Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Duchamp's fountain is leaking all over the web

Back in 1917 Marcel Duchamp scandalized the art world by entering an ordinary urinal into an art exhibit under the title of "Fountain." It's not simply that it's a utilitarian object; a flowerpot, for example, would not have been quite so scandalous, though no more a work of art than a urinal. What stung is the urinal's function. Is that what art's for, a conduit channelling psychic waste into the universal underground?


But who'd have known that, a century later, urinals would have become a standard photographic subject? No doubt some of the photographers know of Duchamp, and some do not. Does an enterprising photographer need that kind of authorization to flick one of these things?


These days Art History 101 teaches us that Duchamp's "Fountain" was an answer to the question: What is art? Think about it; it's tricky, no? The problem comes when you try to define art by delineating the characteristics of the work of art. What makes it special. You can say, well, it's beautiful. But what's beauty? Not so easy to answer.


Why not look at it this way: It's not the characteristics of the object that make the work of art, it's the institution. Hang it in a museum and shazaaum! it's a work of art. Simple, no?



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