There is a Duchampian trend dominating all over the 21st century mainstream art scene today. This domination at this point in time is creating a reversal effect of what Marcel Duchamp had intended to do when he created the famous Fountain a century ago. In this essay I try to explain how and why this reversal effect is being created, and consequently why I came up with a response ‘florescencism’ to counter balance this trend in the art scene.
What Marcel Duchamp had meant to do with his art was to de-deify the artist and his work, break the self-centredness around the artist, and contest the ugly cruelties in the world going through wars. But today all that is being backlashed in my humble view- as an active painter with a background in international relations studies.
That which was to de-deify the artist, is precisely deifying the artist; what was to shift the ego-centricism of the artist to a more benign sense of the individual self, is now magnified into such highly individualistic language that it is often unintelligible to public audiences; and finally what was meant to contest the ugliness of war cruelties in the world, is at this point in time adding to the ugly realities.
Below I explain in detail how each of these is happening.
The reversal of the de-deifying aim:
Duchamp tried to de-deify the artist by choosing ready-mades. He wanted to break the elite outlook on artists and their creations. He did succeed in that aim indeed. However now after a century one can see another side of the use of ready-mades as art objects: that all which is needed for a ready-made to be sold at a much (and much) higher price as art piece is the ‘signature’ of the artist on that object; so a ‘name signature’ is enough to change the value of a work done by someone else. All the artist has to do is put his signature and have a gallery exhibit it. This is indeed like saying: an artist is such a ‘god figure’ that if he chooses any object and signs his name on it as the chooser of that object, that object must be admired and be taken care of. Therefore at such moment, there is no longer a de-deifying, but the ‘name’ of the artist GOD on it is enough to go to auctions and have it sold at millions, such as Damien Hirst, or Jeff Koons. When a living (relatively young as in below 60/70 years of age) artist has his works sold for millions of dollars/euros, that in its very self is a terribly ‘deifying’ phenomenon.
So as much as Marcel Duchamp tried to de-glorify the artist by using ready-mades, or express an idea (conceptual), the presence of auctions on those types of works, are sure not showing any proof of de-deifying the artist...if anything now auctions are happening at a much younger time of artists’ lives, and as long as they manage to self-merchandise, be good businessmen and entrepreneurs, and push the works at auctions, they make it. In that general sense of creativity, there is a bit (or a lot) of an artist in everyone indeed, so that would mean any original idea can be an ‘auction object’ at millions... but they can do that only by putting a ‘glorifying name’ of an artist’s signature, that ‘god individual’! Thus the reversal effect of wanting to de-deify an artist.
Well, I do sign my works, but it is only for the purpose of identification in case people want to know who made that work. Having lived in Paris, I can understand why it did not even cross Marcel Duchamp’s mind, that an artist can create also for a genuine love force inside to connect to his audience. In a cultural mindset of hubris, offering friendship to others without calculated interest is a non-existing concept, and looked at almost with offense from the side of the recipient. The reaction you get for offering a friendship just for the sake of friendship is: “what makes you think I need your friendship?”
So even in the art scene, wanting to create for the sake of genuinely expressing one’s love and connecting to one’s audience, is not an existing concept. In such cultural context, it is fully understandable that Marcel Duchamp saw artists mainly as egoistic show offs; it not did occur to him that a visual artist may have a genuine wish of connecting with people, and that their art is the only way they manage to do it best.
The reversal of breaking the self-centredness of the artist in his work
From the French perspective, the artist is focused on his own individual self. For the French schools of art, the artist is the epitome of individualism. This is not the case in other cultures.
The French art world indeed puts it “il faut avoir une signature forte” / “one must have a strong personalized touch recognizable as a signature”. This has often lead to personal inflation, or so to say ‘ego-centredness’ of artists in the French art scene. Again by using ready-mades, Marcel Duchamp tried to challenge this approach.
But the paradoxical situation about taking the gesture of Duchamp and turning into a trend, is that today art pieces have take on such a highly individualistic language, that often times for the general public it is hard to connect with them, or identify with them. Thus instead of breaking the individual-centred approach, the art language itself has become so individualistic that there are no common ‘codes’ for ‘getting’ them. In fact when an audience does not relate to a piece of Duchampian art, it is immediately labelled as ‘uneducated’.
So this is one way how the breaking of self-centre approach is backlashing itself at this point in time.
Another paradoxical situation, is that in the international art scene, any artist coming from other sides of the world besides Europe or the USA (the West), is expected to produce works conforming to the ‘conceptual and minimalist’ trends in their stylistic execution in order to be considered ‘contemporary’ enough as artists. This again is a backlash of that ‘self-centredness’, this time about ‘West-centredness’ in the international art world; as if anything not conforming to current trends initiated in the West, cannot possibly be ‘contemporary’.
