Wednesday, 18 January 2012

The Artist's Role

The role of the artist seems to be ever-changing. Artists who focus on a white cube setting, giving value to their work once it’s in a gallery space rather than giving value to it outside of such a space appear to move away from the idea that art should represent anything directly. It becomes a game, the idea that there’s always something more and even if there isn’t, colleagues of the artist, the audience and critics will come up with a new definition or meaning for the work due to its location. Work padded by the use of words as opposed to work that speaks for itself. When the role of art is a mystery, it is usually because the role of the artist is an enigmatic one. In the BBC documentary series ‘Imagine - Winter 2011, 1. Grayson Perry and the Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman’, Grayson Perry touches upon the idea of the art space and the insignificant object:

I am increasingly being dissatisfied with the context of the contemporary art space as an arena where I want to put my work. Things are given a spurious significance by being in the gallery now; it used to be you built the gallery to put the significant objects in, now you put insignificant objects in the gallery to give them significance. That’s worn out now, it was a novel thought 100 years ago, when Duchamp said ‘artists will just be people who point’, that was an interesting thought. Now, it’s boring. I get tired of a lot of art because it’s not special enough.1

Important works of art are the ones that aim for an extreme; they are destroyed in the process and their broken outlines survive as the ciphers of a supreme unnameable truth.2 In December 2004, Duchamp's Fountain was voted the most influential artwork of the 20th century by 500 selected British art world professionals.3 It was however not created to be viewed as a work of art but as a means of testing the ‘American Society of Independent Artist’s’ commitment to democratic values in art. Marcel Duchamp submitted this piece of work in order to challenge the idea set by the Society of Independent Artists that any artist, of any level who paid the submission fee and submitted their work would be featured in the exhibition. Duchamp was the only artist who was not featured even though he had paid the submission fee.

His work was submitted anonymously under the pseudonym RRMutt, which again shows us that he as the artist did not intend to take credit for this work. Unless regularly using the same pseudonym, for example Jean-Michel Basquiat’s ‘SAMO’ or the graffiti artist ‘Banksy’, an artist would not hide his identity when submitting his work unless he did not want to associate his own recognised name and practise with that work. This is perhaps slightly different as the art created by Duchamp under the pseudonym RRMutt was not intended to be viewed as a work of art but as a test, a social experiment on how far he could stretch the limitations of a group of judges when told there were no limitations as to what they were willing to accept.


1. ‘BBC - Imagine - Winter 2011, 1. Grayson Perry and the Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman’ (Episode 1, 2011)
2. Livingstone, Rodney, Quasi Una Fantasia: Essays in Modern Music trans. (London: Verso, 1992)
3. "Duchamp's urinal tops art survey" BBC News. 2004-12-01