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Art ‘I Was Interested in Ideas – Not Merely in Visual Products. I Wanted to Put [Art] Once Again at the Service of the Mind’ (Marcel Duchamp). Discuss with Reference to One of Duchamp’s Art Works.

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‘I was interested in ideas – not merely in visual products. I wanted to put [art] once again at the service of the mind’ (Marcel Duchamp). Discuss with reference to ONE of Duchamp’s art works.

“The readymade can be seen as a sort of irony, because it says here it is, a thing that I call art, I didn’t even make it myself” (Ades and Cox et al., 1999: 151). Most of Marcel Duchamp’s “readymades” are the representatives of this ideology, the most controversial and distinguished one is “Fountain” definitely, which is a urinal in Society of Independents Artists Exhibition in New York in 1917 (Nesbit, 1994). After this exhibition, the debate was initiated to argue what was art and what was not. This essay will first consider how Marcel Duchamp challenged the concept of art with Fountain and secondly, will evaluate the significance of Fountain, to demonstrate the worth of Fountain as one of the most significant art works in 20th century.

There are numerous understandings of what art is. The definition of art from Oxford Dictionary is “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture” (Oxford Dictionaries). However, this is a traditionary explanation about art. It has no longer apply to the modern art in various aspects. Since the Dadaism movement started in Europe in early 20th century, anti-art works had been prevalent among the modern artists. The art theory had an enormous transformation during this period. Art was not only painting and sculpture anymore, many new forms of art springed up. Fountain is one of the new art forms invented by Marcel Duchamp, it is called ready-made or found art. David argues that the artwork can be created by the artist’s decision, but not the craftsmanship because the emphasis is the meaning the artwork represents (Galenson, 2009). In the other words, the choice of an object is considered as art (Shea: 5). However, there are only two or three definitions of art, and some people think there is no precise definition of art, but the opinions about art.

In1917, Marcel Duchamp evoked a critical disputation in modern art with Fountain. For the first time, Fountain was hided by the independents Artists Exhibition, the reason was that modern artists did not think Duchamp’s urinal as an artwork, and it was a manufactured work. The debate started whether the porcelain urinal was art or was not art. Later, an article was published in The Blind Man to defend Fountain from the people who did not think it was art work. It said that it was not relevant whether Marcel Duchamp did it by himself or not. “He CHOSE it (Duchamp, 2006). ” Tomkins pointed out that Marcel Duchamp just picked up an ordinary object from daily life and showed it to people with a new title, also he created a new idea for the object he had chosen (Tomkins: 185). Duchamp’s Fountain is the manifestation of the consciousness of Dadaism that broke away from the conventional notion of art (Goldsmith, 1983: 198). It has aroused the debate in the modern art.

In normal conditions, a work of art needs to be provided with a fundamental aesthetic beauty and value on itself, but almost all the artists and consumers do not think Fountain has it. Even they think Duchamp’s urinal is immoral, it is an inappropriateness to be shown in the exhibition (Nelson: 3). Marcel Duchamp defends in the same article in The Blind Man by saying “Now Mr. Mutt's fountain is not immoral, that is absurd, no more than a bath tub is immoral. It is a fixture that you see every day in plumbers' show windows” (Duchamp, 2006). It is right. The urinal becomes immoral just because it is a bath fixture what refer to the disagreeable part of the human body (Shea: 3). Duchamp gave it name “Fountain” rather than “Urinal”, might because he wanted people to acknowledge the place of bathroom in their life. Also, it brings a completely new concept about art that do not always take into consideration the value of art itself, the more valuable meaning is always behind the art.

The first significance of Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain is that he challenged the boundary between art works and the other things (Goldsmith, 1983: 199). After the exhibitions of Fountain, artists and art collectors started to think about what should be art what should not be. Nowadays, people think art is almost everything in daily life because design has been essential components of all the objects. Duchamp’s Fountain might be an initial stage of the concept transition about art. The relation between art and design is correlative with each other. As note above design is the indispensable element of everything, when the visitors observe the urinal in the museum or the exhibition, they can consider the sensuous shape and the fine line of the the urinal what is down by design. Why can not it be a work of art? Thus, Duchamp’s art action can be a revolution in the world of art, the consequence is “the distinction between life and art is abolished” (Goldsmith, 1983: 200).

The second significance mentioned before is “found art” became prevalent since Duchamp’s Fountain. The art work of found art is called readymade, it is a type of sculpture made by one commonplace object or the combination of several objects without alteration(Shea: 1). In fact, Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain is not the first readymade, but it is the highly controversial and it has become the most famous example of found art. By the development of readymades, it becomes more and more popular in the modern art world. A sub-genre of found art is called “trash art”, turn scrap material to art works (Goldsmith, 1983: 197). For instance, “trashion” is made use of trash or junk into fashion. Such like the clothes fully made by newspapers. Trash art also has a social influence on increasing the environmental awareness. It is clear to see Fountain as an original readymade opened a new gate in the modern art wold.

To conclude, Fountain is not only one of Marcel Duchamp’s most celebrated artwork, but it is also a notable landmark in the process of modern art. Despite the controversy about Fountain is still continuing, its value is truly undeniable. Especially the impact in the world of modernism, people began to rethink the notion of art by the emergence of Fountain. Also, Marcel Duchamp explored the boundary of art, and many new genres of art were guided by his invention of “readymades”. From all of these aspects, Fountain can be seen as one the most important artwork in 20th century.


Ades, D. Cox, N. and Hopkins, D. (1999) Marcel Duchamp, London: Thames and Hudson, p. 151.

Tomkins, Duchamp, p. 185.

Shea, S. Marcel Duchamp’ s Fountain.

Nesbit, M. (1994) His Common Sense- Marcel Duchamps, Art Forum.

Oxford Dictionaries Online. Available at: (accessed: 4 November 2013).

Goldsmith, S. (1983). “The readymades of Marcel Duchamp: The ambiguities of an aesthetic revolution”. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 42(2), 197-208.

Duchamp, M. (2006). “The Richard Mutt Case”. 124026.

Galenson, D. W. (2009). “The most important works of art of the twentieth century”. In Conceptual Revolutions in Twentieth-Century Art (pp. 62-78). Cambridge University Press.…...

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