Joseph Kosuth

American conceptual artist

Joseph Kosuth (born January 31, 1945), is an American conceptual artist. He lives in New York and London, after residing in various cities in Europe, including Ghent, Rome and Berlin.

A giant copy of the Rosetta stone, by Joseph Kosuth in Figeac, France, the birthplace of Jean-François Champollion.


  • Being an artist now means to question the nature of art. If one is questioning the nature of painting, one cannot be questioning the nature of art. If an artist accepts painting (or sculpture) he is accepting the tradition that goes with it. That’s because the word art is general and the word painting is specific. Painting is a kind of art. If you make paintings you are already accepting (not questioning) the nature of art. One is then accepting the nature of art to be the European tradition of a painting-sculpture dichotomy.
    • Joseph Kosuth in: Arthur R. Rose, “Four Interviews,” Arts Magazine (February, 1969).
  • Fundamental to this idea of art (conceptual art) is the understanding of the linguistic nature of all art propositions, be they past or present, and regardless of the elements used in their construction. (note: Without this understanding a 'conceptual' form of presentation is little more than a manufactured stylehood, and such art we have with increasing abundance.)
    • 'Joseph Kosuth: Introductory note by the American editor', in Art-Language Vol.1 Nr.2, Art & Language Press, Chipping Norton (February 1970), p.3.
  • Art before the modern period is as much art as Neanderthal man is man'. It is for this reason that around the same time I replaced the term "work" for art proposition. Because a conceptual work of art in the traditional sense, is a contradiction in terms.
    • Joseph Kosuth. (1969), as cited in: Claude Gintz, ‎Musée d'Art Moderne Paris (1989). L'Art conceptuel, une perspective: exposition au Musée d'art moderne de la Ville de Paris, 22 nov. 1989 - 18 fév. 1990. p. 42
  • If one wanted to make a work of art devoid of meaning, it would be impossible because we’ve already given meaning to the work by indicating that it’s a work of art.
    • Joseph Kosuth, “Introduction” in Art After Philosophy and After: Collected Writings, 1960–1990 (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1991); cited in: Thierry Mortier. "Semiotics as Art: Kosuth," Sunday, 1 July 2012.
  • The work process begins when I start selecting quotations from a large collection I already have, given that I use such texts often in my work and have for a long time. In fact, appropriation of this kind––along with other kinds––has been part of my work since the beginning in the ’60s. I go through hundreds of these amassed quotes from my own research and that of my staff, make my choices, and then continually add them in relation to the quotes I already have selected. The surplus meaning that is constructed by using the words of others in conjunction with each other, which is my goal, is a far more delicate operation than it may seem.

Art after Philosophy, 1969


Joseph Kosuth, (1969), "Art after Philosophy"

  • Traditional philosophy, almost by definition, has concerned itself with the unsaid. The nearly exclusive focus on the said by twentieth-century analytical linguistic philosophers is the shared contention that the unsaid is unsaid because it is unsayable.
  • The 'value' of particular artists after Duchamp can be weighed according to how much they questioned the nature of art.
  • It is necessary to separate aesthetics from art because aesthetics deals with opinions on perception of the world in general. In the past one of the two prongs of art’s function was its value as decoration. So any branch of philosophy that dealt with “beauty” and thus, taste, was inevitably duty bound to discuss art as well. Out of this “habit” grew the notion that there was a conceptual connection between art and aesthetics, which is not true. This idea never drastically conflicted with artistic considerations before recent times, not only because the morphological characteristics of art perpetuated the continuity of this error, but as well, because the apparent other “functions” of art (depiction of religious themes, portraiture of aristocrats, detailing of architecture, etc.) used art to cover up art.
  • Works of art are analytic propositions. That is, if viewed within their context – as art – they provide no information whatsoever about any matter of fact. A work of art is a tautology in that it is a presentation of the artist’s intention, that is, he is saying that that particular work of art is art, which means, is a definition of art.
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