THE CREATIVE ACT
by Marcel Duchamp
Let us consider two important factors, the two poles of the creation
of art: the artist on the one hand, and on the other the spectator
who later becomes the posterity.
To all appearances, the artist acts like a mediumistic being who,
from the labyrinth beyond time and space, seeks his way out to a
clearing. If we give the attributes of a medium to the artist, we
must then deny him the state of consciousness on the esthetic plane
about what he is doing or why he is doing it. All his decisions
in the artistic execution of the work rest with pure intuition and
cannot be translated into a self-analysis, spoken or written, or
even thought out.
T.S. Eliot, in his essay on "Tradition and Individual Talent",
writes: "The more perfect the artist, the more completely separate
in him will be the man who suffers and the mind which creates; the
more perfectly will the mind digest and transmute the passions which
are its material."
Millions of artists create; only a few thousands are discussed
or accepted by the spectator and many less again are consecrated
In the last analysis, the artist may shout from all the rooftops
that he is a genius: he will have to wait for the verdict of the
spectator in order that his declarations take a social value and
that, finally, posterity includes him in the primers of Artist History.
I know that this statement will not meet with the approval of many
artists who refuse this mediumistic role and insist on the validity
of their awareness in the creative act yet, art history has
consistently decided upon the virtues of a work of art through considerations
completely divorced from the rationalized explanations of the artist.
If the artist, as a human being, full of the best intentions toward
himself and the whole world, plays no role at all in the judgment
of his own work, how can one describe the phenomenon which prompts
the spectator to react critically to the work of art? In other words,
how does this reaction come about?
This phenomenon is comparable to a transference from the artist
to the spectator in the form of an esthetic osmosis taking place
through the inert matter, such as pigment, piano or marble.
But before we go further, I want to clarify our understanding of
the word 'art' - to be sure, without any attempt at a definition.
What I have in mind is that art may be bad, good or indifferent,
but, whatever adjective is used, we must call it art, and bad art
is still art in the same way that a bad emotion is still an emotion.
Therefore, when I refer to 'art coefficient', it will be understood
that I refer not only to great art, but I am trying to describe
the subjective mechanism which produces art in the raw state
à l'état brut bad, good or indifferent.
In the creative act, the artist goes from intention to realization
through a chain of totally subjective reactions. His struggle toward
the realization is a series of efforts, pains, satisfaction, refusals,
decisions, which also cannot and must not be fully self-conscious,
at least on the esthetic plane.
The result of this struggle is a difference between the intention
and its realization, a difference which the artist is not aware
Consequently, in the chain of reactions accompanying the creative
act, a link is missing. This gap, representing the inability of
the artist to express fully his intention, this difference between
what he intended to realize and did realize, is the personal 'art
coefficient' contained in the work.
In other words, the personal 'art coefficient' is like an arithmetical
relation between the unexpressed but intended and the unintentionally
To avoid a misunderstanding, we must remember that this 'art coefficient'
is a personal expression of art à l'état brut,
that is, still in a raw state, which must be 'refined' as pure sugar
from molasses by the spectator; the digit of this coefficient has
no bearing whatsoever on his verdict. The creative act takes another
aspect when the spectator experiences the phenomenon of transmutation:
through the change from inert matter into a work of art, an actual
transubtantiation has taken place, and the role of the spectator
is to determine the weight of the work on the esthetic scale.
All in all, the creative act is not performed by the artist alone;
the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world
by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualification and thus
adds his contribution to the creative act. This becomes even more
obvious when posterity gives a final verdict and sometimes rehabilitates