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Artists Joseph Kosuth

Joseph Kosuth

American Conceptual Artist and Theoretician

Movement: Conceptual Art

Born: January 31, 1945 - Toledo, Ohio

Quotes

"I was being dealt with as an eccentric. And that made me very unhappy. I thought I had a new agenda for art. But I realized nobody would listen to me unless I had a movement around. Nobody would get the message."
Joseph Kosuth
"All art (after Duchamp) is conceptual (in nature) because art only exists conceptually."
Joseph Kosuth
"The work process begins when I start selecting quotations from a large collection I already have ... I go through hundreds of these amassed quotes from my own research and that of my staff, make my choices, and then continually add them in relation to the quotes I already have selected."
Joseph Kosuth
"Anything can be art. Art is the relations between relations, not the relations between objects."
Joseph Kosuth
"Making something new to look at is a futile and empty act if its only audience is the eyes."
Joseph Kosuth
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"It is necessary to separate aesthetics from art because aesthetics deals with opinions on perception of the world in general."

Synopsis

Joseph Kosuth was one of the originators of Conceptual art in the mid-1960s, which became a major movement that thrived into the 1970s and remains influential. He pioneered the use of words in place of visual imagery of any kind and explored the relationship between ideas and the images and words used to convey them. His series of One and Three installations (1965), in which he assembled an object, a photograph of that object, and an enlarged photographic copy of the dictionary definition of it, explored these relationships directly. His enlarged photostats of dictionary definitions in his series Art as Idea as Idea (1966-68) eliminated objects and images completely in order to focus on meaning conveyed purely with language. Since the 1970s, he has made numerous site-specific installations that continue to explore how we experience, comprehend, and respond to language.

Key Ideas

Kosuth believed that images and any traces of artistic skill and craft should be eliminated from art so that ideas could be conveyed as directly, immediately, and purely as possible. There should be no obstacles to conveying ideas, and so images should be eliminated since he considered them obstacles. This notion became one of the major forces that made Conceptual art a movement in the late-1960s.
Kosuth has often explored the relationships between words and their meanings and how words relate to the objects and things they name or describe. He has been fascinated with the equivalences between the visual and the linguistic. To this extent, he was influenced by the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein's ideas on language.
Many of Kosuth's installations and displays of words have incorporated excerpts from literature, philosophy, psychology, and history that have that have intrigued him. Consequently, he has used the presentation of language to make his audience contemplate issues of poverty, racism, loneliness, isolation, the meaning of life, and personal identity - usually without any clear, overt commentary of his own. In this, Kosuth embodies how the contemporary artist may become a philosopher and moralist.
Since he usually relies on the writing of others in his presentations of words and texts, Kosuth's work represents how Conceptual art, like much of postmodernism, involves a lot of appropriation, in his case the sources being written and verbal as opposed to visual or art historical. His chosen texts are usually not particularly descriptive nor do they attempt to create images with words.

Most Important Art

One and Three Chairs (1965)
This work is the first and most famous example of Kosuth's series of One and Three installations, in which he assembled an object, a photograph of that object, and an enlarged dictionary definition of the object. It questions what actually constitutes a chair in our thinking: is it the solid object we see and use or is it the word "chair" that we use to identify it and communicate it to others? Furthermore, it confronts us with how we use words to explain and define visible, tangible, ordinary things, how words represent, describe, or signify things, and how this often becomes more complex when the thing is simple, fundamental, or intangible. Thus, it explores how language plays an integral role in conveying meaning and identity. It makes us more aware of why and how words become the verbal and written equivalents for commonplace tangible, solid things and objects.

