NARRATOR: What matters to Joseph Kosuth is the idea of art as much as its formal qualities or physical presence. This painting belongs to a series in which this very proposition—art as idea—became the idea for the art work. Hence, the title of the series: Art as Idea as Idea. The series presents dictionary definitions of a series of words that are ideas about art, including “black,” “white,” “red,” “original,” “meaning,” “material”—and this one—“self.” All of these words inform how we perceive and value art.
Kosuth presents the definitions in the form of a painting hanging on the wall, but the work was actually made using a photomechanical process. It shows no evidence of labor or skill and lacks any conventional aesthetic quality. This approach emphasizes Kosuth’s assertion that the material object itself is not inherently valuable. He acknowledged that works such as these could be easily copied—a position ironically contrasted with the definition of the word “self” as something that is “distinct” and “individual.”
Kosuth made this series at the impressively youthful age of twenty-one, and it remains influential for the development of conceptual art.