In the visual arts, a painting or sculpture has generally considered by critics and artists alike to exist entirely free from language. Critics may write about works, but the works themselves may provoke aesthetic, universal emotion through eye pleasing visuals that exist beyond words. When one looks at the “ready-mades” of Marcel Duchamp, however, such emotion is not provoked in the same, silent sense. The titles of these pieces carry as much importance as the visual product; titles become inseparable with the meanings of the works themselves.
Through the unique titling of various ready-mades, such as his Bottle Rack, Hat Rack, Trap, and In Advance of the Broken Arm, Duchamp creates a clever blend of language and visual sense to convey meaning more potently than does conventional painting or sculpture. Each of Duchamp’s ready-mades critiques the traditional definitions of art both in terms of the how artist’s hand in the creation of a work, as well as how the viewer can contribute to the piece.
Duchamp’s titles at first glance give an impression of simplicity; the same can be said for viewing the ready-mades themselves. You could almost compare Duchamp as the Ernest Hemingway of visual arts.
Duchamp himself coined the term “ready-made” in 1915 (Masheck 13). This term describes the works as they are: objects turned to art through the artist’s loose manipulation. The ready-made comes from the everyday, but gains meaning in the sense that the artist has added his own thoughts to it. Duchamp detested the ideas of “retinal art,” all that was aesthetically intensive and of a snobbish culture, so he instead focused on achieving an intellectual expression rather than a visual one (Judovitz 88).