Anti-art is a loosely used term applied to an array of concepts and attitudes that reject prior definitions of art and question art in general. Somewhat paradoxically, anti-art tends to conduct this questioning and rejection from the vantage point of art. The term is associated with the Dada movement and is generally accepted as attributable to Marcel Duchamp pre-World War I around 1914, when he began to use found objects as art. It was used to describe revolutionary forms of art. The term was used later by the Conceptual artists of the 1960s to describe the work of those who claimed to have retired altogether from the practice of art, from the production of works which could be sold.
An expression of anti-art may or may not take traditional form or meet the criteria for being defined as a work of art according to conventional standards. Works of anti-art may express an outright rejection of having conventionally defined criteria as a means of defining what art is, and what it is not. Anti-artworks may reject conventional artistic standards altogether, or focus criticism only on certain aspects of art, such as the art market and high art. Some anti-artworks may reject individualism in art, whereas some may reject “universality” as an accepted factor in art. Additionally, some forms of anti-art reject art entirely, or reject the idea that art is a separate realm or specialization. Anti-artworks may also reject art based upon a consideration of art as being oppressive of a segment of the population.
Anti-art artworks may articulate a disagreement with the generally supposed notion of there being a separation between art and life. Anti-art artworks may voice a question as to whether “art” really exists or not. “Anti-art” has been referred to as a “paradoxical neologism”, in that its obvious opposition to art has been observed concurring with staples of twentieth-century art or “modern art”, in particular art movements that have self-consciously sought to transgress traditions or institutions. Anti-art itself is not a distinct art movement, however. This would tend to be indicated by the time it spans—longer than that usually spanned by art movements. Some art movements though, are labeled “anti-art”. The Dada movement is generally considered the first anti-art movement; the term anti-art itself is said to have been coined by Dadaist Marcel Duchamp around 1914, and his readymades have been cited as early examples of anti-art objects.Theodor W. Adorno in Aesthetic Theory (1970) stated that “…even the abolition of art is respectful of art because it takes the truth claim of art seriously”.
Anti-art has become generally accepted by the artworld to be art, although some people still reject Duchamp’s readymades as art, for instance the Stuckist group of artists, who are “anti-anti-art“.
Anti-art can take the form of art or not. It is posited that anti-art need not even take the form of art, in order to embody its function as anti-art. This point is disputed. Some of the forms of anti-art which are art strive to reveal the conventional limits of art by expanding its properties.
Some instances of anti-art are suggestive of a reduction to what might seem to be fundamental elements or building blocks of art. Examples of this sort of phenomenon might include monochrome paintings, empty frames, silence as music, chance art. Anti-art is also often seen to make use of highly innovative materials and techniques, and well beyond—to include hitherto unheard of elements in visual art. These types of anti-art can be readymades, found object art, détournement, combine paintings, appropriation (art), happenings, performance art, and body art.
Anti-art can involve the renouncement of making art entirely. This can be accomplished through an art strike and this can also be accomplished through revolutionaryactivism. An aim of anti-art can be to undermine or understate individual creativity. This may be accomplished through the utilization of readymades. Individual creativity can be further downplayed by the use of industrial processes in the making of art. Anti-artists may seek to undermine individual creativity by producing their artworks anonymously. They may refuse to show their artworks. They may refuse public recognition. Anti-artists may choose to work collectively, in order to place less emphasis on individual identity and individual creativity. This can be seen in the instance of happenings. This is sometimes the case with “supertemporal” artworks, which are by design impermanent. Anti-artists will sometimes destroy their works of art. Some artworks made by anti-artists are purposely created to be destroyed. This can be seen in auto-destructive art.
André Malraux has developed a concept of anti-art quite different from that outlined above. For Malraux, anti-art began with the ‘Salon’ or ‘Academic’ art of the nineteenth century which rejected the basic ambition of art in favour of a semi-photographic illusionism (often prettified). Of Academic painting, Malraux writes, ‘All true painters, all those for whom painting is a value, were nauseated by these pictures – “Portrait of a Great Surgeon Operating” and the like – because they saw in them not a form of painting, but the negation of painting’. For Malraux, anti-art is still very much with us, though in a different form. Its descendants are commercial cinema and television, and popular music and fiction. The ‘Salon’, Malraux writes, ‘has been expelled from painting, but elsewhere it reigns supreme’.