Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Marcel Duchamp’s urinal ... er, "Fountain"

I don’t always succeed in appreciating a (so-called) work of art.

For example, I’ve never been able to appreciate Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain … which isn’t a fountain at all. It’s a urinal. And I’m not ashamed to say that I don’t “get” it, despite the fact that a poll of 500 art experts named it as the most influential work of modern art … ahead of works by Picasso and Matisse!

Duchamp's idea was that it’s the creative process that is the most important thing - that the work itself can be made of anything and can take any form.

Conceptually, I agree with that … but I can’t see that Duchamp actually created anything. What he did was purchase a factory-made product and hang it on a wall. And, indeed, when Duchamp shocked the art establishment in 1917, offering it for the first exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in New York, Fountain was rejected for being neither original nor art.

Duchamp’s urinal is an example of Dadaism. According to its proponents, Dada was not art, it was "anti art", bent on rejecting traditional culture, and embracing chaos and irrationality. For everything that art stood for, Dada was to represent the opposite. Where art was concerned with long-established aesthetics, Dada ignored aesthetics. If art was to appeal to sensibilities, Dada was intended to offend. If art is a gift of the Universe, then Dada rejected the spirit of reciprocal generosity.

To my mind, even if American Dadism was driven by a sense of irony and humor, its negative purpose moves it out of the realm of art. Dadists themselves called it “anti-art”. How can something anti-art be art?

1 comment:

Rockinon said...

I put a link to this on my blog, and please you just must see my picture, Duchamp would smile. You might even say it's art!