Sol Lewitt (1928 – 2007) – ‘The idea becomes the machine that makes the art’

sol lewitt
Cube Structure Based on Nine Modules (Wall/Floor Piece #2) – Sol Lewitt

Sol Lewitt died yesterday. If you have had your eye on Dataisnature for a while, you will have heard his name mentioned a lot on these pages. Just after the time of the ‘heroic’ gestures of Abstract Expression Lewitt conceived of a new language utilising simple impersonal forms in repetition and modulation, often drawing directly onto the wall. The fact that these Conceptual drawings were designed to be painted over solidified Lewitt’s claims that the ‘idea behind the work supersedes the work itself’ and that ‘The idea becomes the machine that makes the art’. Prophetically for our times Lewitt also said that “Ideas cannot be owned. They belong to whomever understands them.”

The works are conceptual and aesthetically pleasing at the same time and Lewitt’s path eventually lead him to writing instructions for making a piece of art. These instructions meant that his works could be recreated anywhere and more importantly it represented a shift in ‘artistic authority’ from a centralised model to a distributed one. The idea of ‘instruction based art’ was incredibly forward thinking when we consider the contemporary practices of digital generative artists and their use of code and algorithms to make ‘pictures’. More so the concepts and philosophies dealing with ownership have never been more relevant.

added : Tom Moody reflected this post and added some extra interesting thoughts on Lewitt’s work and other valid points regarding my post.

3 Responses to “Sol Lewitt (1928 – 2007) – ‘The idea becomes the machine that makes the art’”

  1. chch writes:

    I just wanted to say that I love this blog.

  2. paul writes:

    thank u very much! :>

  3. DeborahMacPherson writes:

    I was looking for an image, or at least a refresher on the story, about one of Sol Lewitt’s peices at the National Gallery of Art. I learned on a tour several years ago, a wall drawing was executed per his instructions, then after the exibition, instead of taking it down, they built a wall in front of it so they still have it. Why not a moving peep hole over it hidden back there or a permanent caption on this wall until it is unveiled again in the future? Why not easily found on the National Gallery website? Why so few images of the National Gallery collection available online? Where do you think the best collection of Sol Lewitt data resides? – DMacP

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