural medium. All kinds of social, political, and cultural concepts exist in language, which needs to be conveyed and is shaped inevitably by language. The so-called social reality is not prior to or outside of language but constructed by language. Thus, the extensive use of language media by conceptual art gives art a broader and clearer social semantic space, and also enables it to have a more direct critical function on social, political and cultural phenomenon. For example, American conceptual artist Barbara Kruger’s work, Untitled (Your body is a Battleground, 1989), uses catchy phrases laid over images to challenge ideas of power, identity, and sexuality.23 Chinese contemporary artist Xu Bing’s Book of Heaven (1987-1991) contains reflection on the traditional Chinese language and culture.

14No matter from the perspective of art research or art practice, the value of contemporary artists’ work has changed significantly. The primary value of conceptual art is the revolution and criticism of ideas and thoughts. It either questions the concept of art itself, or reflects on the social, political, and cultural reality on which art depends. As a result, although contemporary artistic work is not committed to creating the basis of physical object that generates commodity value and aesthetic value, it is still of great significance to the development of art and society.

4. Conceptual art and process value of contemporary artistic work

  • 24 Grant 2017: 1.

15Along with the dematerialization, anti-formalism, and anti-visual aesthetics of conceptual art, another change brought by contemporary art in terms of valuation of artwork is the emphasis on the value of process, which has become the “Manifesto” of many contemporary artists. Artistic process is also becoming a core concept that researchers use to describe works of contemporary art, and in today’s discussion of the artistic process, it is regarded as a value related to artistic labor or work. As Kim Grant put it in All about Process, “the elevation of artistic process over product has become a, perhaps, central cliché of artists’ statements in recent decades. Like most clichés it has a basis in truth”; this fact “reflects widely shared assumptions about the meaning and purpose of art and the work of the artist. The embrace of artistic process is a value claim”.24

  • 25 Grant 2017: 8.
  • 26 Grant 2017: 2, 173.

16According to Kim Grant’s investigation, artists’ emphasis on process began in the 1950s and since then, more and more artists have claimed that it is “the process, not the product, that defines them as artists, and thus their work cannot be evaluated solely in terms of its products”.25 The purpose of contemporary artists’ emphasis on process is, above all, that it is a declaration that they are dedicated and attentive to their creative labors. However, with the gradual upgrading of the emphasis on process, contemporary artists begin to consider how their creative work process can attract people more broadly, which requires more audience to participate in the production and personal experience of art, so that art has more possibilities to face the public and intervene in the process of society.26 The emphasis on artistic process thus has obtained social value.

  • 27 Grant 2017: 241-242.

17But the significance of emphasis on process is more than that, for today’s emphasis on process is not just confined to art or other social and political discourse, but is pervasive in the contemporary world, and constitutes much of the current thinking that runs through the sciences and the humanities.27 This change is not only related to the global interconnection caused by the revolution of new technology and new media, but also related to the revolution of philosophy and way of thinking. The emphasis on the physical object of artwork is correspondent to the substantive dualistic thinking that separates the subject from the object, while the emphasis on the artistic process is consistent with the generative holistic thinking of breaking the separation of subject and object. While the theory of substance and object thinking are the philosophical root of the separation of subject and object, generative holistic thinking of process are helpful to the establishment of harmonious symbiosis between man and nature, man and the world.

  • 28 Grant 2017: 206, 5.
  • 29 Kosuth 1999: 165.

18Emphasis on the artistic process as a frontier tendency of contemporary art is directly related to conceptual art. Although the relationship between conceptual art and process art is more complex, conceptual art mainly provides a positive support for emphasizing the value of artistic process, rather than “offering more interpretive distractions from artistic process” as Kim Grant put it.28 Even Kosuth, who thinks of “Art as Idea as Idea”, played a certain role in highlighting the artistic process. As we know, the emphasis on the process value of an artistic work is accompanied by the decline of the physical attributes and status of artwork as the object of aesthetic value, as well as the challenge to the artwork as the material base of commodity value. This phenomenon is consistent with the dematerialization, anti-formalism, and anti-visual aesthetic tendencies of conceptual art that we have talked about earlier. Kosuth once said, “as far as art is concerned Van Gogh’s paintings aren’t worth any more than his palette is. They are both ‘collector’s items’”. He also contended that “art ‘lives’ through influencing other art, not by existing as the physical residue of an artist’s ideas”.29 This shows that Kosuth does not attach importance to collectable works of art with visual aesthetic quality and physical attributes, but to creative ideas and thinking processes.

