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Turning Over New Leaf

Friday, January 13, 2012

Just Hang It in a Gallery

urinal

Although I believed I had resolved the problem in my mind several years ago, my students have recently resurrected a philosophical dilemma for me, which has more to do with art than philosophy – I think.

When I was in college, I studied Art History considerably, and being able to differentiate Baroque from Rococo art or Medieval Byzantine paintings from Renaissance works gave me a sense of self-satisfaction.

Over the years, my interest in and knowledge of art has grown, and for the last six or seven years, I have been teaching aspects of art at the university level. However, more so than ever, I hear students utter, “Art is anything you want it to be.” My first inclination is to conclude they simply have no clue. I am not so sure.

To me, art possesses elements such as line, shape, space, texture, form, and value. These characteristics traditionally form some of the basic requirements necessary to differentiate real art from everything else. Yet, in the 20th century, alternate theories arose. For example, French artist, Marcel Duchamp, who was influential in Surrealist and Dadaist movements declared a urinal a work of art and promptly named it Fountain.

Duchamp challenged conventional thought about artistic processes and art marketing, not so much by writing, but through subversive actions such as dubbing a urinal a work of art. Other artists placed ordinary objects in galleries to prove that the context rather than content of an art piece determines its validity as art.

It appears to me that declaring something to be art might be a 21st century mindset advanced by people unable to acquire the requisite skills to be recognized as legitimate artists. In our feel-good society, it is nice to believe we are all equally talented, but we are not. I might not be able to draw as well as Duchamp, but when it comes to urinals, I'm as good as the next guy.

Comparing my use of urinals with that of Duchamp, I am convinced that we have different aims, but they belong in the same facility.
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32 comments:

  1. Dear JJ,
    For me it is very difficult to consider an urinal as a piece of art! Maybe it is a limitation of my conservative mind but, for me, these kind of elements are not art! They do not make me feel a sensation of pleasure, that for me it is the essence of art.

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  2. FanaticoUm: I agree. I am not an art critic or an expert in visual art, but there must be some creative factor - I think.

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  3. If it comes off as distinctly average or lacking any creative flair, I personally cannot call it art. If it makes me think, reflect, feel, appreciate, remember, etc. then I can deem it art. I have to have a reaction other than Ugh! or Gross! Yes, other beholders may call a urinal art, but I won't.

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  4. Ha .... My brother and his friends used to see who could pee their whole name in the snow. How's that for art?

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  5. Urinals .. a work of art? Hmmm... I'm not too sure about that but I guess it's all a matter of opinion.
    I had to laugh after reading your last sentence ... Could it be that there is a double meaning to that last sentence? If so, that's quite cheeky JJ!
    If not, I apologise for mischievious mind. :-)

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  6. 'Yellow Rose' Jasmine: Exactly my point. There is no creativity.

    Manzi: At least they attempted to be creative. If you just stood there and watched, you would be like Duchamp.

    Katherine: Of course. I also know you are cheeky.

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  7. Hi JJ .. art is very subjective isn't it - I didn't like avant garde - but now do .. some is ?awful ...

    .. but having watched a tv programme on the Great Barrier Reef - a ship had sunk .. the toilets were covered in coral and fish .. a new home - they looked wonderful! but obvious as to their origins 100 years ago .. it sank in 1912.

    Some art to me is awful - but each to his own .. and I have no knowledge .. Would love to have yours!!

    Cheers Hilary

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  8. Hilary: Photos or paintings of the toilet/coral would, to me, seem to be art. Even dropping a toilet into an area ripe for coral growth and waiting 100 years would be creative. A talentless declaration that anyone can make stating that an inanimate object is art requires no special skill or creativity. Placing an egg upon a rooftop might be art. The egg itself is not - in my humble opinion.

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  9. I have to agree. When I was in college and took Art History or Appreciation, I can't remember which they would show us pictures of modern art and rave about it and all I could do was stand there and think to myself, "I know 1st graders who could do that!".

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  10. Oh yes, my hubby and I were on at a convention down south, we have been to so many that I have to really go back in my photos, but we stumbled across the most lovely of well (a men's room) where the entire wall was a waterfall, complete with lights (like a rainbow) and water flowing (like a waterfall) all into a bed of rocks...talk about artwork in today's design of things! It was a magical end to natures.....

