Marcel Duchamp   Leave a comment

Art hurts. Art urges voyages – and it is easier to stay at home.
Gwendolyn Brooks

Visual artist Marcel Duchamp said, “The creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative art.”  Emily Dickinson said, “ If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me. I know that is poetry.” Ever feel like your senses need a good shock to wake them like the dare you accepted to make a naked snow angel in below freezing weather? Maybe it is a severe case of spring fever that makes one cry out for a change of venue for the emotions, the senses, and the mind.

What else makes the created haunted house fun at Halloween but the unexpected and allowing one’s self  to be frightened even when he/she knows it is safe. Tidy happy endings make for feel-good movies, but the unexpected in films, the ones that touch deeply and make our senses sit up and take notice are most likely the less tidy ones with loose ends never quite wrapped up. These films remain in the mind long afterward like a great novel. Art takes us from our comfort zone and pushes buttons that excite or cause unease but what a ride if we allow ourselves to be taken.

Marcel Duchamp lived in Paris in the early 1900s and it was the most amazing locale in the world for artists at that time. Roger Shattuck writes about Paris in his book “The Banquet Years.” He says that old ways of expression were challenged and exciting changes in art occurred daily in a raucous carnival atmosphere. In an attempt to fuse art and life as a means of forging a new personality nothing could be normal any longer in the old sense. Artists of this time period set out to extend the artistic creative self until it displaced all guises of habit, social behavior, virtue and vice. Artists and writers came to Paris in droves to experience this creative energy and life. Male waiters went on strike for the right to grow beards, feminists demonstrated, painters, writers and musicians lived together and tried their hands at each other’s works in an atmosphere of collaboration. Artists banded together in what came to be known as the avant-garde, the unorthodox and experimental in art and living. They created a tradition of people who defied civilized values in the name of individualized consciousness.

Duchamp came of age at this time. He had grown-up in a household of artists and is said to have had a precocious talent for drawing, so it is understandable that he quickly bored with continuing the same old art that had been done, and he did not have a desire to paint in the same way as his older brothers. Duchamp has been compared to Leonardo da Vinci in that both men were dedicated to the concept of art as idea, art as a mental act. Duchamp rebelled against the “craft” of painting. He thought that just copying what one sees was stupid, especially with the advent of photography. Many believe him to be the most influential artist of the twentieth century, because his belief that art is about ideas reached through decades and we see his influence on conceptual artists of the past 40 years.

It seems ironic that the Cubists, artists who pushed the boundaries of art themselves, were critical of Marcel Duchamp’s work, most notable his piece “Nude Descending a Staircase” which caused much discussion and disgust at the New York Armory Show in 1913. There is no discernible nude in the painting, but the early Cubists held the objects in their work to a limited subject matter and nudes, recognizable or not, were not one of these. They used everyday objects such as a guitar, carafe, a table, but nudes were not considered proper subjects. The Cubists considered the Duchamp piece the work of a Futurist because it portrayed movement, which suggested time passing. But perhaps the Cubists were feeling and just what this column is proposing that Duchamp’s piece stirred their senses, and did just what art should do –shake you up, make you wonder, feel, and think. For Duchamp good taste is no less harmful than bad, and we all know that what was tasteful yesterday may not be considered tasteful today.

Marcel Duchamp rebelled against all previous theories of accepted art, which dictated subject matter, perspective, and materials. He rebelled against retinal art; art that is attractive to the eye rather than to the mind. Being a participant in an artist’s work gives one the opportunity to engage one’s mind, to be transformed, to wonder, to imagine and to allow the complicated, or not, action of the unconscious mind to complete the work. Each of us as viewer, reader, and listener is needed to complete an artist’s work. Our response to a work of art creates an individual, subjective and wondrous action and gives the creation the gift of posterity.


Posted January 17, 2011 by strongjacksonpoet54 in Art, Essays

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