Kosuth continued this exact formula in subsequent works, employing a shovel, hammer, lamp, and even a photograph itself (including a photograph of the photograph and definition of "photograph"). This is one of the first Conceptual works of art that was intended to eliminate any sense of authorship or individual expression and creativity.
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Biography

Early Life and Study

Joseph Kosuth was born in Toledo, Ohio, in 1945. He studied at the Toledo Museum School of Design starting at the very early age of ten and continued there until 1962, during which time he studied with the Belgian painter Line Bloom Draper. He enrolled at the Cleveland Institute of Art in 1963 and studied drawing and painting there for a year. After traveling abroad for a year, he moved to New York City in 1965 and enrolled at the School of Visual Arts, where he studied painting until 1967. By this time, he was already questioning the usefulness of imagery in conveying meanings and ideas and was exploring the uses of language.

Early Career

Joseph Kosuth Biography

In 1965, at just 20 years old, Kosuth started to create a number of works that would effectively help start the Conceptual art movement and most fully realize his thinking about art as pure idea and meaning. These included his One and Three series of installations and his First Investigations, which were subtitled Art as Idea as Idea. The title for the series was inspired by Ad Reinhardt's comment in 1958 that "art is art as art and everything else is everything else." Kosuth's reductive presentation of words has been compared to Reinhardt's reductive, geometric abstract painting. Kosuth has said that Reinhardt's paintings and theories were important to him, that his paintings were a "totalizing force" that were not "empty" geometry but "full" of meaning and feeling, and that Reinhardt's ideas on the moral and social importance of art also influenced him. The two artists knew one another and corresponded. Reinhardt submitted a copy of Julia R. de Forest's Short History of Art to Kosuth's 1967 exhibition "Fifteen People Submit Their Favorite Book." In 1967, he established the New York City exhibition space he called "The Museum of Normal Art."

By the 1970s, as people were saving his Photostats - quick photographic copies of text - as souvenirs and thus "objectifying" and "fetishizing" them, Kosuth published these artworks as advertisements in magazines to further undermine their object-like value. In the late-1960s, he also started to make installations with words applied to various objects or surfaces, shaped with neon light tubes. These words usually created short, simple statements that were quite straightforward and self-evident.

Kosuth's early Conceptual works were quickly appreciated for their innovation, and they secured him a teaching position at the School of Visual Arts in 1967. In 1969, he published his seminal "Art after Philosophy," a three-part essay published in Studio International, in which he explained how Marcel Duchamp was crucial for altering the direction of modernist art from radical visual developments to radical ideas and meanings expressed with ordinary, non-artistic materials and asserted that visual art could be adapted for investigations of meaning in language. In 1969 he became the American editor for the Conceptual group Art & Language, which was based in Great Britain, and continued with this group until 1976, until differences among its contributors over what was to be published and how some of the artists, including Kosuth, were becoming well-known independently of the group led him to depart. This practice of inquiry and contemplation has led Kosuth to refer to many of his works since the mid-1960s as "investigations," and so he has loosely labeled many works as, for example, his "First," "Third," and "Sixth" Investigations, in addition to their other titles, which are often more widely used and better known.

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Joseph Kosuth Biography Continues

Beginning in 1971 Kosuth enrolled in classes at the New School for Social Research in New York, studying philosophy and anthropology. He found the writings of Ludwig Wittgenstein, particularly his philosophy of language, quite informative and applicable to his own work. This influence can be found in Kosuth's experiments with words, probing the nature of meaning, language cognition, and the relationship between language and art, all of which have been constant concerns in his oeuvre. Wittgenstein's tautological statements on reality and non-reality in words and images, as explicated in his 1921 Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, are particularly relevant to Kosuth's work.

Later Career

Joseph Kosuth Photo

Kosuth has continued to write and edit for numerous alternative publications throughout his career, espousing a stringent philosophy of the separation of art and aesthetics, often citing Duchamp's readymades as the basis for his thinking. In recent years Kosuth has received a number of commissions for large-scale public installations at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, the Louvre in Paris, and the Norman Foster-renovated Bundestag building in Berlin. He was on the faculty of the School of Visual Arts in New York City from 1967 to 1985. Since then he has been a visiting professor at various institutions, including the Staatliche Akademie der Bildende Kunste in Stuttgart, Yale University, Pratt Institute, and Oxford University. Today Kosuth splits his time between New York and Rome.


