What is Found Art?

by Cass Art

When French-American painter and sculptor Marcel Duchamp exhibited an empty, humble urinal in 1917, some critics accused him of extracting the urine. But what Duchamp (1887-1968) was doing, in fact, was unleashing a new genre of creativity into the public domain.

It is believed that Duchamp coined the term ‘found art’.

A prime example remains Fountain, Duchamp's urinal laid flat on its back, not upright, and enshrined on a pedestal in an art museum. He signed it with the pseudonym "R. Mutt".

This controversial genus can is also known as ‘readymades’, trash art, punk art or objet trouvé (translates as ‘found object’) and it can have just as many, if not more artistic interpretations.

So what is found art?

It is  art made with ordinary objects, including household appliances, industrial equipment, or apparently random junk – art that seeks to challenge the concept of what constitutes fine art in the first place.

Just because items such as bicycle wheels or bottle racks - also utilised by Duchamp - have already had prior claims made on their functionality, this doesn't mean to say they cannot be art.

It's not as simple as that, however, or else any Tom, Dick or Harriet could get a discarded kitchen unit from their local tip and present it to the Tate as a masterpiece.

To be termed "fine art", it first needs to have the artist's input - narrations or interpretations to illuminate its meaning.

Observers were left to speculate if Duchamp's Fountain was meant as a serious art piece or a prank at the art community's expense. Naturally, Duchamp suggested both. Fountain has since been lost (its 1964 replica can be viewed in the Tate Gallery), but the piece's successors have since placed critics in the same quandary right to the present day.

Tracey Emin's My Bed is a notorious contemporary example. This is little more than her unmade and unkempt bed. But, like all the best found art, it has served to offer the audience time and a platform to contemplate an object, thus sparking philosophical deliberation and, hopefully, appreciation.

Found art soon blazed a trail through creative corridors after Duchamp's pioneering work, and edged its way into popular society, fathering sub-genres.

Dadaism swiftly sprung from its loins, while celebrated artists, including  Francis Picabia and Man Ray, employed it in harness with traditional art.

Found art also helped to spawn an surrealism movement equally determined to challenge assumptions. It percolated down to genre masters such as André Breton, as well as influencing many all-time luminaries across the art spectrum, including Pablo Picasso.

All from one simple, humble urinal.

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