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  11. I think that art, like everything else evolves. It is a living, growing, thing because the people who create it are living, growing people. It is all about seeing beauty in new ways. In the line, shape, texture, etc. If it didn't evolve we would not have various "periods" of art. However, I think it is lazy to haul out mundane objects and label them art. However, if you can find a mundane object and make something beautiful out of it... well, that probably is art. Of course, it is always in the eye of the beholder. However, a urinal is a urinal. If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, then....

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  12. Mandy: Yes. When I think "art," I envision a creation that is unique, not the presentation of someone else's object.

    Karen: Are you sure it was supposed to be art and you didn't accidentally stumble into the men's room (except I have never seen one that magical)?

    Robin: Great analysis! In the world of art, Duchamp's work, in my opinion, is not exactly a royal flush.

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  13. Hmmm, Duchamp was a piss artist perhaps? *winks*

    For me, art has to have been created...there has to be thought and some kind of narrative (and preferably some kind of talent!).

    I remember going into the Modern Art Gallery in Glasgow a few years back and being highly entertained by a woman who was proclaiming that a pile of bricks on the floor were the most wonderful thing she had ever seen (honestly, you wouldn't believe the rubbish that was coming out of her mouth!). Then the icing on the cake...a workman appeared, lifted the bricks and dissapeared down a flight of stairs...turned out they were doing some building work and that was what the bricks were for. I laughed...I laughed a lot!!

    C x

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  14. Did you know that the Kohler Company has a toilet museum? I guess they think toilets are art.

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  15. I suppose there can be such a thing as gorgeous urinal...

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  16. Carol: Right on the money!

    Judie: Your argument does not hold water.

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  17. #167 Dad: Oh yeah. I think I must be gorgeous too, and while I might be a piece of work, I am definitely not a work of art.

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  18. We may not have the same talents, but persistence and discipline in whatever endeavor you pursue are much more important than talent. Cheers.

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  19. Hi! I just nominated you for a Versatile Blogger Award! :) Nice post, by the way!

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  20. Julia: I absolutely agree. I just don't think that effort equals art.

    S.E. Lane: Thank you!

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  21. Whitesnake: More likely a piece of work.

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  22. This post made me laugh out loud! I'm still chuckling :). I promise that you'll never catch me admiring a urinal...for any reason.
    Miriam@Meatless Meals For Meat Eaters

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  23. Miriam: To be honest, it has never been the object of my affection either.

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  24. Gawd! Did I ever fight with people over what was art ans what wasn't when I was an art major. I loved art in highschool and persued it in college for 3 years until it became more frustrating than not and the lines of art had been so blurred that, yes, something like a ball of yarn full of knots and hanging from a clothes hanger was soon considered art! And me, being the realist artist that I strived to be, was pissed!!! when that person would recieve an A and I was left with a B. "Pretty and excellent execution, but no imagination," is the thought I expected to be leaking from my professor's egomaniac brain.

    I liked drawing classes. There, a student was praised for their PERFECT renderings of a still life, capturing every gradation, every shadow, every imperfection that the human eye can capture. I LOVED it!

    Classic art really was my forte.

    But those damn surrealist the abstract sections of class always managed to tick me rather than open me.

    I spent the majority of class mumbling "WHAT?!" as students explained concept after concept!

    Honestly, I could have been ok...if their piece ever lived up to their concept...whicj was RARE!!!

    Ok, stopping there with that totally unplanned rant. :)

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  25. AubrieAnne: I posted this piece for all the artists, like yourself, that share the same frustration.

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  26. While I share your art/urinal sentiments, I wonder if art is more about something that shifts our perception in a certain way. So most anything could be art if it has that effect. Hmm, I'm not sure I even believe that. I'm just trying here! Your question intrigues me and I'm going to call my sister the artist right now and ask her about it!

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  27. Galen: Perhaps. I do not purport to have the answer. I suppose if one makes a lamp from a urinal it could be considered art, like a water feature in your backyard. It is the failure to alter the object that irks me. I do not buy the concept of artistic creation being simply the changing of the context of an existing object.

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  28. Haha! Great post. I guess if someone is trippin', they can call anything a work of art. I got a big kick out of your last few lines!

    I wanted to let you know that I just published my latest parenting series with your fly fishing story. Thanks so much for sharing your wonderful memory!

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  29. Hello JJ, thank you for coming by my blog so I could find you. I enjoyed your post at Lynn Kellie's. For anything to be an art, don't you think we need some kind of imprint to look at and appreciate? :)

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  30. oceangirl: I'm not sure if imprint is the correct word, because sculptures and other forms of art might not fall into that category. However, I agree with you. The art must contain the soul of the artist, not the product of a manufacturer - in my humble opinion.

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