  • 30 Rosenberg 1999: 221.
  • 31 LeWitt 1999: 13-14.

19Harold Rosenberg spoke more directly about the significance of the de-aestheticization of conceptual art to the artistic process. He said, “aesthetic withdrawal also paves the way for ‘process’ art”; “despite the stress on the actuality of the materials used, the principle common to all classes of de-aestheticized art is that the finished product, if any, is of less significance than the procedures that brought the work into being and of which it is the trace”.30 As for the relation between conceptual art and process, Sol LeWitt was more explicit in his paragraphs on conceptual art (1967). Sol LeWitt said, “what the work of art looks like isn’t too important […] it is the process of conception and realization with which the artist is concerned.” if the artist carries through his idea and turns it into a visible form, then all the steps in the process are important.31 The conceptual documentary exhibition, which is dedicated to visualizing each step of the artist’s creation process, is consistent with the emphasis on the thinking process. It can be seen from this that both the theory and the practice of conceptual art directly or indirectly emphasize the importance of artistic process. It is because of the emphasis on artistic process that researchers have turned from the analysis of artworks to the discussion of artistic work or labor, and the value of process has become an important standard to measure contemporary artistic work.

20However, we also need to note that the relationship between artistic process and conceptual art is complex and interactive, and the emphasis on artistic process is not free of problems. The problems caused by conceptual art’s emphasis on artistic process are actually the problems of conceptual art itself. From the perspective of early discussions, most conceptual arts emphasized the creative process of art conception rather than the production process of materialized art. However, both belong to the “artistic work”, except that the former focuses on the mental work and the latter on the physical work. Viewing from the wholeness of human existence, the ideal work should be a combination of physical and mental labor, rather than turning some people into brains but others into “machines” or “brainless bodies”. In this sense, the tendency of value appraisal of contemporary artistic work should further break the boundaries of artistic creation and artistic production, emphasizing that all artistic processes are valuable as part of artistic work. If so, contemporary artist’s emphasis on process will have a more positive impact on breaking the division of labor and shaping the integrity of humanity. And this is related to the following issues we discuss.

5. Conceptual art and the “Complex Polysensoriality” value of contemporary artistic work

  • 32 Robertson, McDaniel 2012: 191-255.
  • 33 Grant 2017: 195.

21As we have seen before, conceptual art has the tendencies of dematerialization, anti-formalism, and anti-visual aesthetics. But conceptual art, which advocates dematerialization, anti-formalism, and anti-visual aesthetics, is not completely without vision or any perceptual aesthetic characteristics, but has a kind of “complex polysensoriality”, which makes the value appraisal of contemporary artistic work change from the pursuit of pure visual aesthetic value to the pursuit of “complex polysensoriality value”. The reason why contemporary art can create this kind of complex polysensoriality value is directly related to its use of language. As mentioned above, this is an important feature of contemporary art represented by conceptual art. The Themes of Contemporary Art by Robertson and McDaniel specifically discusses the issues of language in contemporary art.32 The use of language in contemporary art is quite different from that in literature. Contemporary art uses language on the basis or within the framework of visual art. In other words, contemporary art inserts language media into visual or other media, or juxtaposes language with other media, so as to form a kind of intermediality in the mutual reference, comparison, and interaction between language media and other different media. It is the very intermediality of contemporary art that creates a “complex polysensoriality”. In Morris’ view, “the artist’s importance lies in discovering and helping people to adapt to perceptual changes”.33

