Marcel Duchamp’s Meditations on Being an Artist


On April 9, you’ll be able to get into museums with he password “R. Mutt” or “Richard Mutt” at the admissions desk between 3 and 4PM. Artnet has the full details, including the confirmed institutions that are participating. R. Mutt, of course, refers to the pseudonym that artist Marcel Duchamp used to sign his 1917 work Fountain, a porcelain urinal that became Duchamp’s most famous “readymade” — a commonplace, manufactured object appointed as art. A conceptual art movement was born. This year is the centennial of Fountain. We’re celebrating with a few of Duchamp’s words of wisdom about being an artist.

“I force myself to contradict myself in order to avoid conforming to my own taste.”

“I don’t believe in art. I believe in artists.”

“The creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.”

“Art is either plagiarism or revolution.”

“Destruction is also creation.”

“To all appearances, the artist acts like a mediumistic being who, from the labyrinth beyond time and space, seeks his way out to a clearing. If we give the attributes of a medium to the artist, we must then deny him the state of consciousness on the aesthetic plane about what he is doing or why he is doing it. All his decisions in the artistic execution of the work rest with pure intuition and cannot be translated into a self-analysis, spoken or written, or even thought out.”

“Art is not about itself but the attention we bring to it.”

“The most interesting thing about artists is how they live.”

“What I have in mind is that art may be bad, good or indifferent, but, whatever adjective is used, we must call it art, and bad art is still art in the same way that a bad emotion is still an emotion.”

“A painting that doesn’t shock isn’t worth painting.”

“What art is, in reality, is this missing link, not the links which exist. It’s not what you see that is art; art is the gap.”

“I am interested in ideas, not merely in visual products.”

“There does not exist a painter who knows himself or knows what he is doing.”

“One is a painter because one wants so-called freedom; one doesn’t want to go to the office every morning.”

“The word ‘art’ interests me very much. If it comes from Sanskrit, as I’ve heard, it signifies ‘making.’ Now everyone makes something, and those who make things on a canvas with a frame, they’re called artists. Formerly, they were called craftsmen, a term I prefer. We’re all craftsmen, in civilian or military or artistic life.”

“I shy away from the word ‘creation.’ In the ordinary, social meaning of the word – well, it’s very nice, but fundamentally, I don’t believe in the creative function of the artist. He’s a man like any other.”

“It is a matter of great indifference to me what criticism is printed in the papers and the magazines. I am simply working out my own ideas in my own way.”

“Artists of all times are like the gamblers of Monte Carlo, and this blind lottery allows some to succeed and ruins others. In my opinion, neither the winners nor the losers are worth worrying about.”

“Art is a habit-forming drug. Art has absolutely no existence as veracity, as truth. People always speak of it with this great, religious reverence, but why should it be so revered?”

“I’m nothing else but an artist, I’m sure, and delighted to be.”

“Anything is art if an artist says it is.”

“Artmaking is making the invisible, visible.”

“Art is like a shipwreck; it’s every man for himself.”

“I think there is a great deal to the idea of not doing a thing, but that when you do a thing, you don’t do it in five minutes or in five hours, but in five years.”

“The artist himself doesn’t count. Society just takes what it wants. The work of art is always based on these two poles of the maker and the onlooker, and the spark that comes from this bi-polar action gives birth to something, like electricity. But the artist shouldn’t concern himself with this because it has nothing to do with him — it’s the onlooker who has the last word. Fifty years later there will be another generation and another critical language, and an entirely different approach. No, the thing to do is try to make a painting that will be alive in your own lifetime.”