The reversal of contesting ugly cruelties
Marcel Duchamp contested the ugly cruelties of World War I in his work, by reflecting that ugliness. This made sense for his time and place, and at the same time it has made a great contribution to our concept of aesthetics in art, as well as what can qualify as an object of art. However after a century taking Duchampian trend in the mainstream 21st century, our eyes are being deprived of seeing beauty in the art world, how practically adding to the atmosphere of ugly cruelties around us.
One may argue, that to see beauty it is enough to go to nature. However there is a difference between pure nature beauty, and that of man-created beauty in art:
- beauty in nature does not touch upon society problems while beauty in art can do that.
- beauty in nature is in constant transformation, while a beauty captured in an art piece, is a moment of beauty made eternal in its physical existence.
- finally beauty in art can provide imaginary options and combinations which would not find in the physical nature.
All this besides the fact that access to beauty in pure nature has become rather inaccessible to many people living in cities and urban areas, therefore more scarcity of witnessing beauty for city people.
After a century of Duchampian trend, the new generation are so much used to seeing art ‘ugly’ rather than beautiful art. This is in my view a form of ‘deprivation’ literally, because it is only humane to connect to our instinct for beauty.
Despite the coming about of De Stijl , Bauhaus, Abstract Expressionism, CoBrA, Afrofuturism, The Stars Art Group (Xing Xing), Pop Art, Duchampian conceptual trend with creations à la Fountain are all over the place in the mainstream. This has gone so far that even when we move to other countries to select artists of ethnicities other than the West, the Duchampian style has become the ‘condition’ that curators look for in the works, in order to define artists as ‘contemporary’, and ‘avant-garde’ for those ethnicities they come from; as though there is no other way possible of being contemporary, and avant-garde in the 21st century.
Well, just like ‘modernization’ does not mean ‘Westernization’, being a contemporary artist should not mean creating works a la Duchamp. If it does, then it is clearly a monopolization of artistic thought, and goes against everything that the art world is meant to represent. I do remember very well during the time I was living in Paris, so many people in the Parisian art scene (artists, curators, gallerists) saying openly: “Si tu t’impose ici, tu t’impose sur le monde entier”/”If you impose yourself here (meaning in Paris), you impose yourself on the whole world”. That mentality is obviously a clear indication of a faulty conclusion that it is ‘Paris’ which imposes what art can be. For that very reason, I am very glad indeed not to have launched my floral ‘florescencism’ while I was in Paris, because I definitely would not like to contribute to such monopolization attitude that everything has to come from one geographic place, or it is not going to be international. One part of the world, is not, cannot, and should not be the sole authority in ‘imposing’ which artistic trends are new and evolutionary. The very usage of the word ‘impose’ in the language of the Parisian art world, is another indication of that monopolization attitude.
As much as I appreciate the ideas of Marcel Duchamp and what he did, after a century repetition of the same style, I am bored, thus I reproduced that ‘fountain’ à la florescence, hoping to get some fresh air starting in the 21st century art scene. My motivation is not condemning nor devaluating in any way conceptual and minimalist art creations because indeed they do make very important contributions to our thinking. The motivation for me, besides an unexplained ‘passionate love force’ that I feel inside me to connect to others, is also to create art which is different than the dominating current trends, and by that to show other possible ways of being contemporary. In the essay “florescencism”, I explain the 9 visual pillars of my paintings through which I respond to the realities in our international society today. It may be easier to complain about things that are going wrong, than to propose a remedy to make those things go better. I hope in my paintings instead of stagnating in a complaining mode, to inspire different ways we can get things to go better.
I am expressing different modes of being in my paintings. This is because to move ahead in a problematic situation one cannot apply the same mindset which created that situation in the first place. In the same way one cannot contribute to remedy ugly cruelties by repeatedly producing ugly art about them. It is only humane to connect to our instinct for recognizing beauty, and I do not mean cosmetic beauty, but a deep inborn sense of beauty which makes us feel at home.
It has been astonishing to me to witness the number of times that I was told directly by international gallerists and curators “make your art more violent, more shocking”. And when I ask them “why?”, they say “because that is the trend of contemporary art, and that is what sells.” So while everywhere today on the mainstream media there is a desperate amount of complaint regarding violence, regarding terror, regarding lack of safety; yet, as I present art which makes a viewer feel ‘at home’, and ‘safe’, I am asked to change it to violent!
Well: I am not going to change my creations to violent, in fact I would like to deepen their beauty even more, so that their power can bring us a little bit of balance to breathe some fresh air! I do honour Duchamp for his contributions in his time, and I move on hoping to contribute something to our time today.
* The source used for this article to refer to what Marcel Duchamp wished to do with his art is the book: “Marcel Duchamp, the Afternoon Interviews” by Calvin Tomkins, Published by Badlands Unlimited, 2013
*Poem of the attached painting which is oil on canvas, 100 x 80cm:
Our bodies from this earth, Going back to this earth, This fountain, this waterfall, From nature's body, A call for our cleansing, A call for our renewal, A call for our respect For the flower of life.
2018 Lida Sherafatmand