Duchamp’s revolutionary artwork ‘The Fountain’ is art as subversion of the familiar - sanctifying the lie of art as some kind of ‘superior ideal’. Duchamp exposed complacency and smugness surrounding our notions of art, initiating the motion to collapse the deception at the core of our distinction between ‘art’ and the ‘real world’.
A new discourse was born out of the ‘readymade’: What kind of definition of ‘art’ could encompass both a Urinal purchased from a factory and a Pablo Picasso painting? Was such a definition necessary? Previous definitions of art involved requirements such technical benchmarks, notions of beauty or measures of emotional profundity which became difficult to sustain once works like ‘The Fountain’ were acknowledged.
What is art in a culture that no longer has any objective standards around its ideal form or content?
My understanding is that our attempts to create definitions for an objective ‘art’ (or anything) are in vein. For Deleuze, the role of art is to magnify this sense of the intuitive, singular ‘world as error’, and to ‘sanctify the lie’ by elevating our self-deceptions about ‘objective reality’ to a thing of mysterious beauty (‘Nietzsche and Philosophy’, Gilles Deleuze 1962). Art has the capacity to excite our perceptual apparatus, and change the way that we interpret the world.
The discourse which emerged from the ‘readymade’ revolving around developing a classification system for what is and isn’t art - is not important. For art is inherently a project to subvert the familiar. If the familiar or ‘clearly knowable’ has become our conception of art itself, Art will be the force that deconstructs that notion.