Sol LeWitt – Instructions and Procedural Actions
Sol LeWitt Wall drawing #1091: arcs, circles and bands (room) 2003, painted room on 4 walls, Art Gallery of NSW © Estate of Sol LeWitt
“In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art.” Sol LeWitt
As Sol LeWitt identifies in this statement, his works are more defined by the procedural approach to planning the work than the end result itself. This is evident in much of his work displayed in the NSW Art Gallery exhibition – “Your mind is exactly at that line”. The emphasis on idea over process is an interesting concept evident in LeWitt’s work, particularly his Wall Drawing art. The idea is his creation, and the process, clearly documented and instructed, can be followed and recreated at any time or as LeWitt states in his 1968 manifesto. And as physical things are perishable LeWitt sees longevity in his works as concepts need not be, they can be ongoing and be recreated.
The later work of LeWitt in particular lends itself to following a set of planned instructions that define; lines, basic colours and the simplified shapes of his designs in an almost formula structure. His drawings on paper often resembled mathematical diagrams and tech drawing, the blue prints of design. And yet completed his works are more theoretical but not mathematical. By defining line, colour and shape LeWitt presents us with the building blocks to recreate his works. Hence the focus of the idea of the work becomes more important than the execution of the work itself. These precise instructions provide the opportunity for anyone to follow, like a composer who writes the music so that others can perform, to be repeated time and time again. As Paul Richard wrote; “Each of LeWitt’s drawings came with its own recipe. The rest was up to you. If you followed the directions, you could cook it up yourself.” (Richard).
Many argue that the instructions LeWitt left us for producing his works have become the work itself. In this way these guides, instructions and procedures can be considered to be the work of art themselves. The idea is the machine that produces the artwork and we no longer require the work itself to appreciate the art. His work required no real meaning, no message, no story. It was more about the process, the materials and instructions, as vague as they may have been at times, that really mattered. In fact this vagueness is seen as a deliberate attempt by LeWitt not to completely control the end result, allowing the re-creator to interpret and put their own mark on the work.
As LeWitt identifies, ideas alone can be works of art. They are part of a process in a chain of development that can lead to some form of finished product that we define as art. As Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing demonstrates, his basic instructions can come to life, anywhere, anytime, they are scalable and reproducible. This demonstrates how successful conceptual artists like LeWitt can change our understanding of the way in which things are done by altering the way in which we regard, understand and interpret his ideas. We can recreate his ideas on wall, material or space, in a range of colours and textures, it’s up to us how we interpret his ideas and then execute them.
In conclusion Sol LeWitt, more than anything, has left us with an array of conceptual art that emphasises that the idea is the most important aspect of the work. The instructions and procedures he left for his assistants and others to follow were a roadmap to guide us but not dictate how his ideas could come to life. Just as we may follow a chefs recipe or a composers music it is how we interpret the idea that will influence the result. As LeWitt quoted in an interview with Sol Ostrow, “I was involved in both the idea and the object, not in the use of new materials or the process of action.” (Ostrow). For LeWitt it wasn’t important what it looked like. In many of his wall pieces there was little latitude for us to make changes, but time and again different people make different works following his same instructions and processes. As LeWitt defined, “the system is the work of art; the visual work of art is the proof of the system.” (Ostrow).
- Richard, Paul. “Sol Lewitt, A Master of the Art of the Idea.” Washingtonpost.com. N,p, 2016. Web. 16 Aug. 2016.
- Ostrow, Saul. “BOMB Magazine – Sol Lewitt By Saul Ostrow”. Bombmagazine.org N,p, 2016. Web. 16 Aug. 2016.