Art &Technology
- Marcel Duchamp - Ready Mades

"According to Arthur Danto an object can only be looked at, whereas a work of art has to be acquired by studying it; and he adds: even if this happens without conscious effort. Therefore it is not the work in itself but the active process of reception which is a constituting factor of art. Michail Bachtin coined the term 'dialogicity' for literature and meant the implicit 'variety of speech', the polyphony of a text. The term can also be applied to the work of art, the work of art being understood according to Umberto Eco as an 'open artwork', which enters into an active dialogue with a concrete recipient.

A work of art is here understood as a visual offer with its own specific “language“ that communicates a visual and intellectual impulse if the recipient is ready and motivated to get involved with the offer. The thesis is that this “language“ does not only possess a material but also an immaterial aspect; the relevance of the immaterial aspect depends, similar to a sounding-board, on the aesthetic competence of the respective recipient. The aesthetic competence includes aspects like, e.g. readiness to observe and question, attention and interest, experience and openness, sensitivity and contextual knowledge. The examination of selected works of art and the process of perception that they initiate is to clarify what is comprised in “material“ and “immaterial“ language.

(...) The aim was to create a sensitivity for the issue of the effect that a work of art has just in and out of itself and to what extent the observer contributes not only passively but actively, i.e. to what extent is he or she qualitatively involved. The starting point of the discussion was a quote from Lessing’s 'Laokoon oder Über die Grenzen der Malerei' written in 1766:

'Only that is fruitful what leaves room to the power of imagination. The more we see the more we must be able to add in our minds. The more we add in our minds the more we must imagine to see.'

A concise pose shown in a picture, if it corresponds with the experience of the percipient, can stimulate the imagination of the observer and the fantasy that foresees, and thinks and feels further; this use of the imagination is necessary if the pose is to have an effect, if it is to be understood."

(Dietrich Grünewald, Institute for the Theory of Arts, University Koblenz-Landau, Germany)

Marcel Duchamp: Bicycle Wheel. 1913

Fig.: Marcel Duchamp: Bicycle Wheel. 1913



Fig.: Marcel Duchamp: Rotative Demisphere. 1959



Bottle Dryer. 1963 replica, after a 1914 ready-made. Galvanized iron, 28-3/8 x 14" diameter at base. Collection: Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena.

"The intention of his (Duchamp’s) ready-mades was obviously not the extremely successful change of the concept of art but a new definition of the artist who creates art without producing it, merely by choosing the objects. In this gesture, that was strongly emphasised by Duchamp and that was celebrated as an attack on all conventions of art, its convention that is crucial to modern times is maintained: the ingenious potential of the artist who, so to speak, creates art by the laying on of hands, in some kind of negative aesthetics of production."

(Walter Grasskamp. In: Merkur 2/ 1998, p.101)

Only the postulated and accepted label 'art' lets the observer assume that it is connected with an idea, with an artistic intention.

"Spirit, in its aesthetic meaning is the invigorating principle of the mind… Now I claim that this principle is nothing but the ability to present aesthetic ideas; what I understand by an aesthetic idea is the idea of the power of imagination that causes much reflection although no particular thought, i.e. term, can be adequate to it and therefore no language can fully grasp it and make it comprehensible."

(Immanuel Kant: Kritik der Urteilskraft, 1st part, 1st section, 2nd book)

"The quote actually corresponds with the understanding gained above that the original, pragmatic function of a chosen object is isolated and dissolved and instead an open intention that cannot be exactly described is reconstructed. The object itself is (for Duchamp) an example but it is (as the replicates show) still of importance; without the conveyed artistic aura it remains an (everyday) object; that way however it provokes reflection, association, interpretation that do not remain immanent but combine the context of the history and theory of arts (Der Fall Richard Mutt, Verteidigung Duchamps in 'The Blind Man'; Duchamp: Der kreative Akt.1957) among those observers who accept the offer. Prepared through the gesture, the objects seem like a relic 'loaded'with an idea - and as it is the case with religious relics the visible object remains important but only as a signal for the essential, so that in the end it is unimportant if the relic is real or not as long as it conveys the intended impulse (see the objects, e.g. of Beuys, especially the 'remains' of the Fluxus-action, see also the 'Relics' of Patrick Raynaud).

Beckmann’s postulate: 'Art does serve recognition, not entertainment,' is verified (not only here) in the active and productive process of perception of an accepting and knowing recipient. His aesthetic competence (e.g. aesthetic experience, sensitivity, knowledge and appreciation) that is aroused, required and directed towards the offer of art combines ratio, intuition and emotion and is therefore part of the quality of the picture."

(Dietrich Grünewald, Institute for the Theory of Arts, University Koblenz-Landau, Germany)