Fact Checked

What Does a Conceptual Artist Do?

Angela Farrer
Angela Farrer

A conceptual artist creates works of art that follow the principles of the conceptual art movement, namely those that place relatively little importance on whether a piece of art is aesthetically pleasing. The idea behind a piece of conceptual art is generally what is the most important. Notable works of conceptual art can also be called "idea art" because they are often intended to provoke a reaction in the viewer as well as provide some type of commentary on contemporary society. Unlike some of his or her contemporaries, a conceptual artist usually does not believe art should be confined to traditional mediums such as drawing, painting, sculpting, or printmaking. He or she will often instead create installations out of found objects that are combined or exhibited in ways usually considered out of the ordinary.

While a conceptual artist may have training and sometimes considerable talent in one or more of the traditional art mediums, he or she has usually decided that creating and displaying conventional works such as two-dimensional paintings are not the best creative outlets for him or her. Conceptual visual art can be a better fit for its freedom and flexibility in terms of using just about any type of medium and any type of artistic process imaginable. Some noted conceptual artists even do not personally create every last facet of their art work; they may instead formulate the main ideas and instruct a group of other artists to make the actual pieces. Any individual deviations from the original vision are often embraced as a natural part of the finished work and the creative process.

Conceptual artists paint concepts that are used to visualize scenes in movie productions.
Conceptual artists paint concepts that are used to visualize scenes in movie productions.

Conceptual artwork is often not confined to a smaller space such as a wall where a painting hangs or a display table where a three-dimensional sculpture sits. Some conceptual art installations can take up an entire room in a gallery and allow viewers to walk through parts of the artwork itself. These installations can even require the viewers to take part in the art installation by some simple actions such as writing a note on a board, taking a piece of paper with them, or viewing themselves through an installed video camera. A conceptual artist who creates these kind of art pieces frequently has goals of getting people to consider their own views of themselves and others. Performance art is an additional area of conceptual art in which the conceptual artist sometimes incorporates him- or herself into an installation.

You might also Like

Discussion Comments


In my experience the kinds of people that are attracted to being conceptual artists are those that don't have any technical skill.

I went to art school in the 80s and all the kids going into conceptual art were the ones who couldn't draw or paint or weld or work with any conventional materials. Call me old fashioned but I think all art making, even the kind that rejects tradition, has to come from a basis in the fundamentals. Those kids doing conceptual art seemed like they were taking a shortcut.


Conceptual art is a pretty contentious area of the art world. It is something that tends to be popular with critics and unpopular with artists. But I think the notion that conceptual art rejects the consideration of aesthetics is shortsighted. There are some pieces which are pretty flat to look at but there are others that are beautiful, striking and visually arresting by anyone's standards.

I think another strength of the movement is that the impact of the ideas at play is often an experience as enriching and satisfying as the sense of awe or beauty that more conventional artworks strive for. I can remember seeing a piece once by an artist who I can't remember who had cut out equal ten foot sections of pipe and laid them out in a loose grid in a gallery. The sum of the lengths of all the pipes was exactly one mile. It was a strange and exciting experience to think of being able to look at this distance in a material form. The idea bounces around in your head in so many satisfying ways. This is the real strength of conceptual art.


Modern art has a number of naysayers but I think it is too broad a category of art or image to write off completely.

I think about it like this. You are not supposed to like it all. In fact you are not supposed to like most of it. In the same way that you don't like all music or all films, you connect with some pieces of art and are unmoved by others.

I have known a number of people who claimed not to like modern art, the kind of people who say "My kid could paint that." But inevitably there is a piece that they connect with whether it be a painting or a sculpture or a building or a piece of public art. You can't say you don't like modern art, you just don't like some modern art.


@allenJo - Well now, I don’t think that contemporary art is all that bad; it’s just different.

I’ve heard some naysayers look at modern art and claim “I can do better than that,” but they can’t. Every piece of modern art I’ve ever admired demonstrated real talent.

There is some symmetry, some order or design. I’ve never seen a completely random pile of trash (the parody you refer to I suppose) exhibited as modern art.

I have seen piles of marbles in colored bowls, lit up by strobe lights, things like that. You couldn’t argue that there was no color or symmetry; it’s just a different way of doing art, using everyday things instead of pastels on a canvas.

In terms of discovering the meaning, the placard above the art piece will give you a hint of what the artist means the piece to be.


I can’t say that I’m much of a fan of modern art.

As you’re probably aware, there have been many parodies made of modern art. You know that the art is bad when you can’t tell whether you’re looking at a parody or the real thing.

In my opinion, modern art is itself a parody of art; it turns everything up on its end, exposes us to sometimes psychedelic images that have no meaning in themselves, and is almost completely cynical in its refusal to provide any real context or purpose for what it is.

It is, in the truest sense of the term, a blank canvas or one big Rorschach test onto which the viewer imposes his own ideas, good, bad or ugly.

Post your comments
Forgot password?
    • Conceptual artists paint concepts that are used to visualize scenes in movie productions.
      By: Hemeroskopion
      Conceptual artists paint concepts that are used to visualize scenes in movie productions.