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Introduction to Art Continued

The Venus of Willendorf is one of the earliest works of art from a time period known as the Paleolithic Age or the Old Stone Age.  It is considered art because it was altered by human intervention.  The Makapansgat Pebble is simply an object that an early human recognized as something worth keeping and it does not have human intervention involved in its making.  Therefore it is not considered art even though it may show that early humans possessed creativity.  A similar instance might be like looking at the clouds and finding images of things that are recognizable.  This is not considered art but it is creative because there are many different things that might be seen in the same bunch of clouds.  

The sculptural work titled Fountain was produced in 1917 by Marcel Duchamp.  It clearly can be identified as a urinal which is signed “R.Mutt 1917.”  Duchamp defended the work with the following statement: “Whether Mr. Mutt with his own hands made the fountain or not has no importance.  He chose it.  He took an ordinary article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under the new title and point of view – created a new thought for that object.” (Schwartz, The Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp, London: Thames & Hudson,  1965, 466)  This work was part of a series of works known as “ready-made” sculptures.  They consisted of found objects that were selected by the artist and presented to the viewer as art.  Duchamp was primarily a painter before becoming part of a movement known as Dadaism.   The Dadaists believed that the society they were living in was aesthetically bankrupt and reacted to this culture by presenting what they felt was anti-art.  Nonetheless Duchamp with his ready – mades freed future artists to use ordinary found objects as valid sculptural materials.  Today most artists do not simply take an object such as a urinal, turn it on its side, and call it a fountain as Duchamp did.  Some sculptors do however use things such as machine parts, car bumpers, and other manufactured objects as components in their work.

The three sculptures that were just explored must be seen in context of the chronology of art history.  While art is a difficult term to define, the advancements of each period in art history will shed light on the consideration of what is art versus what is not art.  Art began with the earliest human intervention with sculptures of such as the Venus of Willendorf and has progressed to include works such as Fountain by Marcel Duchamp.  The Makapansgat Pebble however can not be given the same consideration as Duchamp’s ready –  made sculptures.  The revolutionary ideas of the past century cannot be used to identify objects from the remote past.  Therefore art begins with humankind’s most basic needs and progresses with the advancement of time.  Food, shelter and the survival of the species were no doubt the concerns of the nomadic humans in Paleolithic times.  Here it is evident that the art that was made such as the Venus of Willendorf reflects the most basic need of reproduction and survival.

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