22We know that there is a certain correspondence between artistic media and artistic perception. Generally speaking, a single medium leads to a single type of art, and art perception, and the intermedial use of multiple media leads to the intermedial art types, resulting in a comprehensive mode of art existence and art perception. The “complex polysensoriality” we are talking about here is precisely created by the intermedility of contemporary art. Contemporary art using language media has not only created a “multi-sensory perception” that combines visual, auditory, tactile and other sensory perceptions, but also created a more three-dimensional and complex collaborative “perception–cognition” movement that combines various sensory perceptions with intellectual cognition. A closer word to this situation is “polysensoriality”, which comes from Jacques Fontanille’s semiotics of passion, then Westphal Bertrand regards it as an important method of geographical criticism, and we use it to describe the new perceptual characteristics of intermedial conceptual art. However, since the word “Polysensoriality” itself does not literally highlight the combination of multiple senses and “intelligence”, we thus need to expand its meaning through explanation and add the word “Complex” to it to form the term “Complex Polysensoriality” that includes intellectuality.

  • 34 Wilson 1999: 415.

23The reason why the use of language in the framework of visual art can create complex polysensoriality containing intellectuality lies mainly in the fact that language is a highly intelligent medium, and the use of language greatly improves the abstraction of conceptual art. In the words of Ian Wilson, “the development of art is the development of abstraction, and the development of abstraction is the movement into a formless language”. He also contended that “language is the most formless means of expression. […] Its capacity to describe concepts without physical or visual references carries us into an advanced state of abstraction”.34 Therefore, it is the use of language that makes conceptual art more conceptual in form as well as content, and also makes contemporary art acquire a kind of Complex Polysensoriality. Such Complex Polysensoriality does not mean to blindly reject form, visuality, and aesthetics, but to generate a kind of complex meaning relations and intellectual quality, which tansforms modern art that pursues pure visual aesthetic into contemporary art that pursues Complex Polysensoriality with intellectuality.This new aesthetic feature of contemporary art also promotes a new evaluation criterion for contemporary artistic work, namely, the evaluation criterion of Complex Polysensoriality that contains intellectuality.

  • 35 Burn 1999: 110.
  • 36 Burn 1999: 110.
  • 37 Bakhtin (1929), tr. 1984: 6.

24The complexity of the Polysensoriality of contemporary art is also reflected in the fact that the use of language makes perception no longer a direct unified act. Through language, it becomes “fragmented and dispersed”.35 This is mainly because language is not only an inseparable part of conceptual art activities, but is also separated from other parts of conceptual art works. Those languages, words or sounds are not completely integrated or “melted” into the works, and there is “spacing” between various media elements of the work. Among all kinds of media, language is obviously the most prominent, because its meaning is more explicit than other media. Compared with other media, language “speaks” directly, while other media can only express “silently”. In this way, the language medium is detached from the whole and decomposes the whole visual device, so much so that “the product ceases to have a focal center: perceiving becomes scanning rather than focusing”.36 This is exactly what we want to express by “poly”, the “prefix” of “Polysensoriality”. It not only points to the comprehensive coexistence and unity between various sensory perceptions and mind, but also points to the deconstruction of sensory hierarchy or centralism, so as to highlight the equality and “polyphony” between various sensory perceptions and cognition. Bakhtin once used the concept of “Polyphony” to describe the characteristics of Dostoyevsky’s novels, which combine various voices and consciousness that remain “independent and unmerged” into a unity. The intermediality of contemporary art represented by conceptual art is also showing similar “Polyphony”, a unity that truly contains “plurality”, “differentiation” and “heterogeneity”. Here, the media characteristic of every media is not eliminated, but comes into play together in a relationship of mutual interaction and comparison.37

  • 38 Lippard, Chandler 1999: 49.

