The theme for this week is “an object”. Initially I was going to draw something iconographic like a Coke bottle or some other unique shape, but I decided to try something sculptural instead. I was going to do something with clay, but I decided to go with the Marcel Duchamp “ready made” approach. (Also, this required less work. )
I have been struggling to do something with the pile of toys, many from McDonalds and garage sales, that my son has. I thought, why not use those? Hence the material.
Now, how is this different than just a jumble of toys? How is this art? I mention Duchamp for a reason. Besides being one of my favourite artists, I think his use of found objects as “sculpture” was a brilliant thing to do, especially at the time. Context is essential when it comes to designating ready mades like a wine rack or the urinal as sculpture, which is partially what Duchamp was doing. The work is devoid of craft or artist construction: it is the selection and the context that gives the work meaning. Now you can debate that meaning, but that is partially what the work is trying to do: to provoke that debate.
I was also thinking of Jeff Wall and his photographs. Wall’s photographs – at least the ones I know of — are highly structured compositions through which he creates his work.
Now clearly this photograph does not approach Wall or Duchamp, but neither is it a bunch of toys on a table.
For the photo, I selected a pile of toys that were available(like Duchamp) and then came up with a story (like Wall). Perhaps because the new Batman movie is coming out, I selected to base it around the broken Batman toy. Also because it is a theme of the original Toy Story movie, I included the dinosaur toy, Rex, for the photo. Plus I liked his expression: it added drama to the photo. Also, when I was a kid, I had a Rex dinosaur just like that and Batman was my favourite superhero, so I thought those were good choices.
I included the Lego toys with the red faces because I like the way they looked menacing. Plus the red faces added colour and richness to the photo. I added a number of other toys as well, but it was too cluttered. I left the other two in because they added to the story, namely they were holding off the bad Lego characters while Rex rushed in despair to the fallen Batman.
I shot the photo at a number of angles, but I liked this one because it had more dimension that other ones I took. The bad guys are in the foreground and background, giving it depth. The central characters, Rex and Batman, are in the bottom right, giving a sense of motion to the photo. Also the sense that Rex is rushing through the middle while the other four characters are in a standoff gives the photo tension.
You could say all this is bonkers, of course. But if I had an expensive set and had real actors dressed in expensive costumes instead of toys and I was a famous director like Chris Nolan, you would likely evaluate it differently. This is partially the point Duchamp was trying to make: we partially evaluate art and creative works by the context they are in (e.g. on a pedestal and in a museum), not so much for what they consist of. Likewise, Wall’s photos say that just because the subjects of a photograph seem commonplace, that should not mean that the photo itself is lacking in art.
This does not put me in the camp of people that believe that craft doesn’t matter when it comes to art. I think craft, context, and thought all go into making something a work of art. But I think there is more to it than that. I’ll save that for another post.
P.S. The format of the title is derived from Shakespeare. See the full title of Hamlet or Othello for examples of what I mean.