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Energy That Matters: Marcel Duchamp

  • Jean Baudrillard
  • Charles Bukowski
  • John Cage
  • Leonard Cohen
  • Marcel Duchamp

It has taken me a while to get to this entry. Duchamp, for me, ranks with John Cage as a figure of such incredible importance to the arts that it is simply not possible to sum him up in a few short sentences. At least not with a sense of justice. But then, since I did it for Cage, I'll do it for Duchamp too! Just remember that this is only the twenty second elevator speech version. Duchamp was active in the early part of the 20th century primarily as a painter. While even his paintings were revolutionary for their time (he included the dimension of time, taking cubism to another level - and cubism was already considered revolutionary), his real revolution came with his exhibition of the "ready-made" as a work of art. He turned a urinal 90 degrees, called it "Fountain", and signed it "R. Mutt", he brought a shovel into a gallery and called it, "in advance of a broken arm", and he exhibited a found bottle rack as a finished sculpture. His actions angered and confused the general public, and also most of the artistic elite. People ridiculed him and his work. But these simple actions by an artist changed art irrevocably and forever. These works forced people to ask not only what is "good art" or "bad art", but "what is art"? What can be art? What makes an object art anyway? Who can make art? Who can decide what is or is not art? Marcel Duchamp changed not only the world of art. He changed the world.

  • Allen Ginsberg
  • Albert Einstein
  • Karl Marx
  • Jean-Paul Sartre
  • Andy Warhol
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Published on Categories Fluxus

About Allan Revich

Allan Revich is a Toronto artist and writer. His work has appeared in numerous publications, in international exhibitions, and on many websites. He is active in the international Fluxus community. He currently writes poetry, creates visual poems, and works with photography. His work includes Web-based art, mixed media art, and mail art. His books, Headline Haiku 2006, Headline Haiku 2007, and Fluxus Vision are available internationally on and its affiliates, as his most recent collection of poems, "Flux You!".

5 thoughts on “Energy That Matters: Marcel Duchamp

  1. Nicolas


    I'm not sure that Duchamp changed the world

    I'm not sure that art can change the world

    Everybody can decide what is art or not

    I can decide what can be art

    I can say: this is not art
    this is not good art
    Not everybody can make art

    Not everybody can be artist,

    I never said to myself "I will be an artist"

    I was an artist, I've always been an artist, and some of my friends can't be artist, will never be artist

    Cause this is not a decision you take

    No ?


  2. Nicolas

    What you say about art is a danger for art

    I hope we will have a discussion about this

    Your friend


  3. Allan

    I tend to agree with you Nicolas, that artists often over-estimate the importance of art to the rest of (non-art) world. However, in the case of Duchamp, I believe that his actions transcended the art world and affected the way the world is seen by the academics in other fields and by the general population. Duchamp's challenges to perception had an effect on critical thinking similar to Marx's - although clearly not as profound an effect.

    Before Duchamp people could agree or disagree about the merits of an artwork, but at least it was clear to everybody what WAS and artwork. Duchamp turned perception on its head. It was no longer clear what could or could not be art or how one could decide what was or wasn't art. This question was diffused into the world at large as it became clear that it could be asked about anything and everything. Reality stopped being an absolute after Duchamp. Along with Marx (politics/economics) and Freud (psychology/motivation), Duchamp can be considered a critical precursor to postmodernism.

    As far as the question of, "who can be an artist?" goes, I don't think that there is a binary "yes/no" answer. In one sense anyone can be an artist. In another, not everyone wants to be an artist or feels like an artist. Like you, I feel that being an artist "just happened to me". If I stop creating I feel like I begin to die inside. But I do not presume to speak for everyone.

  4. Nicoolas


    I'm not agree with postmodernism ideas in art

    But everybody is free

    I'm what we call a reactionar, and I can be really hard with postmodernism ideas

    I know your affection for postmodernism

    And I don't want to start a war with you cause you are my friend and I really like you

    You are a real artist with your ideas and I respect this

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