In 1970 Keith Arnatt produced a work of art entitled
‘Is it Possible for Me to Do Nothing as My Contribution to this Exhibition?’
The work consisted of a written statement in which he explored several different ways of doing nothing as a contribution to an exhibition.
All the ways of doing nothing that he identified, actually involved doing something. Even if that something was as simple as:
- putting forward the idea ' I have done nothing' as a contribution to the exhbition
- requesting some space within the exhibition in which 'to do nothing'
- making the statement 'I will do nothing' and sticking to it for the duration of the exhibition
Arnatt was using conceptual art (art using ideas and language) to show the limits of conceptual art.
Lawrence Weiner made a famous statement about conceptual art to say that:
An artist can come up with an intention for a work of art and then:
• Might make it themselves
• Might get someone else to make it
• Might decide not to make the intention into a physical reality at all
Either way in Weiner’s view you still have a work of art that can be distributed, received and owned.
Arnatt has come up with an intention for a work of art that can not be made by the artist or by anyone else, and the intention of which can not be communicated by the artist to anyone else.
(I haven't been able to find the text of Arnatt's work on the web, but it is reprinted in full in the book 'Six Years' by Lucy Lippard.)