The transmission of ideas: instruction-based artworks

Sol Lewitt

One of the ideas that i was drawn towards from the exhibition was the idea of works that are recreated by the artist studio in a space. Some of the works are recreations of the original concept which are recreated through specific instructions. The primary example would be Sol Lewitt’s wall drawings that consists of huge panels created by colour pencil lines on the gallery wall. The work required draftsman locally to carefully draw layers of coloured lines on top of each other creating a soft pastel wall of which was a spectacle in size. While I adore the idea of instruction-based installations, a few fun questions were running in my head.

the medium is not the end

Lewitt’s approach on the wall drawings was firstly to focus on the idea of communication between the artist and the audience. This idea was expressed in one of his earlier inspirations by Seth Siegalaub’s project The Xerox Book where Siegalaub invited various artists to contribute pieces to a book that would be cheaply reproduced by the Xerox machine. Siegalaub described the Xerox process as ‘such a bland, shitty reproduction, really just for the exchange of information’ . I felt this statement resonated with the concept on instructional based work of which the medium is transient and temporary. It’s just taking in form of a messenger to communicate the idea across to the audience. The importance of the work then lies more on how specific and detailed the instructions are. On how after various reiterations of the work, it’s still identical in technical execution.

the context of the space

The medium of drawing with colour pencils is relatively accessible to the common man. So if I get my hands on the instructions of one of the drawings, does the work still hold it’s integrity if i attempted to recreate it in my own wall at home? Ignoring the ideas of legal ownership and representation by recreating the work as is questions the context of the work. Would the work still communicate the same message if it isn’t in a gallery or art space? Would it still work without it’s monetary value that justifies it’s credibility as art?

Restaging of Trisha Brown’s Sticks by dancers from LASALLE student dancers

recreations are always different

The curator mentioned due to the nature of how sol lewitt’s wall drawings are permanent on the gallery walls, they can’t be removed but will be painted over after. This results in each drawing being unique to the space and in such, there is no constant piece to be referenced as the benchmark. Therefore you never actually know what is the original and intended piece of the artists. This state of change in ideas are more prominent in the Trisha Brown dance pieces that I was watching a week before where the dance was restaged by local dance students. The transmission of the idea through the work is always different in the context it is staged in despite how much you can control the creation of the work. It encourages the timelessness of the piece as there is a new life to each iteration of the work, with a new collaborator or artist coming from a different time and place putting a part of them into the process.

External readings:

Treatise by Cornelius Cardew, interaction between the composer and the musician.

Treatise (1963-1967) , Cornelius Cardew

Treatise , page 49
Treatise, Page 131


Treatise is a 193 page abstract musical score composed by Cornelius Cardew. Instead of the conventional western notation we often notice, the scores are flooded with abstract lines, circles and curves. This score is not accompanied by any instructions on how it’s supposed to be played or with what instrument. This gives the musicians a free reign on deciding how they want to approach reading a score, translating a visual directive into sound.


Treatise performed by SYNTAX ensemble with piano, violin and flute

Treatise : Conducted by Nino Jvania (1:40min)

Treatise played with electronic instruments


The following examples of the piece being played by various ensembles displays the unique interaction between the score and musicians. There are human universals in music on how we relate visual cues to sounds. For example when there’s a line growing in size or height, it has the visual stimulation of a sound or feeling that grows in value. Similarly with shorter dots or dashes you would imagine it to be sharp attacks or jumpy accents in music. But if all these various visual cues are layered and compressed within each other, how do the musicians make out how a 3 dimensional sound would make. This questions the idea of notation, the method of reading and translating an thought from the composer to the musician.

Vasily Kandinsky , Composition 8

“Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another purposely, to cause vibrations in the soul. —Vasily Kandinsky, The Effect of Color, 1911”


same same but different?


Similar connections between visual stimulation to sound has been explored by multiple artists in various mediums. They all tackle this transient and tactile moment that can be felt but difficult to be explained consistently to an audience.

Cardew had two phases in his career as a composer, from the 1950s-60s where his works were Avant Garde and during the 1970-80s when he tried to apply socialist and realist methods into his works. Treatise was made during his avant-garde period of composing of which he rejected the creation of the work as it went against his new beliefs. The piece allowed freedom and pure spontaneity between the artist/composer with the musicians, however it leaves the audience out of the picture. It therefore did not serve it’s purpose of being an artwork for the people as the audience is out of the loop.




Reference Links:

Vasily Kandinsky (1866–1944): Composition 8 (Komposition 8)