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Defining art

Brian Howard

In response to Rich Mayfield’s column, “Beauty is in the eye of the urinal”, the pastor asks the question “Don’t you have just the teeniest notion the proprietors at Phillips, de Pury, and Luxembourg are pulling a fast one?” From the information provided in Mr. Mayfield’s column, I guess the answer would have to be yes.

However with a little investigation it turns out the item in question, “Fountain” is considered one of the most important works of art from the beginning of the 20th century in the Dada movement, which questioned the prevailing attitudes of art and life during and after World War I. In short, “Fountain” was created by Marcel Duchamp (1887 to 1968) and is indeed a urinal purchased from a plumbing equipment manufacturer. After mounting the urinal in a horizontal position, versus it’s normal vertical position, Duchamp signed it “R. Mutt 1917” in reference to a popular comic strip of the time, “Mutt and Jeff”, and submitted it to an art exhibition that was to be open to all works of art. The piece was rejected and sparked a debate that rages today, namely, what is art?

Webster’s Dictionary defines art as being “the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects.” Now granted it didn’t take that much skill to create “Fountain”, but the imagination required to conceive of a urinal as artwork is monumental. My personal belief is that artwork should inspire the human condition to greater levels of enlightenment; kind of like religion is supposed to do.


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