What is Art?
Can it be found in the design of a bidet or a urinal?
In my opinion, of course! I’m a big contender that Art can be found in the most unusual places — even the bathroom. It is all in the way you see and perceive things.
Back in 1917, Marcel Duchamp put on display his “found art” or “ready-made” series, which included this piece called “Fountain.”
“Fountain” is one of Marcel’s most famous works and is widely seen as an icon of twentieth-century Art.
The original, which is lost, consisted of a standard urinal, and was signed and dated “R. Mutt 1917.” A replica is now on display at the Tate Gallery in London.
At the time of its presentation, there was a great uproar. Critics who viewed “Fountain” for the first time refused to believe a urinal could possibly be considered a work of art as it was, indecent and immoral.
In 1917 an editorial appeared defending the piece, most probably written by Beatrice Wood:
‘Mr. Mutt’s fountain is not immoral, that is absurd, no more than a bathtub is immoral. It is a fixture that you see every day in plumbers’ shop windows. Whether Mr Mutt with his own hands made the fountain 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.’
Art is supposed to make the viewer think, and one certainly does delve deep into controversy when one contemplates the “Fountain.” Once taken out of context, Mutt’s urinal takes on new meaning and significance. We see it juxtaposed against society and its issues and cultural developments as well as the psychology of modern thought processes.
Similarly, one may interpret the bidet as something other than just a functioning piece of toiletry. For me when I contemplate the bidet and its history it becomes a fascinating piece of art and takes on new meaning.
The word “bidet” comes from the French word for “pony” because it resembled a squat, little horse.
It originated in France around the year 1710, and its purpose was to cleanse private areas. There is a raging debate, based on the Italian obsession with the bidet that it was designed first in Italy… but most likely, as with many inventions, it was developed in both countries simultaneously to serve a growing need for improved personal hygiene.
Back in the 1700s few people took baths or showers on a weekly or even monthly basis, so this was a handy invention. Thanks to indoor plumbing in the 19th and 20th century the porcelain bowl found its way into the bathroom.
With the never-ending human desire to beautify objects, the first “arty” bidets are attributed to the French furniture maker Christopher Des Rosiers. He created beautifully decorated porcelain bowls, inlaid and painted with designs around the base and the interior. This was the first time in history that toilets were designed to look pretty!
Even Napoleon, himself, had a unique bidet made of silver. He took his particular bidet around the world on all his travels. Interesting to note, silver has a natural anti-microbial nature, and thus essentially kept itself clean.