Marcel Duchamp’s Objets Trouves – Are They Art?

Marcel Duchamp shocked the art world and, forever after, the thought processes and anger centers of most people who have come across his work.

His best known painting, done before he turned to physical objects, is probably ‘Nude Descending a Staircase’.

As controversial as that was, described by one critic as “an explosion in a shingle factory”, and his painting a moustache on a reproduction of the Mona Lisa, nothing quite outraged the art cognoscenti as his finding a urinal, turning it upside down, titling it “Fountain” and entering it in a major art show under the name of R. Mutt. His term for such found objects: Readymades.

The immediate question and one that remains today: Is it art? How is it possible to claim that you are the author of something that you didn’t fabricate? Duchamp remarks that he has changed the viewers’ perception of the object, given it a new existence and that is nothing more or less than what an artist does when he paints a picture, especially considering that he does not create the canvas, the stretcher, the brushes or the paint, and he doesn’t create the subject matter; either it exists in the world or in his dreams or imaginings. In other words; nothing is really original, only ways of looking at something are original, and even that is merely a cultivated skill.

It is not hard to see that same notion at work in the compositions of classical composers. They frequently use folk songs as the bases for their symphonies or sonatas. Even if the melody is fresh, it is almost always dependant upon forms which are standard, such as the mode, the key, the standard chords and rhythms. All the composer is doing is reorganizing existing stuff so the listener hears things in a new way.

Here are some of Duchamp’s remarks about the subject:

This site provides pictures of his most important works along with some biographical information.

Many contemporary artists use found objects in their art. A few are:

Joseph Cornell, Salvador Dali, David Mach, Pablo Picasso, Robert Rauschenberg and Kurt Schwitters.

So, according to Duchamp, the only thing that is new is finding new ways to perceive what is already there. Open your eyes and see what has always been there but you haven‘t recognized.


By Jack Wilson, who is a writer, artist and composer from Los Angeles and Phoenix.

Speak Your Mind