Kant After LeWitt: Towards an
Aesthetics of Conceptual Art*
Conceptual Art is generally portrayed as a rejection of aesthetic theory as an adequate basis for understanding artistic value or significance. In what follows I want to see whether one can understand Conceptual Art, contrary to this orthodox art-historical and philosophical narrative, in aesthetic terms—but without fundamentally distorting the nature of the work.i Perhaps even more outlandishly, I want to examine whether Conceptual Art's aesthetic dimension can be understood by extrapolating from Kant's enigmatic account of what works of art do in the third Critique—namely, 'express aesthetic ideas'. Now, given that the third Critique is generally taken to underwrite the kind of theorizing about art that conceptual artists repudiated, largely in reaction to Clement Greenberg's use of it to prop up his practice as a formalist critic and theorist of modernism, this will entail departing from art-historical and
* I would like to acknowledge the support of a Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship while
working on this paper.
1 Hence I have no intention of adopting the kind of approach that takes ostensibly anti-aesthetic
objects, such as readymades, and admires them for their previously overlooked formal qualities.
To my mind, that is to misconstrue the nature of aesthetic value in art as surely (and for essentially
the same reasons) as those who understand Conceptual Art in unreservedly anti-aesthetic terms.