Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Accidental Artist

I feel it is my OBLIGATION to put into writing my thoughts on the book I have just finished reading called "Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp" , which was written in 1967 by Pierre Cabanne. I learned a great many things about the "Accidental Artist", which I have now termed him, most which were surprising. The first is, he never stopped working, like so many believe. I understand, now, that he stopped "PAINTING"...but quietly kept "making" and "assembling".

Hmm. Surprise surprise. All the way up into graduate was mentioned time and time again that he stopped working as an artist immediately after the "Fountain" episode. Unless I misunderstood, which could very well be the case. This is a relief to me. A man who, with no formal education, a disgust for "Retinal" art (eye candy) and a real hatred for the formalities of the art world, becoming one of the most famous and respected artists' of all time really got up my nose.

I feel much better now.

It seems to me that Duchamp was a person who needed to be challenged... mostly to keep from being bored. His was a life that craved "Amusement". Every other comment he made was "It amused me" or "It was amusing". What did I make of this? I felt as if he was making fun of the interviewer, that the first three quarters of the "Dialogue" was a joke to him. I thought he was retarded. Honestly. Then I thought maybe he was being contradictory not because it amused him...but because he hated the whole process of being interviewed.

He didn't seem very likable.

Then things started to change. Duchamp began to speak about his work. His art. Other artists that were making work at the time...and then I understood. Duchamp felt nothing but irritation for anything made that was completely non-conceptual. And, as so much of art then, as now, IS non-conceptual, why bother? His "ANTI-ART " sentiments resounded loudly to me.

So...what's the point of making art if it is purely decorative? It's uninteresting and pointless. It's BORING. He needed amusement...a challange, something that made him think. I hear you, Marcel, I hear you.


keri marion said...

While I agree with many points you made on Duchamp, I don't think he was an "accidental" artist, unless by that you mean that he decided to make art accidental as a reflection of life's accidental-ness.

Duchamp was trained classically, like his brother. He just got bored with it. Certainly I understand this. There comes a point in (hopefully) every contemporary artist's career where s/he questions the very nature of his or her intentions/ actions /purpose.

With such a heavy focus on decorative painting (using little d to distinguish between the genre of Decorative painting and painting for the eye alone, or decorative painting), Duchamp became experimental.

He wanted to make work that nobody had seen before, and by placing an ordinary (vulgar) item in a highly regarded establishment, he caused the viewer to actually *view* the item in a completely new context.

He challenged the entire structure of art, and without him (and probably a little help from his friends) we wouldn't have the art world we have now, for better or worse.

Duchamp was obsessed with meaning and context. One could actually say he *did* stop making art, and they would be just as correct as someone who claimed he *did not* stop making art. Both versions are true and false at the same time because Duchamp himself was a walking, living, breathing ambiguity. That's what makes him clever.

He was immensely interested in being pleased, but not to confuse that with being pleasured.

I think one of the things that made Duchamp's work turn into what it did was some of the experiences that affected him personally.

Firstly, he was a Frenchman in NYC. He worked as a librarian during the day and gave French lessons to intermediate French speakers in the evening. He was impatient, mostly, by his own description. He realized that words were futile in communication, and that nobody really understood anybody else anyway, so why try, really?

Also, he wasn't a very tidy man, as I understand it. There's even photographic evidence by Man Ray who adored the inch-thick sheeting of dust that covered almost every square inch of Duchamp's Broadway apartment.

Rumor has it that the readymades started as a sort of rebellion to picking up the house. One day he just nailed a coathanger to the floor after kicking it for several months.

He played with ideas, as opposed to images. He used titles as a way to convey meaning, but -again- realized there can be no real way to communicate anything anyway. Still, he tried.

This makes a case for ambiguity that already exists between speakers. That is why the viewer is so ridiculously important in his work. If they don't get it, they don't. And if they do, they do. There are no guarantees and he is not responsible for how anyone feels or thinks about it, just exactly like life itself.

I haven't read the whole "Dialogues" book... only sections because I'm a nitty reader. I read often, but not a lot.

I can say with confidence that he did despise "retinal" art, but he didn't hate beauty or have a bunch of rules attached to what made art, art.

He just didn't see the point of painting a tree where a tree "should" be "expected" and of the "colors" it "should" be in a "setting" that is readily available, without question, considered to be "real" because there is no such thing. It's different for all of us, always.

What I love about Duchamp most is that he was able to make art that wasn't "pretty." It doesn't have to be "ugly," in fact it doesn't have to be anything at all. It's everywhere by our own perceptions, and that is what is truly beautiful.

keri marion said...

note: when I say trained classically, I don't mean formally. I think you're right about him not having an "art school" background. :)