Marcel Duchamp

Marcel Duchamp

Marcel Duchamp on the artistic medium

Let us consider two important factors, the two poles of the creation of art; the artist on one hand, and on the other the spectator who later becomes the posterity.

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 esthetic 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 self-analysis, spoken or written, or even thought out.

T. S. Eliot, in his essay on "Tradition and the Individual Talent," writes: “The more perfect the artist, the more completely separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind which creates; the more perfectly will the mind digest and transmute the passions which are its material.”

Millions of artists create; only a few thousands are discussed or accepted by the spectator and many less again are consecrated by posterity.

In the last analysis, the artist may shout from all the rooftops that he is a genius; he will have to wait for the verdict of the spectator in order that his declarations take a social value and that, finally, posterity includes him in the primers of Art History.

I know that this statement will not meet with the approval of many artists who refuse this mediumistic role and insist on the validity of their awareness in the creative act—yet, art history has consistently decided upon the virtues of a work of art through considerations completely divorced from the rationalized explanations of the artist.
Marcel Duchamp in his lecture “The Creative Act” delivered at the American Federation of Arts 48th Annual Convention (Shamrock-Hilton Hotel, Houston, Texas: April 3-6, 1957). First published in ARTnews, Volume 56, Number 4 (Art Foundation, Summer 1957), p. 28-9. Available in Kristine Stiles and Peter Howard Selz‘s Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: A sourcebook of artists’ writings, (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1996), p. 818.

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"Let us consider two important factors"