"The artist's "personal expression of art à l'état brut.. must be 'refined' as pure sugar from molasses, by the spectator... the role of the spectator is to determine the weight of the work on the esthetic scale... the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpereting its inner qualifications and this adds his contribution to the creative act". It is as though the spectator is the analyst, telling the artist the meaning of his artistic dreams. If the first creative "transmutation" or " transubstantiation"- Duchamp's alchemical and religious terms, acknowledging the deep, powerful effect and meaning of the transference- is from inert matter to subjectively raw art, the second creative transmutation is the intellectual refinement of subjectively raw art into a social and cultural object. But this refinement, which is a kind of judgment passed on the art, as Duchamp says, is always subject to revision, suggesting that the work of art is never finished or finalized but always remains peculiarly raw and as such beyond cognition. As Duchamp writes, even "posterity.... sometimes rehabilitates forgotten artists," a creative re-thinking suggesting that no "final verdict" is absolutely binding.
The engaged spectator can pass no final judgement on art because he may have a new critical reaction to it - a new creative transference to it, bringing with it a new experience and interpretation of it and a new sense of the personality that informs it, as well as a new sense of his own personality and depth- making it seem fresher than when he initially reacted to it. It may even seem fresher than it ever was when it was in a raw state, that is, when it seemed the artist's creation entirely, as though only he has the right and power to create. This, the critical spectator's personal art coefficient plays an inescapable role in the deciphering and interpereting of raw art. The spectator, like the artist, plays a "mediumistic role," which means that his aesthetic judgements tend to be rationalization a of his subjective feelings, like "the rationalized explanations" the artist makes with the hope of being approved and even "consecrated by posterity.
Duchamp rebels against the aesthetic weighing and analysis of art- against passing any kind of social judgment on it. "An everyday scientist like me," he writes, "looks in a work of art for vibrations which will put his mind in synchrony of those of the artist." He does not want to refine the personal expression of art à l'état brut but understand the artist's personal art coefficient, that is, the "difference between the (artist's) intention and its realization, a difference which the the artist is not aware of." He wants to attune the artist- indeed, identify with the artist- through the work of art, rather than decider and interpereting it for the world. For Duchamp it is a medium of communication with the artist, and through communication the communion which makes him magically one with the artist and his creative act. In a sense, it is the creative act that interests him, more than the work of art that results from it. The artist's "struggle toward the realization is a series of efforts, pains, satisfactions, refusals, decisions, which also cannot and must not be fully self-conscious, at least on the aesthetic plane." To stay on track aesthetic plane is to e blind to this unconscious struggle- this deeply personal creative process. It is simultaneously cognitive, emotional, and volitional- a complete overhaul of the artist's person, that is, a radical transformation and mastery of seemingly intractable and unbearable feelings. For Duchamp aesthetic judgment ignores the artist's creative personality, more particularly, the relationship between the artist's all too human personality and his seemingly superhuman creativity- the way he uses his creativity to transcend his personality by transmuting it into art. Duchamp quotes, with approval , T. S. Elliot's essay " Tradition and Individual Talent": "The more perfect the artist, the more completely separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind which creates; the more perfectly will the mind digest and translate the passions which are its material." (It is Elliot's way I'd making the best of the "dissociation of sensibility" - the separation of feeling and thinking, passion and intellect- that he thought was endemic to modernity.) Awsthetic judgement obscures his complex metabolic process, which for Duchamp is the be-all and end-all of art. It is beyond the ken of "the spectator who later becomes (its) posterity" by giving it "social (and intellectuals) value." It may be a creative act to do so, but it has little or nothing to do with the artist's creative act, and in fact obstructs its purpose.
While Duchamp recognizes the inevitability of aesthetic judgement, he wants to dispense with it, for the posterity it promises is beside the immediate subjective point of creativity. It would s too much a matter of consciousness, which invariably uses currently fashionable ideas to cut the subjective work of art down to social size, thus forcing it into a Procrustean bed if conventional objective consciousness. Only when in approaches the work of art nonjudgmentally does it begin to reveal the artist's personality and creativity and their relationship. Duchamp goes further: the work of art should have no aesthetic appeal. It should not pitch itself to win the applause of posterity. It should not try to be tasteful, for taste always changes. It should not try to be good, only to be. It should try to translate the passions and suffering which are its material as best it can, and let it go at that. It should be the " objective correlative" of a mental phenomenon, to use Elliot's term, and as such be indiscreet and esoteric at once- a provocative dream that can be interpreted, as said, but with no interpretation definitive, suggesting the unfashionable character if the artistic personality. The artist may be "a man like any other", as Duchamp says, but unlike other men he "acts like a mediumistic being who, from the labyrinth beyond time and space, seeks his way out of a clearing." The "Large Glass", as he says,was "a renunciation if all aesthetics, in the ordinary sense of the word". That is, it was not "another manifesto if new painting" and thus, implicitly, a new criterion of aesthetic judgement and taste, but an attempt to translate certain feelings in complete indifference to the spectators aesthetic experience and evaluation of it. The spectator only gets it if he treats it as a medium through which the artist's intentions, however unrealized- the "Large Glass" completes itself only when it broke and Duchamp pieced the fragments back together, confirming that its intention will never be perfectly realized- rather than a new, particularly modern kind of aesthetic phenomenon.
