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Philosophy at the Art Museum

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

Teacher Guide

One and Three Chairs

Joseph Kosuth, 1965
FILTERS: Conceptual Art

Artwork Module Navigation

Questions for Philisophical Discussion

Wall Text from “One and Three Chairs“:

Close-up photograph of the dictionary text from the gallery installation of Joseph Kosuth's "One and Three Chairs." It reads: "A seat with a back, and often arms, usually for one person; a seat of office or authority, or the office itself; the person occupying the seat or office, esp. the chairman of the meeting; a sedan-chair; a chaise; a metal block or clutch to support and secure a rail in a railroad."

 

  1. Are there really three chairs in this art installation? If not, how many are there?
  2. Do you think one of the chairs is more real than the others? Which one and why? Or do you think they all equally real?
  3. If you visited this installation, you would not be allowed to sit on the chair in the center of the three “chairs.” Is this chair still a chair?
  4. Why do you think the artist included three different types of “chairs” in this installation?

Compare and Contrast

Open the discussion guides for some of the other conceptual art on this site: The Treachery of Images, and Language is Not Transparent. 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

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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Photograph of a gallery installation of the conceptual work of art "One and Three Chairs" by Joseph Kosuth. The installation consists of a wood folding chair, a mounted photograph of a chair, and mounted photographic enlargement of the dictionary definition of the word "chair."
Joseph Kosuth, One and Three Chairs, 1965
Download & Print Send Via Email
Photograph of a gallery installation of the conceptual work of art "One and Three Chairs" by Joseph Kosuth. The installation consists of a wood folding chair, a mounted photograph of a chair, and mounted photographic enlargement of the dictionary definition of the word "chair."
Joseph Kosuth, One and Three Chairs, 1965
Download & Print Send Via Email
Photograph of a gallery installation of the conceptual work of art "One and Three Chairs" by Joseph Kosuth. The installation consists of a wood folding chair, a mounted photograph of a chair, and mounted photographic enlargement of the dictionary definition of the word "chair."
Joseph Kosuth, One and Three Chairs, 1965

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