Was Duchamp really useful and necessary to art?
Thank you for an interesting debate topic. I accept, and will argue that Marcel Duchamp's work holds an important vital place in the history of 20th Century Western Art because of how it expanded the concept of art, and because of how many contemporary artists owe their work to foundations which he established.
Marcel Duchamp made some of the seminal iconic works of art in the 20th Century. As a founding member of the Dada movement, his art questioned many conventions of the art world, such as authorship, context, and the purpose of art. Duchamp flourished in New York between the world wars- and was a product of the time, and the place. His work remains to this day a touchstone for many contemporary artists- such as Damien Hirst and Ai Weiwei.
Many artists' work builds from Duchamp. Works with provocative titles, such as Damien Hurst's embalmed shark in a tank entitled: "The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living"
This work clearly builds on the precedent of Duchamp's work. Such as his piece which is a Snow Shovel suspended and entitled: "In advance of a Broken Arm". Both these pieces take existing objects- termed "readymades" by Duchamp, and places them out of context and gives the object a provocative title. According to Janson's History of Art, "Unlike all art that preceded his, his Readymades have no aesthetic value and theoretically no intended meaning. they are merely a device to launch ideas."
Duchamp intentionally used objects that were mass produced, in a form of 3-Dimensional collage. Collage is an existing art form which uses found 2D images and combines them in artistic ways. Duchamp made collage with 3D objects such as in "Bicycle Wheel" -http://imageobjecttext.com...
a wheel mounted onto a stool. One could say this combination invited viewers to see these objects in a purely aesthetic sense, rather than as utilitarian objects. One can see an echo of this work in Ai Weiwei's bicycle installations: Forever Bicycles- http://www.fastcodesign.com...
which is an installation of over 1,000 bikes in a beautiful array...
Whether of not one finds Duchamp's work pleasing, or aesthetically valuable, it was relevant, and it did have a major impact on western art. Duchamp himself defended his art by saying, "Whether Mr. Mutt with his own hands made the fountain or not has no importance. He chose. He took an ordinary article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared... creating a new thought for that object."
P.S. The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living sucks!!!
First of all- this debate is only about Duchamp, not all artists who try to redefine art. Is it “always positive to expand the concept of art”? Positive- is a relative term. The art world finds it’s own balance. There are critics and audience and collectors, and they are the ones who determine what has value and what does not. Individuals can choose. The act of choosing itself is at the very core of the idea behind Duchamp’s work. It is about choice. If there was no choice- we would all be forced to look at only sanctioned artists. There would be censorship and only “good” art. Duchamp revealed this quite clearly in his work- that there is freedom in the art world- and art is as much defined by the artist, as it is by the public.
Art does not always have a positive impact at all. But Duchamp’s pieces were useful and necessary to art, as is the debated issue.
One cannot claim, for example, all Portraiture, or all Cubism, or all Impressionism is good art. There are examples of those styles that aren’t strong. Yet they are all legitimate styles, they are all “useful and necessary to art”.
The concept of art at the time of Duchamp needed to be expanded. Duchamp was not the only artist engaged in the Dada movement, but he is probably the most well known of the New York Dada movement. Dadaists in Europe also used out of context pieces, readymades, and authorless works to question the prevailing artistic establishment. Also european Dadaism was necessary to jolt the viewer into reconsidering the status quo between the World Wars- for it had produced some of the most suffering and destruction seen to that day. So it was a “reorganizing attempt” to find what are the real values behind art?..
By displaying readymades and pieces which do not claim authorship... Do not claim aesthetic value, and do not claim meaning, Duchamp asks what are the intrinsic nature of art then? Where does art live then? Is there still beauty to be found? I think by removing these traditional assumptions of what an art piece is, Duchamp was able to still find beauty, still make people want to behold his work, and still found that art had the power to make people reconsider objects around them. I think that is a very fundamental contribution to the art world. A very daring one. And a very strong commentary on society.