Monday, November 5, 2007

Ready-mades, Aesthetic Distance, Art as Mere Fun

I had a professor once point out that something becomes art once it is framed, no matter what that object may be This Marcel Duchamp’s' idea, a classic dada gesture he offered with his ready-mades, such as urinals hoisted upon gallery walls, and snow shovels on pedestals. The point, though, was that the object became an aesthetic object, denatured, in a manner of speaking, from its natural context and forced, suddenly, to be discussed in its very "thingness". Among the dubious yet witty results of this sort of framing, this creating of distance between the banal thing and the person who might have a real need for it is that a perfectly fine urinal, or a snow shovel, or a pipe all becomes useless.

There design virtues, originally aimed at smooth functioning, are usurped and become instead aesthetic dimensions one appreciates in a vaguer language. This aligns itself with Oscar Wilde’s notion of art, in his small essay accompanying Portrait of Dorian Gray, that all art is quite useless; this reflects, perhaps, his attitude for most people, whom he undoubtedly didn’t care for as such, but found them amusing as manifestations of impulses conflicting with protests of moral standards, Great Theatre, in other words.

The object becomes art by the lexicon we wrap around it, a linguistic default. Whether the object is art as most understand art to be--the result of an inner expressive need to mold , shape and hone materials and forms into an a medium that engages a set of ideas about the world, or unearths some fleeting sense of human experience -- isn't the point here. Ironically, art, generally defined as something that is absent all utility, any definable function, is suddenly given a use that is sufficiently economic, which is to keep an art industry in motion; it is the sound of money. Duchamp, and other Dadaists who sought to undermine this idea of art and its supposed spiritual epiphanies for the privileged few, instead furnished a whole new rational for art vending.