Without aesthetics, what would the work of art become? Something like the mechanical drawing Duchamp used "to escape taste... It upholds no taste, since it is outside all pictorial convention" (even though his appropriation of it turned it into another- a modern- pictorial convention). Or else it becomes like an African wooden spoof, that is, an aesthetically neutral or indifferent cultural artifact, at least before it became art. "African wooden spoons were nothing at the time when they were made, they were simply functional; later they became beautiful things, 'works of art'." To see works of art in a non-aesthetic way is to return them to the state in which they were "recognized" or "real-ized" as works of art- an even more raw state, it seems, than when they were art in a raw state. It is as though Duchamp is asking us to move the Mixheal Rockedeller Collection of Primitive Art from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to a museum of anthropology. There the objects in the collection will no longer be artistic masterpieces, but simply cultural artifacts. They will no longer be beautiful world of art- indeed, even works of art- but what they were when they were first found: symptomatic relics of a certain remote society with a particular function in that society.
Can one see such objects both ways- as everyday artifacts and elegant works of art simultaneously? That is exactly how Duchamp would like us to see his readymades. They have a double identity. They are socially functional artifacts that have been changed into sublime artistic masterpieces by the creative act of Duchamp's psyche. But they retain their everyday functionality; they revert to it in the blink of a creative eye, or rather in the mind. In short, they embody aesthetic osmosis while remaining inert matter. Supremely ambiguous, they are supremely perverse, that is, they blur the difference between art and non-art, an act of dedifferrebtiation all too often regarded as the gist of modern creativity. The tantalizing ambiguity is that the readymade precludes aesthetic idealization. When the Fountain, 1917, was praised as beautiful and tasteful, as occurred when it entered the museum, Duchamp became angry, for it was understood exclusively on the aesthetic plane, which destroyed its confused identity as art/non-art, that is, mentally art, physically non-art. Any decision to regard the readymade unequivocally as art downgrades it as a creative act, however necessary its aesthetic elevation is to preserve it for posterity. Duchamp didn't care to preserve his works for posterity- perhaps the ultimate sign of his indifference to the aesthetic.
As he said, "I had to beware of (the) 'look' of the object... You have to approach something with an indifference, as if you had no aesthetic emotion. The choice of readymades is always based on visual indifference and, at the same time, on the total absence of good or bad fast". But it inevitably aro uses aesthetic emotion once it is accorded the " dignity and status of art", to use the phrase with which André Breton characterized the result of the mental act that created the readymade. Breton suggests that Duchamp knighted the ordinary object by declaring it to be a work of art, instantly making the proletariat object into an aristocratic one, a change from lower to upper
(indeed, the highest) class. The opposite may also be true. The conception of the readymade as subversive anti-art suggests as much: the readymade is a kind of egalitarian leveling if the handmade- indeed, custom made- art object, turning it into just another everyday manufactured object. The high is brought low, the extraordinary is made ordinary, the different is made the same. This reversal of wale us all the more ironical because the readymade is made by mental work alone, while the art object ha made by physical as well as mental work.
Clearly the readymade has a double meaning, it is a conundrum, a Gordian knot that no intellectual sword can cut. Simultaneously an art and non-art object, the readymade has no fixed identity. Regarded as art, it spontaneously reverts to non-art. It collapses into banality the moment the spectator takes it seriously as art, and becomes serious art the moment the spectator dismisses it as a banal object. Just as the spectator critically reacts to it, thinking about and looking at it in a more creative way than he thinks about and looks at non-art objects, it becomes one of those non-art objects. The readymade always outsmarts the spectator, outwitting his interpretation of it, suggesting that it has no social value. Indeed, it resists socialization and remains indecipherable. It is absurd and tasteless- beyond good and bad taste because it is absurd. To perceive art through taste, as the aestheticizing spectator does, is to misapprehend it. In short, Duchamp's readymade exists to mock and defeat the spectator. Indeed, for all his yeasaying of "the pole of the spectator"- for all the honor he accords the spectator's creative act of interperetation - it seems "made" only to undermine the spectators expectations. It exists to ridicule posterity, symbolized baby the critical and aesthetic judgment the spectator passes on the work of art. It defeats every attempt to bring it into contact with the external world, remaining the medium and symbol of the artist's inner world."
-Donald Kuspit, from " The End of Art", 2004 p18-23: with quotes from Marcel Duchamp.