Legacy

Joseph Kosuth Portrait

Joseph Kosuth became one of the pioneers of Conceptual art at a remarkably young age, creating his most important works and writings while still in his 20s. Kosuth's work is also part of a significant change in art during the 1960s, which helped to establish the now-accepted practice of creating art that does not contain images or traditional media for painting and sculpture, but which relies primarily on presenting words directly, without any other context. This characterizes the work of many socially aware artists such as Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer, the Guerilla Girls, and Glenn Ligon. Kosuth has organized events and installations involving other artists, including his Museum of Normal Art, "Fifteen People Submit Their Favorite Book" (1967), and his 1989 project wherein he got artists to donate works inspired by Freudian theories to the Sigmund Freud Museum in Vienna.

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Joseph Kosuth
Interactive chart with Joseph Kosuth's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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View Influences Chart

Artists

Marcel Duchamp
Joseph Beuys
Yves Klein
Robert Rauschenberg

Friends

Claude Levi-Strauss
Ludwig Wittgenstein
A. J. Ayer
Walter Benjamin

Movements

Existentialism in Modern Art
Dada
Fluxus
Happenings
Neo-Dada
Joseph Kosuth
Joseph Kosuth
Years Worked: 1965 - present

Artists

Barbara Kruger
Damien Hirst
Nam June Paik
Bruce Nauman
Jenny Holzer

Friends

Lawrence Weiner
Robert Barry
Ian Burn

Movements

Conceptual Art
Installation Art
Land Art



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Useful Resources on Joseph Kosuth

Videos
Books
Websites
Articles
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.
biography
Joseph Kosuth

By Fiona Biggiero, Pieranna Cavalchini, Joseph Kosuth, and Anne Hawley

Joseph Kosuth: Re-defining the Context of Art: 1968-2014

By John Welchman, Gabriele Guercio, Joseph Kosuth, and Fiona Biggiero

The Play of the Unmentionable: An Installation by Joseph Kosuth at the Brooklyn Museum

By Joseph Kosuth and David Freedberg

More Interesting Books about Joseph Kosuth
Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Joseph Kosuth

By Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Joseph Kosuth
The Brooklyn Rail
January 16, 2014

