Philosophy at the Virtual Art Museum

Using art to prompt philosophical discussions in the high school classroom.

Teacher Guide

Language is Not Transparent

Mel Bochner, 1970
FILTERS: Conceptual Art

Artwork Module Navigation

Questions for Philisophical Discussion

  1. What does the sentence written on the wall mean?
  2. Why do you think the black paint drips down the wall? Was the artist just careless or did he want to make a point?
  3. This work is made on the wall of an exhibition, so it will be painted over when the exhibition has ended. Why do you think the artist created it this way?

Compare and Contrast

Open the discussion guides for some of the other conceptual art on this site: One and Three Chairs, and The Treachery of Images. After you’ve studied those a bit, discuss the questions below.

  1. All three of these works contrast language and images. What point do you think the artists are making about the relationship between language and images? Are they all in agreement about the nature of the relationship or do their works register differing positions? Can an art work make a claim, say about the relationship between language and images? How does it do so?
    2. Do you think there is a single relationship between words and images? What is it? Do any of the works convey that? Do you think that art is the best way to represent that relationship? Why or why not?
    3. Can an image visually contradict what words say? Pay particular attention to the first painting and the relationship between the image of the pipe and what the words below it say. How does language function is each of these works? Does it always have the same function?
    4. How do you like conceptual art more or less than the other types of art you have encountered on this website? Do you agree that conceptual art is about the ideas rather than the images used to convey them? Or do you think that the images you see are important to the works? How would you
    compare conceptual art to more traditional forms of art?

Additional Resources

Watch Mel Bochner install Language is Not Transparent

Conceptual Art Overview and Resources

The philosopher R. G. Collingwood claimed that the true works of art were the ideas in the minds of artists. Similarly, in 1967 the American Artist Sol LeWitt wrote that, “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.” In this unit on conceptual art, the artists featured focus on language and its relationship to visual images.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on conceptual art

The Hard Case of Duchamp’s Fountain” by Launt Thompson

Conceptual art at the Museum of Modern Art

Conceptual Art in the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

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Mel Bochner, Language is Not Transparent, 1970
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Mel Bochner, Language is Not Transparent, 1970
Download & Print Send Via Email
Mel Bochner, Language is Not Transparent, 1970

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