Found art is art made from everyday items like household appliances, industrial equipment, or even seemingly random junk. Its goal, sometimes referred to as found object art, is to make viewers question what constitutes art and what distinguishes art objects from non-art objects. In the early twentieth century, Marcel Duchamp and other Surrealists pioneered the use of found object art. It sparked debate among audiences and critics at the time, and it has continued to do so ever since.
The Surrealists, influenced the Dadaists, set out to redefine the meaning of art as we know it. Critics, museum curators, and a small group of established painters and sculptors largely defined art before they rose to prominence. It had a tendency to define beauty and art in a narrow and somewhat conformist way. The Surrealists believed that art should challenge the audience’s assumptions and arouse passions. The first events sparked outrage and even riots, which the Surrealists interpreted as signs of their success.
The first found art piece, Fountain, was introduced Marcel Duchamp in 1917. Fountain was a regular urinal that Duchamp enshrined on a pedestal and displayed in an art museum. Duchamp referred to his found art pieces as “readymades,” implying that they were made quickly. Bottle racks, snow shovels, and coat racks were among the readymade items. Duchamp hinted at both serious art pieces and jokes at the expense of the art world, leaving viewers to wonder if these were intended as serious art pieces or jokes at the expense of the art world.
Many other artists presented their own found art pieces in the years after, despite the audience’s skepticism and critical scorn. Man Ray, Pablo Picasso, and Andy Warhol were among the influential figures. Found art was an important part of the late-twentieth-century postmodernist movement. Later art movements such as “trash art” and the Young British Artists movement of the 1990s were influenced it. While the goal remains to challenge preconceived notions of art, many viewers find these works perplexing at best.
Despite this, found art has had a significant impact outside of the realm of fine art. Random sounds have been incorporated into the music of musicians such as John Cage, The KLF, and The Books, who often remix these sounds in creative ways. Similar methods were used writers like William S. Burroughs and Adrian Henri to create books and poetry, a process Burroughs dubbed “cut-up technique.” Found footage is used filmmakers and video artists to create their own works, which are sometimes referred to as remixes or “mashups.” The found art format has benefited from numerous new technologies in editing, image manipulation, and digital distribution in the twenty-first century.