Where Art Lives with Duchamp

While I agree to some extent with Duchamp’s demonstration of the urinal, to place a urinal in an art gallery does to some extent make it art, it forces the viewer to consider it in a new way. Even if the urinal is to be considered art though, it would not be Duchamp’s. Had Duchamp, on the other hand, created a urinal, not so unlike the ones found in plumbing supply stores, that would have been his “art”. Duchamp said that, “Whether Mr. Mutt with his hands made the fountain or not has no importance. He chose it” (Richard Mutt Case). Would he have said the same if someone “chose” to present one of his works as their own? Did Duchamp even view it as art or merely want to make a statement?

In his interview on Marcel Duchamp, John Cage said, “There are no Duchamps which are made poorly. He spoke of the function of the artist as that of an artisan, someone who made things”(155). He also says that “Duchamp says he wants to make a ready-made to which he is completely indifferent” (154). Duchamp claimed his readymades were art but did not treat them as such. His actions speak louder than his statements. I see the ownership of a piece of art as belonging to the person who created it out of elements which were not together in exactly that way before they came into that individual’s possession. A remix of a song has in essence two owners, the person or people who made the original art(s) and the person who put them together. To me, the art is in the inspiration, it’s in the thought that brings together formerly unrelated things into something new.

Duchamp’s frustration at art came from the thought that none of his work was truly original. Rather than attempt something original, he took his inspiration from other artists like Picasso and within the movements of Dadaism and cubism. He believed that art could be original though no art was ever purely original. The first cave painter drew inspiration from the world around him or her and all other art stemmed from that act. Duchamp’s view of art is that it is possible to make everything art. I believe that to make everything art is to say nothing is art. Art should make the viewer think, even if the only person who ever views it is the artist.

In a way, Duchamp’s ready-mades fit my definition of art because they forced the audience to look at common objects in a new light; at the same time, they do not as they were not Duchamp’s property to display. Had he photographed them against a plain white background and displayed them, that would have been his art. Had he painted them in the center of a blank canvas, that would have been his art. His stool with a bike wheel screwed onto it does fit my definition of art because it takes two things which were unrelated and makes something new out of them.

I agree with Duchamp that the place a piece of art exists most strongly is within the space between artist and spectator, a space which he referred to as the “art coefficient.” It is the translation between interpretations that gives art life. I also agree with Duchamp that perfection in art separates the artist from the spectator, it leaves no space for interpretation and no space for the expression of the artist’s self. Imperfections are art and the further we move into the digital age the more we lose. I will continue to shoot film for as long as is humanly possible because it feels more real than any pixels on a screen ever could.

Duchamp believed that the artist was only as good as his audience told him he was and to some extent that is true but the artist must believe in himself or he’ll never place his art in a gallery for others to see, he’ll never finish a work because he will lose all will to continue.

Duchamp said that art does not exist to be examined and I’d go a step further to say that it can’t be. We cannot define art or say for sure what any piece of art means or what the artist’s intention was just by looking at it. We can interpret what it might mean or articulate what it says to us as individuals about the way we see the artist or the way we understand their world or our own but ultimately the only person who knows what the artist meant is the artist and the only one who knows how it makes one person feel is that one person. Duchamp said that there are two poles of art, the artist and spectator. I would say that between these poles is where art lives. Art cannot be defined because it exists in the spaces between work and audience, between artist and experience, between reality and interpretation. It is different to each individual because that space allows unique life experiences to mingle with those of the artist, of societies past and present. Duchamp explains a similar idea in which “the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualification and thus adds contribution to the creative act” (Creative act).

Art only exists when it’s being experienced. A song exists as sheet music but those notes cannot evoke the same experience as the same notes plays by an instrument or vibrating out from vocal chords. A painting, abandoned in an attic loses its place as a piece of art as it can no longer be experienced. A photograph is not art until it escapes the camera and finds itself on a wall, even a virtual one.

Art matters because it brings us outside of our own existence, whether we are the creator or the audience, we are forced to look at the raw material or the final product in a way that it never existed before.

“We have gotten from Duchamp this concern which interests us more than anything else: the blurring of the distinction between art and life” (158). Art is the transference of an experience before one being to another. It can transcend time and space. Art cannot mean one thing and one thing only. It must contain gaps between what is reality and what is art. The more perfectly digital sound recording and digital photography can reproduce something, the less they become art. Art is the influence a person has on something. It is based on inspiration. A person painting what they see out a window is creating art because they are a person. A sculptor molding clay is making art. A person manipulating the settings on a camera to tell it how much light it needs, how brief a time it needs it and what to focus on before holding the camera in just the right spot is creating art.

A machine spitting out photocopies is not creating art. A machine spitting out models based on machine-made scans is not making art. A person pressing one button to produce an image is creating a portion of a piece of art, the camera is doing the rest.

The representations are becoming so close to reality that they lose the spaces into which the audience fits. We watch reality TV merge entertainment with reality as we have merged entertainment with art. We have begun judging a film by the number of pixels in a frame rather than by how it makes us feel. Art has become thought of as optional when nothing could be more essential.

The only true requirement for art comes from inspiration and inspiration comes from the human mind and the human experience we all share. Whether or not something considered is good art is based on societal expectation or personal preference but neither deny the truth. As Duchamp said “bad art is still art in the same way that a bad emotion is still an emotion” (Creative Act). Art exists in the spaces and emotions we cannot quantify with science. It exists in parts of ourselves that are sometimes beyond our own understanding. An artist gives more to his art than he knows or means to. We can look at a painting from centuries ago and learn about the artist’s understanding of life something that their generation thought commonplace but we would never have known about.

Art is important because it proves that we exist for something beyond mere survival. It cannot be defined any more than the meaning of life can be discovered. They are one in the same. The meaning of life is to perpetuate itself that it may carry on to create more art that will, in turn, give deeper meaning to the life.

Art is essential as it gives us something to own, something that would not have existed without our presence and only has meaning as life continues to exist. The creation of art must be something bigger than the act of choosing an object and placing your name on it. You must present something in a way that only you could, to give something of yourself. Even if your hands are merely mechanical means of assembly, your mind is not. Inspiration serves as the manual to this creation, your imagination and not someone else’s. No one can tell you how to make your art or be the authority on whether or not it is worthy of that title.

No art can be original because its inspiration must come from something and its creation must be based on some established structure. Creating fresh and new art is not about complete originality but complete truth as no one has ever been exactly like you. We can only blur the line between life and art, it cannot and should not be a perfect representation of reality. There must contain imperfections and holes where the spectator adds his or her own contributions and interpretations. A piece of art that means only one thing and can never mean another is not art, it is life and we don’t need museums to see that.


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