Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Objet Trouvé

Objet Trouvé is a school of modern art originated by Marcel Duchamp in the early 20th century, in which everyday objects become art solely by being identified as such by the artist. Duchamp is perhaps most famous (read: infamous) for his submission of a urinal to a modern art gallery in 1917.

"Fountain" by Marcel Duchamp

I've seen an awful lot of folks arguing lately about what constitutes art and what doesn't. Duchamp proposed that art was simply a matter of discrimination and context. We've all seen creations that, were they not in a book or museum, we would not have accorded them the status of "art." Anyone who has participated in an online photography forum has recognized the phenomenon where the "rockstars" may get a pass, or even be praised for lesser work while the lesser-known photographers are critiqued much more harshly. The context under which we view something determines the artistic value we assign to it (at least initially).

The reason I bring up Duchamp is that I believe that all photographers share a crucial commonality with the "ready-made" artists.

As photographers, our creative process lies not in brushstrokes or subtle manipulations of clay. Mechanical and electronic equipment facilitates our act of creation. While various manipulations are available to our use, our most important artistic tool ultimately lies in our ability to discriminate. As photographers, we assign the designation of art to our subject matter by including it in our frame. Our artistic designation is also applied in what we choose to exclude from the frame. We chose what goes in and what stays out. We choose what stays in focus and what is blurred away. We select which moment is decisive and which will recede into history.

When Westin photographed his Pepper #30, how was that fundamentally different than him simply placing the pepper on a pedistal in a museum? Of course, Westin controls our viewpoint and the lighting in the still image, but all of this is ultimately secondary to his impulse to say "Look at the beauty in this pepper as it exists. This pepper is art."

Edward Westin's "Pepper #30"

Our single most potent tool as photographers is our ability to instantaneously designate a scene before us as art. Our cameras give us the ability to say "hey, take a second look at this!" We confer significance on the insignificant, we apply order to chaos, and we elevate the purely factual to aesthetic elegance.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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