When most people conceive of what visual art is, an image of a beautifully painted vase, an amazingly real sketch of a model or a peculiar but eye-pleasing piece composed of abstract lines and brushstrokes is usually what comes to mind. From the sensual, beautiful works of the Rococo movement to the emotional and expressive works of the Post-Impressionism movement, the finished piece is seen as the result of an artist s imagination, the product of a skilled hand working on a surface.
It is evident that throughout the past centuries art has evolved subtly in methodology, style, impact and form, to name a few. These movements, periodical transitions of style are often a reflection of society, issues and events that had an effect on lifestyle. Sometimes and artist chose to defy the standards of art at the time by altering styles. Sometimes social outrage would spark an artist to create a controversial, scathing piece and sometimes change in the arts was inevitable, as the people, their audience and patrons desired new and unique works.
The twentieth century marks the greatest period of change and achievement in the history of mankind. With endless technological achievements, scientific accomplishments, social revolutions and political milestones, it was evident that way of life will never be the same again. From the Cubism movements to the Minimalism and Post-Modernism movements, art in this century was able to keep up to the fast moving times by reflecting equally static changes in style.
Different approaches in style over the years and different approaches to form were developing as more and more artists began to discover new methods of expressing themselves. The definition of the word art itself became more and more complex as the visual arts evolved and the medium it was produced on diversified. During the time of World War I in early 20th century, the world of visual arts took a different turn as a new and controversial movement was born, a movement that would provide the groundwork for many artists to come.
Originating in a number of world capitals, the art movement Dada spawned from Futurism s intentions to rid art of its traditional boundaries. Considered by many to be anti-art its main intention was to oppose the traditional styles and materials that art was confined to. Seeking to cause harmless outrage and inflict insult, Dada was a growing force as the world began to recognize and accept its presence. One of the main advocates of the Dada movement was Marcel Duchamp, whom sought to challenge tradition through appalling and scandalous means.
He was most widely known for his submission to the Independent Exhibition in 1917 New York where he submitted a common urinal, signed it R. Mutt and titled it Fountain. Initially rejected but later accepted once in was known that Duchamp had submitted it, Fountain was a piece that emphasized its aesthetic beauty as a sculpture, rather than its functional purpose as a urinal. At this point people began to realize that context plays a large role in determining our perspective on the way we see things and it was out of this realization that art began to eventually take on different forms and styles.
One of the newer forms that art eventually took was called Conceptual Art. Dating from the 1960 s, Conceptual Art had its origins in the Dad movement. According to Biddington s Art terms, Conceptual Art is an international movement in which the idea of a work matters more than its physical representation. Conceptual Art is based in the intellect rather than the eye employing words as much as, or more than images. Conceptual Art was developed to change the tendency for people to view art as a commodity.
Theorists and advocates of Conceptual Art are concerned with concepts such as the nature of art; they believed that Conceptual Art was meant to be provocative and to expand the idea of art beyond its attractiveness or the value it possesses. Therefore, it is often the idea and the experience that the artist goes through that is more important than the result and finished work. It is the statement that Conceptual Art is about the value and importance of the experience rather than the finished form that opened the way for the genre of art known as Performance Art.
One of the key artists of this genre of art is British walking artist Hamish Fulton. Hamish Fulton studied in London and graduated from the Royal College of Art in 1969. Although he trained as a sculptor, Fulton developed an artistic activity based on the act of walking. Through this activity, the experience, the walks themselves become the artworks. It was his interest in the landscape, the experience of the journey that Fulton shied away from the commonly accepted practices of traditional landscape painting. It was at that time, in the 1970 s that Hamish Fulton and his group of conceptual artists emerged.
As Fulton became increasingly interested in the idea of art as experience, he aimed to establish experience and performance as a legit and accepted artistic practice. Hamish Fulton s philosophy is, No walk, no work. Thus, the end result, the finished piece is not the most important, the most important aspect being the process and experience itself. During a walk, Fulton takes photographs to convey the essence of his journey. Since the walk for him is a spiritual experience, and the taking of the pictures intrudes on the intimate relationship between himself and nature, numerous pictures are not taken.
Fulton does not consider himself a photographer, as he does not use a highly sophisticated or complicated camera, rather only a simple camera with an orange filter, to bring out the contrasts more effectively. He also leaves the job of developing the film to a printer in London whom he as worked with for many years. During a walk, Fulton takes notes in a journal to help provide the text for objects he later creates. Up to this point, both the photograph and text are equally important to the finished image.
Often the finished work could be composed of words alone, as Fulton has created works made up of words alone to describe his journey, a photograph would not be adequate independently. Thus, the photographs and text he exhibits in galleries and museums are simply objects intended to bring his own experience with nature to the audience. His works allow the audience to identify with Fulton s sense of freedom and release from the perils of urbanization; the text and photographs also encourage a meditative contemplation of his work.
To Fulton, his walks, or artwork can be called pilgrimages. After doing a show in Hokkaido, Japan in 1989, Fulton said, real experience can t be replaced by Art. In the past decades, Hamish Fulton has gained international recognition and respect for his work as a conceptual artist. Columnist Thomas A. Clark, who wrote an essay, An Order Made: Hamish Fulton s Canadian Walks, the featured essay in the Northward Journal issue devoted to Fulton s work, said: First we should not mistake the exhibited or published evidence for the artwork itself.
As the artist s brief but precise statement makes clear, the work is the walk. As such, it is beyond our experience, entirely unrecoverable, even by the artist himself. The wind has blown, rain or snow has fallen, time has moved on and the joy or the pain cannot be summoned back. Through that last excerpt, it is clear that Thomas A. Clark understands and comprehends the aesthetic value of Fulton s work. He understands that as a viewer he is unable to fully experience the artwork of Fulton. The text that accompanies the photograph is merely published evidence.
It is this understanding that makes Fulton s work so beautiful and enchanting beyond description. The photographs are magnificent, the texts and drawings, the gathered bits and pieces, are always evocative and through these we are able, give measure of good will, imaginatively to reconstruct the journey, the now-vanished work itself. Such an act of imagination is a privilege, the next best thing being allowed to accompany the artist, and it should be said that Hamish Fulton, as he appears through his work, is very good company indeed: alert, open-eyed, resourceful, often humorous.
His work constitutes a true adventure, both for himself and for anyone who attends sympathetically to it. As a viewer, he says that the beauty of Fulton s artwork is not in the finished form itself, but lies in the power of the viewer s imagination. The privilege to imagine, to reconstruct the journey that Fulton goes through is a connection that is sacred between the viewer and work. Although the artwork itself is gone, unrecoverable even by Fulton, Clarks says that the next best thing to the experience itself is the incommunicable privilege to imagine and appreciate.
Thus, this is where the beauty and power of Conceptual Art lies. In the past thirty years, Hamish has covered more than 12, 000 miles on over 5 continents. He has enacted walks in countries as diverse as England, Scotland, Wales, Lapland, Iceland, Germany, Canada, Bolivia Spain, Mexico, Peru, Nepal, Australia and Japan. This past month of July Fulton completed a two-week walk along the north and south banks of Milk River, to and from the Aden Bridge, and followed up with a weeklong walk along the Red Deer River in the Badlands of Dinosaur Provincial Park.
It is clear that as the world is in the dawn of the new millennium, the end of Conceptual Art is nowhere near. Given the vastness, the superiority of the world, there are still endless pursuits that await Hamish Fulton and other conceptual artists. Maybe in the future, made possible by ever advancing technology, Conceptual Artists may be able to share the experience with their audience, the feeling of making art on a planet other than Earth.