Joseph Kosuth Gets Wordy in Enniskillen

By Jenny Cathcart
CultureNorthernIreland
August 15, 2012

Joseph Kosuth

By Arthur Ou
Artforum
September 20, 2011

Beckett on a Heideggerian Horizon: Joseph Kosuth at Sean Kelly

By Robert C. Morgan
Artcritical
May 8, 2011

More Interesting Articles about Joseph Kosuth
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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Justin Wolf
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
Available from:
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Conceptual Art
Conceptual Art
Conceptual Art
Conceptual art describes an influential movement that first emerged in the mid-1960s and prized ideas over the formal or visual components of traditional works of art. The artists often challenged old concepts such as beauty and quality; they also questioned the conventional means by which the public consumed art; and they rejected the conventional art object in favor of diverse mediums, ranging from maps and diagrams to texts and videos.
TheArtStory: Conceptual Art
Ad Reinhardt
Ad Reinhardt
Ad Reinhardt
Ad Reinhardt was an American abstract artist whose monochromatic canvases show side-by-side rectangles painted in subtle variations of the same color. Very much part of the New York scene in the 1940s, he nonetheless scorned the label and gestural ethos of Abstract Expressionism.
TheArtStory: Ad Reinhardt
Marcel Duchamp
Marcel Duchamp
Marcel Duchamp
The French artist Marcel Duchamp was an instrumental figure in the avant-garde art worlds of Paris and New York. Moving through Dada, Surrealism, readymades, sculpture, and installation, his work involves conceptual play and an implicit attack on bourgeois art sensibilities.
TheArtStory: Marcel Duchamp
Barbara Kruger
Barbara Kruger
Barbara Kruger
Barbara Kruger is an American conceptual artist. Much of Kruger's work merges found photographs taken from existing sources with pithy and aggressive text. Her captions engage the viewer in the work's greater struggle for power and control.
TheArtStory: Barbara Kruger
Jenny Holzer
Jenny Holzer
Jenny Holzer
Jenny Holzer is an American conceptual and mixed-media artist. Her work is best known for using a variety of text, propaganda imagery, sound, video and light, all of which she attempts to incorporate into public spaces, thus bringing artistic experience directly into the world.
TheArtStory: Jenny Holzer
The Guerrilla Girls
The Guerrilla Girls
The Guerrilla Girls
The Guerrilla Girls are a radical feminist activist group that agitates for women's equality in museums and the art world. Originating in the 1980s and active to this day, they are famous for their poster designs and the gorilla masks their members wear as disguises.
TheArtStory: The Guerrilla Girls
Glenn Ligon
Glenn Ligon
Glenn Ligon
Glenn Ligon is an American conceptual artist whose work explores race, language, desire, sexuality, and identity. Ligon engages in intersexuality with other works from the visual arts, literature, and history, as well as his own life.
Glenn Ligon
Joseph Beuys
Joseph Beuys
Joseph Beuys
Joseph Beuys was a German multi- and mixed-media artist best known for incorporating ideas of humanism, social philosophy and politics into his art. Beuys practiced everything from installation and performance art to traditional painting and "social sculpture." He was continually motivated by the belief of universal human creativity.
TheArtStory: Joseph Beuys
Yves Klein
Yves Klein
Yves Klein
Yves Klein attacked many of the ideas of the art world that underpinned abstract painting, audience participation, and other approaches to making and viewing art. Also, he famously used a single color, the rich shade of ultramarine that he made his own, "International Klein Blue."
TheArtStory: Yves Klein
Robert Rauschenberg
Robert Rauschenberg
Robert Rauschenberg
Robert Rauschenberg, a key figure in early Pop art, admired the textural quality of Abstract Expressionism but scorned its emotional pathos. His famous "Combines" are part sculpture, part painting, and part installation.
TheArtStory: Robert Rauschenberg
Claude Levi-Strauss
Claude Levi-Strauss
Claude Levi-Strauss
Claude Levi-Strauss is a Belgian-born French anthropologist, linguist, writer and professor. He conducted extensive travels and ethnographies throughout Central and South America, resulting in arguably his most famous book, Tristes Tropiques, which continues to influence anthropologists and social scientists today.
Claude Levi-Strauss
Ludwig Wittgenstein
Ludwig Wittgenstein
Ludwig Wittgenstein
Ludwig Wittgenstein was an Austrian philosopher who held the professorship in philosophy at the University of Cambridge. Wittgenstein inspired two of the century's principal philosophical movements, logical positivism and ordinary language philosophy.
Ludwig Wittgenstein
A. J. Ayer
A. J. Ayer
A. J. Ayer
Sir Alfred Jules "Freddie" Ayer was a British philosopher known for his promotion of logical positivism, particularly in his books Language, Truth, and Logic and The Problem of Knowledge.
A. J. Ayer
Walter Benjamin
Walter Benjamin
Walter Benjamin
