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Tapping in to tapped out: thinking about conceptual art.

Perhaps one of the best ways to describe conceptual art is to quote an old bumper sticker, "If you like conceptual art, think about honking."

Conceptual art is an art movement that came into prominence in the 1960s. Like other movements in modern art, conceptual art broke with established tradition. In conceptual art, ideas or perceptions are as important as product. Conceptual artists reject the idea that art must hang on a wall or sit on a pedestal. As the bumper sticker suggests, conceptual art is about ideas.

Given this break with art traditions, there is little wonder that viewers often respond to conceptual works of art with confusion. It is this confusion, however, that offers rich learning opportunities for students. This article explores the artwork of a young American artist whose conceptual art poses many questions.

About the Artist

Tiffany Carbonneau is a dedicated ceramicist who was recently awarded a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at Northern Arizona University. Tiffany grew up in the suburbs of Chicago as the fourth of six children. Throughout her childhood, Tiffany's mother promoted her daughter's art-making. They often visited the Museum of the Art Institute of Chicago. While at Northern Arizona University, Tiffany was a dual studio art and art education major where she took advantage of a study abroad program. "An important event in my college career was studying for a semester in Ghana, West Africa," says Tiffany. "This experience not only changed me as a person, it highly influenced my art as well."

Shortly after Tiffany returned to the United States, she saw American society through different eyes. "I was disturbed with our 'diet society' and wanted to make a piece about the pressures that Americans feel to be thin. So with a little humor in mind, I decided to make a very large plate and print a small, perforated box where (a tiny amount of) food is to be placed." The piece is titled Food Goes Here, a 15" diameter non-functional ceramic plate fired in red, yellow, and blue. After completing Food Goes Here, Tiffany created other plates such as Freedom for Secretaries that made commentary about gender roles. For her BFA exhibition, Tiffany planned and executed Tapped Out, a large artwork that required a complete year to create.

Tapped Out

When asked about the lengthy process of creating the piece, Tiffany explained that Tapped Out consists of 3,000 almost identical water bottles. To begin this project, Tiffany first made thirty two-piece molds into which she later poured porcelain slip. The slip was hand mixed, strained, and poured into a twenty-five gallon container, a chore that required between four and seven hours each time more was needed. "On a good day," she explains, "I could cast 120 bottles."

After each bottle was cast, it was allowed to dry before its surface was cleaned and smoothed with a knife. The next step was a low-temperature firing that made the bottles strong while preventing shrinkage and discoloration. More than thirty firings--each taking three days--were required. When all of the bottles were completed, they were placed in cardboard boxes that were then stacked and assembled onto five wooden pallets as if they were actual water bottles ready to be shipped to consumers.

You might be wondering why someone would spend a year to create such a work of art. The idea for Tapped Out arose in the spring of 2004 when Tiffany read about a large corporation depleting water wells in India. "With Tapped Out," she explains, "I wanted to make a statement about using a natural resource as a commodity." Determining what that statement might be is the task of each viewer.

Exploring Conceptual Art in the Classroom

Finding meaning in contemporary conceptual artworks can encourage students to think deeply about current issues of ethics and aesthetics that are important on a personal, local, national, or global scale. Tiffany Carbonneau's work speaks about ecological and social issues. What issues are of concern to students? How can works of art help to make the public aware of these issues?

Conceptual art poses significant questions about the nature of art. What should be the intent of art? Does art need to hang on a wall or sit on a pedestal? Should art be permanent? Should art be a commodity that is bought and sold like other manufactured products?

Complete an Internet search about conceptual art. Investigate and interpret other conceptual works of art. Contrast and compare interpretations, keeping in mind that often the questions posed by a work of art are as important as the answers. How can a viewer's own experiences affect how an artwork is interpreted?


Students understand the characteristics and merits of one's own artwork and the artwork of others.


Arts & Ecology, projects/arts_and_ecology.asp

Kim Lincoln is an art education student at Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, where she also works as an assistant in the NAU Beasley Art Gallery. Pare Stephens heads the art education department at NAU.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:All Levels Studio Lesson; Tiffany Carbonneau
Author:Stephens Pam
Publication:School Arts
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2005
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