Thursday, 28 September 2006

'Fountain' - Marcel Duchamp

So if Marcel Duchamp's 1913 'Nude Descending a Staircase' (posted here last night) is good art, and I think it is, then how about his 'Fountain,' a urinal presented to a 1917 exhibition with a very profound meaning: to piss on art. 'Fountain' was one of the works that kicked off the explicitly anti-art movement called Dada, for which the pissoir was the perfect symbol.

Artist Michael Newberry points out the subtle nature of Duchamp's pissoir as an exemplar of philosopher Immanuel Kant's view of art:

Kant states: "The beautiful in nature is a question of the form of the object, and this consists in limitation, whereas the sublime is to be found in an object even devoid of form."

Kant is contrasting the beautiful with the sublime. He connects, quite reasonably, the beautiful with the form of an object but, oddly, he attaches formlessness to the concept of sublime. To give you two examples, think of the Venus de Milo and Duchamp's Fountain. The Venus de Milo is a beautiful female form embodied in stone, which "consists in limitation" in the sense that she is a final concrete end. The Fountain, a urinal, on the other hand, derives its postmodern aesthetic value not because of its value as a sculpture but because of its "concept". Its purpose was, incidentally, to offend the sensibilities of the art-going public and artists by the act of exhibiting a toilet as art. Kant's concept of the formless nature of the sublime elevates the concept of the aesthetic work over the work itself. In other words, it is the concept that counts and not the artwork.

So what do you think this time? Is the pissoir good art? And if so, do you find Kant's view of art persuasive?

LINKS: Pandora's Box Part III: The Newsly Discovered Version - Michael Newberry, Free Radical
Nude descending a staircase - Marcel Duchamp - Not PC

RELATED: Art, Objectivism, Philosophy


  1. I was in Tait Modern the other day and was passing while a guide explained that piece - "It is art because it has not been used"

    I laughed out loud and was still chortling at the idiocy of that and other similar pieces as I walked through the next few rooms.

    imho - pieces of wee like that do not constitute art. The definition for me is: Would I be able to recreate that or slightly similar? If the answer is Yes, it is not art. In addition if it needs a lengthy explanation of meaningless waffle that does not make sense when you look back at the piece it is not art

  2. PC.

    Surely you are taking the piss, sir.

    [Am idly wondering whether you have won another bet by seeing this line posted in a comment]

  3. Bad art. I've seen much more attractive urinals. A urinal could be an art form but this one seems purely functional and mass produced. The lugs on the side are ugly. Would look ugly and ridiculous on the wall in your lounge as well. And would have limited capital gain potential especially if 'produced' by an unknown artist.

  4. It's bad art. Ayn Rand said, "Art is a metaphysical representation of the artists value judgments." So any piece of art that tries to devalue art is a very negative thing

  5. I think it is good art, precisely because it challenges us on the very notion of what art is. Then again, I'm a fan of Dada.

    As for Kant... I've never been persuaded by Kant's aesthetics, possibly because I'm not persuaded on his metaphysics which informs the aesthetics (and because a strictly Kantian reading seems to make colour in art meaningless).

  6. PC - This is not just art, it is the best artwork of all time! Well, at least according to some such vote among British art "experts". But not sez I.

    While I don't think it is art, I do think it is highly amusing. It says whatever I say is art, is art, but even if you don't believe that I'm art - and I know *you* don't because you believe in objectivity in art - I tried to provoke you into thinking about what art is, so therefore I am art. Nyah, nyah, nyah!

    Well you're not art buddy. You're something, I'll give you. Possibly meta-art? Or possibly an undecidable paradox? You're both art and not art......[trails off caused by brain strain through over-analysis]

    Sagenz - You didn't feel the temptation to sneak back and make history by having a quick waz?


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