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Marcel Duchamp’s invention of ‘the readymade’ Essay


Marcel Duchamp is a French artist born in the Haute-Normandie region of France in the year 1887. He is described as a both revolutionary and avante garde artist because of his invention of readymade art in 1915 and also because his works were often associated with Surrealist movements. Duchamp’s readymade art influenced the art movement during the post World War I period.

He invented challenged the conventional line of thinking that was used during art processes and the creation of art marketing by using subversive actions like when he called a urinal a fountain. In his invention of readymade art, Duchamp based his artwork on the belief that creative art was not made from the perspective of the artist but from the point of view of the spectator who has the ability to provide a link between the work and the external world (Masheck 1).

Duchamp’s early works were mostly focused on post-impressionist styles where he experimented on classical techniques of art work and art processes.

One of his first paintings that included post impressionism was the Coffee Mill painting which he drew in 1911. During the same year he also developed the Portrait of Chess Players which included his two brothers Raymond Duchamp and Jacques Villon where the art style was mostly Cubism because of the multiple perspectives of the two chess players and also because of the overlapping frames of the portrait.

Other works produced by Duchamp that were heavily post impressionist art forms included the Nude Descending Staircase which he did in 1912, the Thicket which he produced in 1911, Young Man and Girl in Spring which he also produced in 1911 and Yvonne and Magdeleine Torn. All these paintings had a heavy influence of both Cubist and Favism styles of painting which were predominantly viewed as post impressionist styles (Masheck 3).

Duchamp created readymade art objects in 1913 with his first invention being the Wheel of a Bicycle which was basically an inverted bicycle that was installed on a stool. The term readymade was not however coined until 1915 and it referred to prefabricated art forms and objects that were isolated from their functional purpose and settings where the objects were instead given an elevated status by the artist.

Duchamp’s readymade art forms became a product of mass production as readymade art presented the message on its own without any form of mediation and assistance. Duchamp got his idea for readymade art from the clothing industry in New York that was mostly focused on the mass production of clothes that were unique and stylish (Gale 1).

Duchamp’s vision for readymade art was mostly focused on producing art forms that had an aesthetic value as well as producing art objects that questioned the meaning of art itself.

According to the Duchamp, the decision made by an artist to make readymade art should be governed by the artist’s indifference to the art form rather than the beauty of the object. The developments in both Futurism and Cubism greatly influenced Duchamp’s readymade works together with the poetry works of the great poet Guillame Apollinaire. His first readymade works included the Bottle Rack which he produced in 1914.

The next readymade art form produced by Duchamp was done in 1915 which was the Prelude to a Broken Arm which was basically a snow shovel. His most recognisable readymade art object was the Fountain which was basically a urinal that had slight physical interventions like the pseudonym R. Mutt. The Fountain was described as the most influential piece of art work in the 20th century because of its boldness and provocativeness (Gale 2).

The Fountain also revolutionised 20th century art work more than any other piece of work produced during the same period. Other readymade art forms produced by Duchamp included his 1920 reproduction of the Mona Lisa portrait by Leonardo da Vinci where he included a moustache and a beard in his reproduction.

This led to his coining of the portrait as a rectified readymade piece of art work. In his inventions of readymade art forms, Duchamp continued to emphasize that the selection of readymade art should never be based on the perspective of the artist but on the artist’s reaction to visual indifferences that are presented in the art object (Mattick 124).

Duchamp’s invention of readymade art reduced the dominance of paintings and sculptures during the 20th century where they became the most autonomous pieces of artistic art forms during the 1960s and 80s. Readymade art later revolutionised to become industrially produced art objects that achieved the status of art as a result of presentation and selection by the artists.

Duchamp’s invention of readymade art was mostly based on designs of pieces of art that he viewed to be art by definition. His readymade art works were therefore based on designs that were made by others which meant that he was not the original designer of the art forms (Elger and Grosenick 80).

His approach to producing readymade art was mostly focused on assuming that any art object can be equipped with physical attributes and characteristics that can be used to elevate the status of the art form. He believed that an art object was defined by its context which was then used to perceive the various environments in which the art object would fit in.

Duchamp’s pioneering work on readymade art helped to shape the work of contemporary artists such as Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Joseph Cornell, Tony Cragg and Robert Rauschenberg and Michael Martin. Contemporary artists such as Robert Rauschenberg and Damien Hirst utilised Duchamp’s preference for artistic ideas rather than visual effects in their works during the 1950s.

Rauschenberg went on to produce art work that was focused on non-traditional materials which gave rise to Combines abstract expressionism. Some of his most common art forms included the canyon which he produced in 1959 and the Riding Bikes sculpture which he made in 1998 (Bossy et al 154).

