Art History Lab

Revolutionizing Art: The Power of Readymade Objects

What is Readymade Art? Art has always been about creating something unique, something that captures the imagination and is visually appealing.

However, what happens when the artist takes an everyday object, repurposes it, and calls it art? This is the essence of readymade art, a movement that has been revolutionizing the art world for over a century.

Readymade art is a creative process where an artist takes an ordinary, everyday object and transforms it to become an aesthetically pleasing artwork. The primary approach behind this genre of art is to challenge the traditional definition of a work of art.

Instead of creating visually stunning pieces, artists focus on repurposing an object in a way that gives it new meaning and value.

Origins and Development of Readymade Art

The roots of the readymade art movement can be traced back to the early 20th century when French artist

Marcel Duchamp introduced the concept. Duchamp was part of the Impressionist and Cubist movements who were challenging the conventional definition of art.

He was motivated to seek change within the art world, and he found inspiration in the world around him. Duchamp’s first readymade artwork was the Bicycle Wheel, created in 1913.

He removed the wheel from a bicycle and mounted it onto a stool, creating a new object that had no functional use. This concept was so revolutionary that it shocked and outraged many people in the art world.

The controversy surrounding readymade art continued in 1917 when Duchamp submitted Fountain, a signed and dated urinal, to the Society of Independent Artists exhibition in New York. Even though it was not accepted, this artwork changed the art world forever.

Duchamp’s intention was to redefine what art is and what it means to people. He believed that the artist’s concept and idea were more important than the visual representation and that the role of the artist was to make the viewer think.

Duchamp’s artistic philosophy was reflected in his approach towards readymade art. He used everyday, banal objects and removed their practical abilities, giving them new meaning.

For example, by taking a urinal out of a bathroom and moving it into a gallery, he transformed it into an art object. This fundamental shift in perception challenged the traditional definition of what art should be.

Marcel Duchamp and His Contributions to Readymade Art

Marcel Duchamp’s contributions to readymade art cannot be overstated. He was instrumental in breaking the traditional mold of what art should be and redefining the artistic process.

As an artist, Duchamp believed in the importance of concept over visual representation, and he emphasized the role of the artist as a thinker rather than just a painter. Duchamp’s approach to readymade art was based on his selection of objects.

He chose ordinary, everyday objects that had no intrinsic value and altered them in a way that gave them a new meaning and aesthetic value. He took something mundane, banal, or utilitarian and elevated it to the status of art.

To make an object into a readymade artwork, Duchamp had to remove its practical abilities. This was essential to the artistic process since it created a new object with a new purpose.

This approach challenged the traditional belief that art should be visually stunning, and it highlighted the importance of the artistic concept. The artist’s role in the readymade art process was also redefined by Duchamp.

Instead of merely being a painter, Duchamp considered himself a composer and conceptual artist. He believed that his art existed in the viewer’s mind, and his job was to trigger their imagination and invite them to question their beliefs about art.


Readymade art is a genre of art that revolves around transforming everyday objects into artworks. It challenges traditional definitions of art and highlights the importance of the artist’s concept and idea over visual representation.

Marcel Duchamp was instrumental in developing and popularizing this genre of art, and his contributions cannot be overstated. Duchamp’s philosophical approach to readymade art involved selecting banal objects, removing their practical abilities, and giving them a new purpose.

This approach redefined the concept of the artist and emphasized the importance of thought-provoking art. Duchamp’s legacy continues to inspire artists today and challenges us to think about what art can be.

Famous Readymade Artists

Readymade art has had an enormous impact on the art world, and many artists have contributed to the genre. Some famous artists have made significant contributions in this field, including

Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven,

Marcel Duchamp, and

Man Ray.

Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven

Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven was a German artist who is most notable for her assemblages. She was a progressive artist who had anti-patriarchal messages and challenged traditional squares’ ideologies.

Elsa was well known for creating giant sculptures of God and sang her poem Cathdrale through a megaphone, shocking pedestrians and art enthusiasts alike in the early 20th century. Elsa created assemblages using found objects and materials, which closely resemble the readymades pioneered by

Marcel Duchamp.

Elsa constructed a hat with spoons and forks and used toilet chains to create necklaces. Unlike Duchamp, Elsa never signed or titled her work, causing many of her pieces to be unattributed.

Marcel Duchamp

Marcel Duchamp is the most renowned readymade artist of all time. Duchamp’s most famous piece, Nude Descending Staircase No. 2, has become a symbol of the entire modernist movement.

It was highly controversial when it was first exhibited in 1912 due to its abstract, fragmented style, and became one of the most iconic works of modern art. Duchamp’s first readymade artwork, Bicycle Wheel, exemplifies the principles of the readymade genre.

It was the first object he signed with a pseudonym, “R. Mutt.” In the years that followed, Duchamp produced several other readymades, including Bottle Rack, Fountain, and tant Donnes.

These pieces were considered radical because they challenged the traditional definition of art by elevating everyday objects to the status of art.

Man Ray

Man Ray was an American artist who was closely associated with

Marcel Duchamp. He was one of the most famous readymade artists of the Surrealist movement and was known for his experimental art practice.

One of his most famous works, the Enigma of Isidore Ducasse, is a prototype readymade where he attached a small sewing machine to a metronome.

Man Ray created another notable readymade with Object to Be Destroyed, which consisted of a metronome with a shaved photograph of a woman attached. He later replaced the photograph with a small glass eye causing great controversy.

Another iconic work by

Man Ray is the photograph, Glass Tears, where he used a small glass lens to evoke crying.

Reception and Legacy of Readymade Art

The reception of readymade art was highly controversial and subject to criticism upon its emergence due to its radical departure from traditional art practices. Critics were divided on whether objects like a urinal or a bicycle wheel could be considered art.

The debates and controversies around readymade art played a significant role in challenging the norms of the art world at that time. As the years passed, readymades became more accepted by the art community, and conceptual art evolved.

This art form emphasized concepts that were often more important than the visual representation. The use of everyday objects as art materials became a staple in the artistic practice of many contemporary artists, leading to the popularization and relevance of readymade art in modern times.

Today, art enthusiasts understand and appreciate the impact readymade art has had on the art world, and its messaging continues to be relevant and challenging. The interpretation of readymade art has become more complex, leading to diverse takes and reactions to these pieces.

Some readymade art can present complex scenarios, leaving the audience pondering the underlying meaning of the artwork. Overall, Readymade art has revolutionized the art world and has left a lasting legacy.

Countless artists have been inspired by this art form, causing people to continually question the definition of art. The impact of readymade art is likely to continue for years to come.

In summary, readymade art is a revolutionary movement that challenges traditional definitions of art by elevating everyday objects to the status of art.

Marcel Duchamp was a pioneer of this movement, and other well-known artists such as

Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven and

Man Ray have also made significant contributions.

Throughout its history, readymade art has been met with controversy and criticism but has ultimately made an impact in the art world by redefining artistic practices and emphasizing the role of the artist in conceptualizing and executing a work of art. As readymade art continues to influence modern artistic practices, it is clear that the legacy of this movement will persist for years to come.

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