‘Art’s only claim is for art. Art is the definition of art’ (J. Kosuth)
Executed in 1966, Joseph Kosuth’s Titled (Art as Idea as Idea) [Akin] stems from his most famous series of works. Based on a section of etymological text relating to the word ‘idea’, the work bears witness to Kosuth’s desire to investigate the nature of art through the medium of language. Urging that traditional art historical discourse had finally reached its end in the late 1960s, Kosuth sought to question the means by which objects achieved their high-art status and subsequent cultural importance. Implementing a linguistic approach, Kosuth began to examine the ways that art-making was tied to language to explore the social, political, and economic contexts through which art was presented and in turn defined. Constructing an uncompromisingly conceptual form of art, Kosuth replaced both image and object with words. The Art as Idea as Idea series marked his first study into linguistics, reproducing dictionary definitions of words ranging from ‘water’ and ‘chair’ to ‘meaning’ and ‘art’. ‘Being an artist now means to question the nature of art’, he argued in his seminal text ‘Art after Philosophy’. ‘If one is questioning the nature of painting, one cannot be questioning the nature of art … That’s because the word art is general and the word painting is specific. Painting is a kind of art. If you make paintings you are already accepting (not questioning) the nature of art’ (J. Kosuth, Art After Philosophy and After: Collected Writings 1966-1990, Cambridge 1991, p. 18). Other works from the series are held international museum collections including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Adopting a wholly deconstructive approach, Kosuth considers the definition of his chosen word to be the actual work of art, whereas the medium itself serves merely as a means of exhibition. As he explained, ‘I always considered the Photostat the work’s form of presentation (or media), but I never wanted anyone to think that I was presenting a Photostat as a work of art – that’s why I made that separation and subtitled them as I did … The idea with the Photostat was that they could be thrown away and then re-made – if need be – as part of an irrelevant procedure connected with the form of presentation, but not with that “art”’ (J. Kosuth, Art After Philosophy and After: Collected Writings 1966-1990, Cambridge 1991, pp. 30-31). As such, Kosuth challenges the formerly enshrined notion of the art object, instead locating the work’s value in its conception. ‘Art’s only claim is for art’, he asserted. ‘Art is the definition of art’ (J. Kosuth, Art After Philosophy and After: Collected Writings, 1966-1990, Cambridge 1991, p. 24).