Damien Hirst on the other hand focused on the use of dead animals that were preserved to create artistic sculptures such as the Golden Calf, which was a cow that had its horns and hooves emersed in 18-carat gold and the Physical Impossibility of Death which involved a sculpture of a tiger shark that was preserved in formaldehyde.

During the 1970s and 1980s, readymade art featured heavily in conceptual art works as well as Arte Povera art forms. Contemporary artists who incorporated Duchamp’s readymade art perspective in their work during this time included Tony Cragg and Joseph Cornell. Tony Cragg incorporated the use of discarded construction materials and other siposed materials to create sculptures such as the Britian Seen from the North and Terris Novalis which he created in 1981.

The 1980s marked the emergence of commodity art sculptures where mass produced art forms were placed in galleries and presented as sculptures. One of the artists who created commodity art sculptures during the 80s included Jeff Koons who is an American artist well known for his reproduction of banal objects. Koons produced the Two Ball 50/50 tank commodity sculpture in 1985 also known as the Equilibrium Series.

The sculpture which had an influence from the work of Damien Hirst was made of two basketballs that were floating in a distilled water tank and it demonstrated the readymade aspect of commodity art sculptures. His other sculptured art forms included the Statuary which was composed of a large stainless steel blow-up of various toys and the Banality Series that was made up of a series of three life-size statues of Michael Jackson and his pet chimpanzee, Bubbles that were plated with gold (Bossy et al vi)

Joseph Cornell was another contemporary artist in the 70s who incorporated Duchamp’s readymade art in his art sculptures. Cornell is well known for his artistic forms that incorporated aspects of assemblage and collage where he created art forms from found objects.

These found objects were usually boxes that he used to assemble several collections of photographs in both a surrealist and constructive way. An example of his assembled art work is the Medici Slot Machine that had an interactive design to it which was meant to encourage the audience to handle the sculpture. His other assembled art forms that borrowed from Duchamp’s readymade art included the Soap Bubble Sets, the Space Object Boxes and the Pink Palace Series (Bossy et al vi).

Another contemporary artist who still utilises Marcel Duchamp’s readymade artistic inventions and techniques is Michael Craig-Martin. He involved detached conceptualism in his sculptures that were made of commonly used household objects and other materials to create artistic art structures that were based on multimedia objects. In the year 1970, he came up with one of his most famous works that incorporated the use of four buckets made of metal that had been suspended on a table.

This sculpture demonstrated the effect that conceptualism and minimalism had on Martin which later saw him producing another sculpture in 1973 known as An Oak Tree. This sculpture was made up of an ordinary glass of water that was placed on a plain shelf to demonstrate his superiority over the object in the sculpture itself. This line of thinking led to the development and formation of conceptual art that would revolutionise commodity art sculptures in the 20th century (Bossy et al vi).

Duchamp’s readymade inventions and art forms paved the way for many of the above mentioned contemporary artists and other modern artists who involved the use of various objects both animate and inanimate. His readymade art has advanced the general view of artistic objects by changing the process of how art forms and objects are created.

Duchamp shaped the creation of artistic forms by exposing the nominalist character of pictorial events that led to Dadaism or Dada works which was a major movement that helped to form the artistic expressions of various contemporary and modern artists. Duchamp’s readymade inventions also helped to shape the avante garde artistic movement in the 19th century which was mostly concerned with expressing the view of the object rather than the view of the artist.

Works Cited

Bossy, Michael-Andre, Thomas, Brothers and John, McEnroe. Lives and legacies: an encyclopedia of people who changed the world. Westport, Connecticut: The Oryx Press, 2001. Print.

Elger, Dietmar and Grosenick, Uta. Dadaism. Berlin, Germany: Taschen, 2004. Print

Gale, Matthew. Readymade. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.

Masheck, Joseph. Marcel Duchamp in perspective. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Da Capo Press, 2002. Print.

Mattick, Paul. Art in its time: theories and practices of modern aesthetics. London: Routledge, 2003. Print.

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IvyPanda. (2019, March 6). Marcel Duchamp's invention of 'the readymade'. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/marcel-duchamps-invention-of-the-readymade/

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"Marcel Duchamp's invention of 'the readymade'." IvyPanda, 6 Mar. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/marcel-duchamps-invention-of-the-readymade/.

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IvyPanda. "Marcel Duchamp's invention of 'the readymade'." March 6, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/marcel-duchamps-invention-of-the-readymade/.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Marcel Duchamp's invention of 'the readymade'." March 6, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/marcel-duchamps-invention-of-the-readymade/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'Marcel Duchamp's invention of 'the readymade''. 6 March.

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