Walter Benjamin was a German writer, Marxist philosopher, sociologist, critic and essayist. He is considered one of the twentieth century's foremost thinkers and writers of critical theory. Benjamin also made significant contributions to the field of aesthetic theory, most notably in his massively ambitious and unfinished Arcades Project, which documented nineteenth-century life in Paris.
Walter Benjamin
Existentialism in Modern Art
Existentialism in Modern Art
Existentialism in Modern Art
Existentialism deals largely with the complexities of individual human emotions, thoughts and responsibilities and the philosophy was widely used by various artist in the arena of modern art.
TheArtStory: Existentialism in Modern Art
Dada
Dada
Dada
Dada was an artistic and literary movement that emerged in 1916. It arose in reaction to World War I, and the nationalism and rationalism that many thought had led to the War. Influenced by several avant-gardes - Cubism, Futurism, Constructivism, and Expressionism - its output was wildly diverse, ranging from performance art to poetry, photography, sculpture, painting and collage. Emerging first in Zurich, it spread to cities including Berlin, Hanover, Paris, New York and Cologne.
TheArtStory: Dada
Fluxus
Fluxus
Fluxus
Fluxus was an international network of artists of the 1960s who worked in fields ranging from music to performance to the visual arts. Taking their name from the Latin 'to flow,' Fluxus artists adopted an often anarchic and satirical approach to conventional forms of art, and their ideas paved the way for Conceptual art.
TheArtStory: Fluxus
Happenings
Happenings
Happenings
The term "happening" was coined by artist Allan Kaprow in 1957 to decribe a series of multi-media artworks on display in a single locale. In general, a happening is an art event, often staged or pre-scripted, that requires active participation from an audience to come to full fruition. This relatively new form of artistic media could be called participatory.
TheArtStory: Happenings
Neo-Dada
Neo-Dada
Neo-Dada
Neo-Dada refers to works of art from the 1950s that employ popular imagery and modern materials, often resulting in something absurd. Neo-Dada is both a continuation of the earlier Dada movement and an important precursor to Pop art. Some important Neo-Dada artists include Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Robert Morris and Allan Kaprow.
TheArtStory: Neo-Dada
Damien Hirst
Damien Hirst
Damien Hirst
Damien Hirst is a British installation and conceptual artist, and in the 1980s was a founding member of the Young British Artists (YBAs). His best known work is Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991), comprised of a dead tiger shark suspended in a vitrine of formaldehyde.
TheArtStory: Damien Hirst
Nam June Paik
Nam June Paik
Nam June Paik
Nam June Paik was a Korean-born American artist. He worked with a variety of media and is considered to be the first video artist. Paik is credited with an early usage of the term "super highway" in application to telecommunications. Paik was known for making robots out of television sets.
Nam June Paik
Bruce Nauman
Bruce Nauman
Bruce Nauman
Bruce Nauman is a contemporary American artist concerned with language, process, manipulation, and the registers of irony. His work includes performance, video, installation, neon sculpture, and other materials.
TheArtStory: Bruce Nauman
Lawrence Weiner
Lawrence Weiner
Lawrence Weiner
Lawrence Weiner is an American conceptual and mixed-media artist. Weiner began his career working with shaped canvas and traditional painting, but soon ventured into far more abstract territory. In his 1968 "Declaration of Intent," Weiner famously proclaimed that an artwork need not actually exist in physical form to be art.
Lawrence Weiner
Robert Barry
Robert Barry
Robert Barry
Robert Barry is an American artist known for his works using invisible media such as electromagnetic energy, ultrasonic radiation, and inert gases. He has been making contributions to Conceptual Art since 1967.
Robert Barry
Ian Burn
Ian Burn
Ian Burn
Ian Burn was an influential Australian conceptual artist. He was a notable member of Art and Language, a collaborative group that flourished in the 1970s and included artists Roger Cutforth, Joseph Kosuth and Mel Ramsden. Burn was also an art writer, curator, and scholar.
Ian Burn
Installation Art
Installation Art
Installation Art
Installation art is a genre of contemporary art-making in which two- and three-dimensional materials are used to transform a particular site. Installations may include sculptural, found, sound-based, and performance elements, and can be permanent or ephemeral.
Installation Art
Land Art
Land Art
Land Art
Land art, or Earth art, a term coined by artist Robert Smithson, refers to artworks from the 1960s and '70s that employed land and other natural elements. It is typical of a time when artists rejected the traditional art object, expanded definitions of sculpture, and sought to move art outside the conventional art world structure of galleries and museums.
TheArtStory: Land Art
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