The ready-mades are Marcel Duchamp’s best-known body of work. An artistic approach that aims to extract art from its pre-determined mediums, and from the dogma of academism.
Marcel Duchamp’s approach finds in his ready-mades the culmination of his desire to break free from the dictatorship of taste, what is good and what is bad, in addition to opening art to any other medium.
Ready-Mades, The Approach
“The choice of ready-mades is always based on visual indifference as well as on the total absence of good or bad taste” Marcel Duchamp.
“In 1913 I had the idea of fixing a bicycle wheel on a kitchen stool and watching it spin. A few months later I bought a cheap reproduction of a winter evening landscape, which I called “Pharmacy” after adding two small touches, one red and one yellow, on the horizon.
In New York in 1915 I bought a snow shovel in a hardware store on which I wrote “In advance of the broken arm.” It was around this time that the word “ready-made” came to mind for this form of manifestation.
Ready-Mades: Is It Art?
There is one point that I want to make very clear, and that is that the choice of these ready-mades was never dictated to me by any aesthetic delight. This choice was based on a reaction of visual indifference, coupled at the same time with a total absence of good or bad taste …complete anesthesia. One important feature: the short phrases I occasionally wrote on the readymade. “
Marcel Duchamp explains the approach behind his ready-mades. First inspired by the philosophy of Dada, he pushed the exploration of the absurd to the extreme.
But here, as in Dadaism, the absurd carries meaning. In the materialist and industrial society of the West at the beginning of the 20th century, taking an industrial object and then declaring it a work of art takes the place of a well-inspired transgression.
With his ready-mades – industrial objects to which the artist Duchamp changes only the function – he radically overturns the conceptions, notions and cultural value attributed to “Art” by convention.
“Another aspect of the readymade is that there is nothing unique about it… The replica of a readymade conveys the same message; in fact almost all of the ready-mades in existence today are not originals in the accepted sense of the term, “he clarified in 1961.
Not unique, not pretty, not original. Is it art? The ready-mades push us to ask this question. And that’s exactly what Marcel Duchamp was aiming for.
The Relationship Between The Artist And The Viewer
The crucial question for Marcel Duchamp is also to integrate the viewer into the process. What makes an artistic object is the intention of the artist. And whoever looks at it.
“My idea was to choose an object that attracted me neither by its beauty or its ugliness, to find a point of deference in the look I wear,” he says. Better yet, he does not hesitate to declare that “it is the viewers who make the paintings. “
Including the viewer’s gaze in the process of creation inspired the surrealists, from Magritte to Dali. However, for Marcel Duchamp the question is a bit different. He does not ask the viewer to complete the work he has in front of him, as in Surrealism.
“In the act of creation, the artist moves from intention to realization through a chain of totally subjective reactions. His struggle for achievement is a series of efforts, pain, satisfaction, refusal, decisions, of which they cannot and should not be fully aware, at least aesthetically. On the whole, the creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the viewer puts the work in contact with the outside world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualification and thus adds its contribution to the creative act. It becomes even more evident when posterity renders a final verdict and sometimes rehabilitates forgotten artists ”
Deciphering and interpreting – this is the interest for Duchamp. Placing an industrial object like a work of art in the middle of an exhibition turns it into a work of art. But is it a work? The work of art comes to life in the reaction and ensuing discussions.
Ready-mades, The Concept
André Breton, in the Dictionnaire abrégé du surréalisme, in 1938, defines Duchamp’s best known work as follows: “The ready-made is a manufactured object promoted to the dignity of an art object by the sole choice of the artist. “
Industrial Object And The Dignity Of The Work Of Art
The concept behind the ready-mades aims to desecrate art and what is attached to it. It must be said that art has been institutionalized for a long time. By the Church first, then by the aristocracy, and finally by the bourgeois market.
In total contradiction with conventions, Marcel Duchamp will anchor his ready-mades in the idea that a “vulgar” everyday object can achieve the sublime loaned to a work of art.
Duchamp insists on calling into question the dignity of the work of art by signing, for example, his bottle holder with: “Marcel Duchamp, Certified Antique. “
The Approach at the Base of Conceptual Art
But ironically, this enthronement is what Marcel Duchamp wanted to destroy. An enthronement by the sensitive, the beautiful … He says it himself: “The intention of the ready-made is to get rid of this idea of the beautiful and the ugly. We could do fifty of them in one day, but that’s not true. If you do fifty a day, you will see that in three or four days you will start to like them, so that result is not what I was looking for.”
The approach also aimed not to reflect on the work but on the notion. Asked by a journalist how to look at a readymade, Duchamp replied: “It shouldn’t be looked at from the bottom, it’s just there. […] We do not contemplate. We note that it is a bottle holder that has changed its destination, and that’s it. “
And then that’s all? Not sure. He adds: “What is visualized disappears. The work of art is no longer visible, it is completely gray matter. “
At its base the approach of conceptual art is indeed that of the ready-mades. The concept, the idea, the intention of the artist take precedence over the resulting object. From there, art is about anything you want, on the sole condition of asking a question – which stems from the artist’s goodwill.