Of course, Duchamp was once believed to have said that eroticism was the only “ism” he believed.
The following excerpt from the autobiography of Lydie Fischer Sarazin-Levassor (Duchamp’s wife) is revealing, punny and insightful.
Marcel was busy flat-hunting. He sometimes took me along to visit domestic premises that turned out to be complete fiascos. They would be charging an inflated price for the furniture and fittings, whereas everything still had to be done, including the bathroom. It did not stop us from discussing our ideas of the perfect flat. No furniture, just cupboards hidden behind walls of plywood. Marcel taught me to appreciate the beauty of raw materials. No need for exotic wood or other rare and costly materials to fit out a flat that would be pleasant to live in. A plaster wall has a splendor and delicacy of its own if an effort is made to keep it matt and immaculate; whitewood has a delicate satiny grain that needs neither a coat of walnut stain to pass it off as oak, nor thick coats of paint to cover it up completely; a lead pipe can glisten with a dull sheen and add a light touch where it was not expected, or a gay band of colour if coated with minium (which is not paint but a natural protective medium).
At first I thought his taste for natural things was a reaction against the “refined” aesthetic propounded by the recent exhibition of les arts decoratifs. I asked him about it: “As far as lizards go, I have only encountered the variety that basks in the sun. What are these lizards décoratifs? Is it a new species?” He added: “If a butcher makes a sculpture out of lard or saindoux, is it culinary or domestic lard? And what about the lard of war? So tell me about the Arts. Art is simply the technical knowledge that goes with a profession. Look it up in the Larousse dictionary. So what are the Fine Arts? All the arts are fine. The knifegrinder’s art is particularly fine, and fascinating with it. But he is an artisan. Artisan, artist, what’s the difference? My hairdresser calls himself an artist, so does the man in the patisserie, but Gaston’s art is manual, so that makes him an artisan.”
Marcel Duchamp, ‘Bottle dryer’, (image from the National Gallery of Australia website)