Is it art? Is it craft? Is it just a product? Who decides? Is the idea or the thing more important?
These questions are so often raised now that they've become passé and boring to ask, but early in the 20th century, no one had truly and publicly asked. With the anonymous submission of Fountain to the hoity toity New York Society of American Artists in 1917, a profound debate was sparked: How could this possibly be art?? It was not made by an artists hand - it was an industrially produced piece of plumbing, simply placed on its side and signed. The fact that it was a urinal made it profane, on top of just not being art. Despite this, the Society could not reject it, as they accepted anything from an artist that paid the fee, but instead "suppressed" it by hiding it behind a partition for the entire exhibition.
Marcel Duchamp, a French-American artist, was the trickster behind the affront** Towards the tail end of World War one, Duchamp and his weirdo buddies decided that the logic, reason and aestheticism of capitalism were to blame for the incomprehensible horrors of modern war, so their response was to make their own anti-art, and called it Dada (a gibberish word meant to represent the meaninglessness of it all). Duchamp's specialty, besides shit-stirring, was Readymades, which were "ordinary objects elevated to the dignity of a work of art by the mere choice of an artist," of which Fountain was the first. Art was what the artist said it was. Duchamp was interested in "cerebral art" rather than "retinal art;" he painted in concepts and cultural commentary, rather than oils. While Dadaism only lasted a decade, it was rich with challenge to the status quo on a level that had not been touched before, and it included sculpture, photography, poetry, collage, and performance art. Its anti-establishment ideas of Art made Surrealism, Andy Warhol, Damien Hurst, and rap music possible.
Marcel Duchamp is one of my favorite artists. I love the playful way he said "fuck your rules" to the establishment art world. My pipes are very much inspired by the concepts of Dadaism and Readymades - is it art? Is it a utilitarian object? Is it an inedible, edible thing? Did I make it or did the garden make it? Are you supposed to look at it or take a rip off it? There's beauty and discovery in the world around us, one of the artist's jobs is to draw your attention to those things that already exist, in a new way. I love juxtaposing the sorta subversive act of smoking weed with innocent and innocuous food objects. There's a lot of societal ideas about cannabis and the people that use it, but most of them don't include domestic bliss, art, or looking closely at profound/mundane beauty. I think those concepts should be part of cannabis consumption - they are for me! So my pipes and my art are a fun little Duchampian "fuck your rules" to the establishment assumptions of cannabis consumers. We can have our art, and smoke it, too!
** Allegedly. There's a contemporary letter from Duchamp to his sister saying that "one of my female friends under a masculine pseudonym, Richard Mutt, sent in a porcelain urinal as a sculpture." So maybe R. Mutt was actually Dada Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven? We'll never know for sure.