Readymade – Definition, Examples, History & More – Art Theory Glossary

What is Readymade?

Readymade is a term coined by artist Marcel Duchamp in the early 20th century to describe a work of art created from everyday objects that are not traditionally considered art. The concept behind readymade art is that the artist selects an object, designates it as art, and presents it as such. This challenges the traditional notion of art as something created by the artist’s hand.

Readymades can range from ordinary household items to industrial products, and they often involve minimal alteration by the artist. The idea is to question the value and meaning of art, as well as the role of the artist in the creative process. Duchamp’s readymades paved the way for a new approach to art-making that continues to influence contemporary artists.

History of Readymade

The history of readymade art can be traced back to Marcel Duchamp’s groundbreaking work in the early 20th century. Duchamp’s most famous readymade, “Fountain,” was a urinal that he signed with the pseudonym “R. Mutt” and submitted to an art exhibition in 1917. This act of presenting a mass-produced object as art shocked the art world and sparked a debate about the nature of art and the role of the artist.

Duchamp’s readymades were part of the Dada movement, which emerged in response to the horrors of World War I and sought to challenge traditional artistic conventions. The Dadaists embraced absurdity, randomness, and anti-art as a way to critique society and the art establishment. Duchamp’s readymades were a key part of this movement, pushing the boundaries of what could be considered art.

Key Figures in Readymade Art

In addition to Marcel Duchamp, several other artists have made significant contributions to the development of readymade art. One of the most notable figures is American artist Andy Warhol, who famously created works using mass-produced objects such as soup cans and Coca-Cola bottles. Warhol’s use of readymades challenged notions of originality and authenticity in art, and his work continues to influence artists today.

Another important figure in the history of readymade art is British artist Damien Hirst, known for his controversial installations featuring preserved animals and pharmaceutical products. Hirst’s use of readymades raises questions about the commodification of art and the ethics of using animal remains in artwork. His work has sparked debates about the boundaries of art and the role of the artist in contemporary society.

Impact of Readymade on Art Theory

The concept of readymade art has had a profound impact on art theory and criticism. By challenging traditional notions of authorship, originality, and craftsmanship, readymades have forced art historians and critics to reconsider how they define and evaluate art. The idea that an artist can simply select an object and designate it as art raises questions about the value and meaning of art in a consumer-driven society.

Readymades have also influenced the way artists think about their own practice. By blurring the boundaries between art and everyday life, readymades have encouraged artists to explore new materials, techniques, and concepts in their work. Artists are no longer limited to traditional mediums or methods of production, allowing for greater experimentation and innovation in contemporary art.

Criticisms of Readymade

Despite its influence and popularity, readymade art has faced criticism from some quarters. One of the main criticisms is that readymades devalue the role of the artist and reduce art to a mere concept or idea. Critics argue that by presenting mass-produced objects as art, artists are undermining the skill and creativity traditionally associated with art-making.

Another criticism of readymade art is that it can be seen as elitist or exclusionary. By elevating everyday objects to the status of art, readymades can alienate viewers who may not understand or appreciate the conceptual basis of the work. This can create a divide between the art world and the general public, limiting the accessibility and relevance of contemporary art.

Contemporary Readymade Art

In the contemporary art world, readymade art continues to be a popular and influential practice. Artists are constantly pushing the boundaries of what can be considered art, using everyday objects in innovative and unexpected ways. Contemporary readymades often address social, political, and environmental issues, reflecting the concerns of the modern world.

One example of contemporary readymade art is the work of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who uses found objects and materials to create powerful installations that comment on censorship, human rights, and globalization. Ai’s use of readymades highlights the interconnectedness of the global community and the impact of technology on society.

Overall, readymade art remains a vital and dynamic aspect of contemporary art practice. By challenging traditional notions of art and creativity, readymades continue to inspire artists to think outside the box and explore new possibilities in their work. Whether celebrated or criticized, readymade art has left an indelible mark on the art world and will continue to shape the future of artistic expression.