chapter  8
15 Pages

The beauty of indifference: The art of Marcel Duchamp

This chapter examines the aesthetics of Marcel Duchamp, the FrenchAmerican artist whose early contributions to the Dadaist and Surrealist movements opened the way for much of the innovation of late twentiethcentury art. Most importantly it was Duchamp's critique of classical western aesthetics and the mystique of the artist that has had the most enduring impact. From the perspective of contemporary psychoanalytic theory, I will argue that much of Duchamp's aesthetics and his approach to the problem of the modern artist was derived from his relationship with his deaf and schizoid mother. Speci®cally, I will suggest that she failed to provide a responsive parental relationship to con®rm her son's vitality, selfesteem and sense of interpersonal engagement. Duchamp attempted to compensate for these de®cits through artistic activity and the articulation of an aesthetics that both re¯ected the experience of failure while at the same time embodying beauty and perfection. I believe that this ``artistic self'' (Roland, 2002) had an important function for Duchamp. It offered an opportunity for a healing process to occur in which early developmental failure and self-de®cits could be compensated for through engagement in the creative process and the production of art. It also recapitulated aspects of the mother±child relationship that remained unresolved and highly con¯icted for Duchamp.