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Readymade and The Found Object

Readymade and The Found Object Collage

"An ordinary object [could be] elevated to the dignity of a work of art by the mere choice of an artist"

Marcel Duchamp Signature

Summary of Readymade and The Found Object

Post-World War I culture was suffering a deep malaise with many artists disenfranchised with a society that could participate in such atrocities - and so, artists sought to break out of traditional or historical modes of creating art, they searched for new ways to innovate by delving into every aspect of their culture and compelling new thought. From within this surge of rebellious re-investigation rose the "readymade," a genre in which artists chose ordinary found objects from everyday life, and repositioned them as works of art so that their original significance disappeared in light of sparking new points of view. This jostled society's attitude towards what art was supposed to, or could potentially be, and injected a spontaneous, fresh context into a staid lexicon. It also paved the way for Conceptual Art, which became more about presenting ideas and the process of exploring them rather than focusing on a finished work of art.

Today, the readymade in art is a common motif, as regular an addition to artists' work as paint and other more traditional mediums. In contemporary society, artists continue their on-going investigation of regular objects, elevating them to art status as means of investigating society's relationship with the environment, consumerism, mass production, and our attachment to the physical world of our own manifestation.

Key Ideas

The primary principles of the Dada readymade philosophy were to 1.) choose an object, a creative act in itself; 2.) cancel that object's familiar purpose by presenting it not in its usual functionary role but as a work of "art"; and 3.) add a title to it that potentially provoked a new thought or meaning.
Although readymades were undisguised presentations of usual objects as themselves, they were often manipulated, modified, or combined into assemblages to compel further disambiguity, further disassociating them from any preconceived meaning.
Under the readymade light, an artist became a "chooser" rather than "maker." This laid the groundwork for art as something that could exist to express concepts, process, and ideas rather than being confined to only the visual presentation.
The readymade became a way to challenge societal norms in that it broke down expectations, questioned originality, revealed familiar associations as meaningless mental constructs, and explored the commodification of beauty in general. Aesthetic, taste, and mass production were all put under a microscope, often with an attitude of irreverence or even humor.
Man's relationship with objects in general was taken into question through the readymade. What everyday objects do we take for granted? What new associations might be generated when said objects are removed from a position of complacency into one of fresh perspective? How might this disrupt regular thinking and trigger the unconscious?
Readymade and The Found Object Photo


After the horrors of the First World War, many artists, writers, and intellectuals started to question every aspect of their culture that had allowed it to occur. Artists started to think about how technology, consumerism, art, and politics were all interrelated. Romanian-French poet Tristan Tzara noted, "The beginnings of Dada were not the beginnings of art, but of disgust." Artists and writers such as Tzara, Hugo Ball, Man Ray, Hannah Höch and Max Ernst decided that the only way to respond to these realizations was through irreverent and (potentially) nonsensical works. Dada artists used techniques such as collage, assemblage, and photomontage to form their works, creating new linguistic and visual languages that attempted to exist outside the rigid structures of contemporary society. The term Dada itself, though contested in origin, is said to come from its meaning of both 'Yes, yes' in Romanian and 'rocking horse' in French, demonstrating its transnational origins. The Cabaret Voltaire in Zürich Switzerland was an early hangout for Dada artists, but the movement soon spread to Paris and then to New York.

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