25This kind of aesthetic perception without focus or center, which is jointly participated and cooperated by multiple senses and intellegence, is the very Complex Polysensoriality created by the polyphonic intermedial conceptual art. Therefore, contemporary art is not completely anti-visual, anti-form, or anti-aesthetic, but only against the single or pure visual aesthetic. As Lippard and Chandler put it, “as visual art, a highly conceptual work still stands or falls by what it looks like”, different from the past, it rejected modern art’s emphasis on “singleness and autonomy”. As the two scholars continue to point out, “they have set critic and viewer thinking about what they see rather than simply weighing the formal or emotive impact. Intellectual and aesthetic pleasure can merge in this experience when the work is both visually strong and theoretically complex”.38 The contemporary conceptual art just has such effect and value of Complex Polysensoriality that combines aesthetics with cognition. The transformation from pure “visual” aesthetic value to Complex Polysensoriality experience value is one of the most revolutionary changes in the evaluation of contemporary artistic work. Not only is this change related to the development of new media technology, but it is also based on the philosophy and culture of postmodernism and deeply rooted in ontological existence. It relates to the contemporary artist’s efforts to reconstruct the unity and integration of the existence of art, humanity, and the world through intermedial artistic practice. However, the unity reconstructed by intermedial conceptual art is not a monolithic homogeneous one, but a pluralistic unified whole that contains “differentiation” and “heterogeneity”, and thus has a positive ontological significance.


  • 39 Hardt 2005: 175-177.

26To sum up, from the perspective of conceptual art, we can clearly see a change of contemporary artistic value, from the emphasis on physical object, material commodity, and visual aesthetic to the stress on idea, process, and Complex Polysensoriality. These changes in the value of contemporary artistic work are not only related to art development, but also connected to the development of science and technology, the change of social reality, the rise of postmodernist philosophy and culture, and the existing condition of human beings. With the development of science and technology, the trend of “immaterial labor” emerges in the labor of the contemporary society as a whole,39 and provides technical conditions and social basis for the change of contemporary artistic work. The fragmentation of human existence caused by the division of labor, occupation and modern art types call for wholeness and unity, while postmodern philosophy, which deconstructs both duality and totality, also highlights the value of difference and heterogeneity. All these, together with the development of contemporary art itself, constitute the context and motivation of change in contemporary values on art. In the face of the various changes in the value of contemporary artistic work, we need to make an objective and future-oriented analysis and evaluation. As pointed out by some scholars, art can not be completely dematerialized, nor can it be totally isolated from form and aesthetic. It is just that today’s material, form, and aesthetics are different from the previous and they contain new possibilities and more complex meanings. These changes are of great significance both to art and to human beings, but they also cause some new problems that call for further consideration.

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Bakhtin, M. 1929, “Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics”; edited and trans. by C. Emerson, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1984.

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1 Art & Language 2006: 113-135.

2 Kosuth 1999: 164.

3 Alberro 1999: xvii.

4 Flynt (1996), 2nd ed. 2012: 974.

5 Alberro 1999: xxvii.

6 Kosuth 1985: 221.

7 Kosuth 1999: 466. Note 2.

8 LeWitt 1999:107.

9 Alberro 1999: xxxi. Note 3.

10 Graham 1999: 93.

11 Lippard, Chandler 1999: 46.

12 Lippard, Chandler 1999: 49.

13 Wilson 1999: 415.

14 Lippard, Chandler 1999: 46.

15 Kosuth 1999:161-162.

16 Rosenberg 1999: 221.


18 Duchamp 1999: 170-171.

19 Lebel 2021:

20 Kosuth 1999: 164-165.

21 Lippard, Chandler 1999: 49.

22 Kosuth 1999: 466. Note 3.

23 Stewart 2017:

24 Grant 2017: 1.

25 Grant 2017: 8.

26 Grant 2017: 2, 173.

27 Grant 2017: 241-242.

28 Grant 2017: 206, 5.

29 Kosuth 1999: 165.

30 Rosenberg 1999: 221.

31 LeWitt 1999: 13-14.

32 Robertson, McDaniel 2012: 191-255.

33 Grant 2017: 195.

34 Wilson 1999: 415.

35 Burn 1999: 110.

36 Burn 1999: 110.

37 Bakhtin (1929), tr. 1984: 6.

38 Lippard, Chandler 1999: 49.

39 Hardt 2005: 175-177.

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Zhao Kuiying, «Viewing the Value of Contemporary Artistic Work from the Angle of Conceptual Art»Rivista di estetica, 79 | 2022, 49-62.

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Zhao Kuiying, «Viewing the Value of Contemporary Artistic Work from the Angle of Conceptual Art»Rivista di estetica [Online], 79 | 2022, online dal 01 février 2024, consultato il 24 juin 2024. URL:; DOI:

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