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Artists Joseph Kosuth
Joseph Kosuth Photo

Joseph Kosuth

American Conceptual Artist and Theoretician

Movement: Conceptual Art

Born: January 31, 1945 - Toledo, Ohio

Joseph Kosuth Timeline


"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

"It is necessary to separate aesthetics from art because aesthetics deals with opinions on perception of the world in general."

Joseph Kosuth Signature


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.


Joseph Kosuth Photo

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.

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Joseph Kosuth Biography Continues

Important Art by Joseph Kosuth

The below artworks are the most important by Joseph Kosuth - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

One and Three Chairs (1965)
Artwork Images

One and Three Chairs (1965)

Artwork description & Analysis: 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.

Chair, photograph of same chair (to scale), enlarged printed definition of the word "chair" - Museum of Modern Art, New York

Five Words in Orange Neon (1965)
Artwork Images

Five Words in Orange Neon (1965)

Artwork description & Analysis: Five Words in Orange Neon is among the many language-based works Kosuth made using neon lights and a transformer, all of which were inspired by Wittgenstein's explorations of tautologies. In logic and linguistics, as established largely by Wittgenstein, a tautology is a statement of fundamental fact or truth which is unchangeable and irreversible, even if rephrased in any way possible. The meaning of the phrase is equated with how the words are visualized. In this case, they are shown with orange neon tubes shaped to form the words of the phrase. Kosuth plays with linguistic and verbal literalness by giving us a visual equivalent in the neon letters to what the text reads regardless of its form. As with his other Conceptual works of the 1960s, the idea is considered more important and fundamental than the visual or aesthetic content or expression of an artwork. It was a radical reconsideration of the importance of the visual in visual art.

Neon and transformer - Private collection

Titled (Art as Idea as Idea) The Word "Definition" (1966-68)
Artwork Images

Titled (Art as Idea as Idea) The Word "Definition" (1966-68)

Artwork description & Analysis: After beginning his One and Three series, Kosuth wanted to further remove images and objects from his language-based Conceptual art, and this led to his Art as Idea as Idea series. In these works, he produced enlarged photostats of definitions of words that look like they came from dictionaries, which he then mounted on walls similar to how paintings, drawings, or photographs would be exhibited. He makes the viewer aware of the multiple identities and types of existence that these various things have, as solid objects and tangible things, as mechanical reproductions that are quickly made and mass-produced, and as verbal, written, and intangible equivalents. This challenges us to think of how we would define or explain simple, ordinary things that we see and use in our daily lives.

Mounted photographic enlargement of the dictionary definition of "definition" - Museum of Modern Art, New York

More Joseph Kosuth Artwork and Analysis:

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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.
View Influences Chart


Marcel DuchampMarcel Duchamp
Joseph BeuysJoseph Beuys
Yves KleinYves Klein
Robert RauschenbergRobert Rauschenberg

Personal Contacts

Claude Levi-StraussClaude Levi-Strauss
Ludwig WittgensteinLudwig Wittgenstein
A. J. AyerA. J. Ayer
Walter BenjaminWalter Benjamin


Existentialism in Modern ArtExistentialism in Modern Art

Influences on Artist
Joseph Kosuth
Joseph Kosuth
Years Worked: 1965 - present
Influenced by Artist


Barbara KrugerBarbara Kruger
Damien HirstDamien Hirst
Nam June PaikNam June Paik
Bruce NaumanBruce Nauman
Jenny HolzerJenny Holzer

Personal Contacts

Lawrence WeinerLawrence Weiner
Robert BarryRobert Barry
Ian BurnIan Burn


Conceptual ArtConceptual Art
Installation ArtInstallation Art
Land ArtLand Art

Useful Resources on Joseph Kosuth





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.


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
August 15, 2012

Joseph Kosuth

By Arthur Ou
September 20, 2011

Beckett on a Heideggerian Horizon: Joseph Kosuth at Sean Kelly Recomended resource

By Robert C. Morgan
May 8, 2011

More Interesting Articles about Joseph Kosuth

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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
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