After Duchamp, art was no longer restricted to work that is auratic in Walter Benjamin’s sense of the word. It could take on forms no longer tangible, as they are in traditional painting and sculpture, but rather abstract and conveyed by a conceptual framework that is text-based to a large extent and serves a primary, rather than secondary, function, as was traditional.
Conceptualism has changed the face of the pictorial arts to such an extent that it has become increasingly difficult to define exactly what a work of art is, based solely on its physical properties. What Duchamp started is now commonplace: Art is what the artist – and even more so the dominant artistic discourse – decides is art. The fact that has remained largely unnoticed in the fields of Interart Studies and (more recently) intermediality is that conceptualism in the pictorial arts has had a profound impact on the interaction between the pictorial and other arts such as literature. Conceptual art, for example, undeniably complicates and sometimes even renders impossible one of the oldest instances of medial border crossings between the pictorial arts and literature: ekphrasis. Ekphrasis can be defined as the verbal representation of a pictorial work of art. Naturally, when art ceases to be pictorial and becomes visual in a conceptual way, the question arises if and how it can be represented ekphrastically. For example it is impossible to describe a work by Joseph Kosuth in the same manner Homer represented Achilles’ shield in words.