Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Is a urinal really important?

I guess the answer depends on where you are standing. My brother-in-law was recently at the Philadelphia Museum of Art standing in the Modern & Contemporary Art wing, looking at the “Fountain.” Upon returning to my in-laws house for dinner, where my family and I were ready to partake in libations and some good barbeque; he thought it would be a good idea to get some perspective regarding this little porcelain thing resting on its back placed high upon a pedestal in this prestigious museum. So he began by asking, “Why is there a urinal in the Philadelphia Museum of Art?” My first response should have been, “Every building needs a bathroom thanks to building codes.” But that wasn’t my reply. Instead I exclaimed with great joy, “Oh Duchamp, isn’t it awesome!”

Let the debate begin. Step one: determine the definition of art: Something that is beautiful and extraordinary. If you look at the context and time period, extraordinary would not be a problem. However I knew I would have trouble convincing someone that a vessel a man uses after processing beer is indeed beautiful. First of all he thought it was ludicrous that it needed to be justified. I explained to him that a lot of stuff in museums needed to be explained. That’s why in museums you find a collection of things arranged nicely with little explanations next to them. I brought up many examples to illustrate my point. Score a point for me!

Beauty was still the problem. I know Duchamp. I love Duchamp. Most of the artists in the 21st Century wouldn’t be doing what they are doing if it weren't for him. I use type in my paintings because he describes words as plastic. I was in awe when I first read that. WOW! It resonated, and I got it. I wanted to use that, it’s my own little readymade. This urinal was the pinnacle for art becoming an idea; art was no longer a pretty picture. Artists were born! After that moment anyone and everyone could become an artist. Now at this point in my argument I was straying down a bad path. There was no way I could convince him that the birth of an idea was beauty. My path led me to good ideas and bad ideas, which results in good and bad art. I say it was a draw; he said score one for him.

The next debate is the fountain of knowledge.

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