Marcel Duchamp Biography: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Suzanne Rose

Suzanne has taught all levels PK-graduate school and has a PhD in Instructional Systems Design. She currently teachers literacy courses to preservice and inservice teachers.

What is art? Who gets to decide what art is? Those are two questions that Marcel Duchamp wanted to answer with his art. In this lesson, find out about Duchamp's life and decide for yourself if a bicycle wheel is really art.

Who Is Marcel Duchamp?

Henri Robert Marcel Duchamp, known as Marcel Duchamp, was born in France in 1887. Marcel was born into an artistic family; his mother's father was a painter and engraver, so he grew up surrounded by his grandfather's art. It's not surprising that Marcel, his two brothers and his sister all became artists.

Artistic Training

When Marcel won an important prize for his drawing, he followed his brothers to Paris, where he studied art. It wasn't long before he started shaking up the art world. When he entered a painting in an exhibition in 1912, the people organizing the show didn't like the title or the painting. So they asked him to paint over the title or remove the painting from the exhibition.

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Marcel decided to remove the painting from the show and took a taxi to the showroom to remove his masterpiece! After this, he didn't create many more paintings; he made other kinds of art instead.

Who Decides What Is Art?

Marcel decided that he didn't want to paint pictures that were just nice to look at; he wanted to make people think about what makes an object or a picture ''art.'' He started making art from objects that were made by someone else, such as a bicycle wheel or a chair.

Bicycle Wheel

Marcel called this type of art his ''readymades'' because he used everyday objects that were already made to create art. He wanted people to look at the objects in a different way and to give his art a message that people had to think about.

Why Did He Come to the U.S.?

During World War I, it wasn't very safe to be in France, so Marcel decided to move to the U.S., eventually becoming an American citizen. When he arrived, he was surprised to find that he was an art celebrity!

Duchamp's Fountain

Marcel joined the Society of Independent Artists in the U.S. After hearing that all artwork submitted by members to one of their art shows would be exhibited, he decided he'd submit a piece of work that they wouldn't think was art, just to see whether they'd exhibit it.


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