When Marcel Duchamp signed a urinal and stuck it in a museum he was making a point about what’s art and what isn’t, but what point was he making? Was he saying that a mass-produced object in the right setting becomes a work of art, or was he saying that people should look at mass-produced objects as art no matter where they are? After all somebody had to design a urinal, and something can be useful as well as aesthetically pleasing. Or at least aesthetically interesting.
What I’m getting at is that the definition of art is pretty loose, even arbitrary. Actually Calvin & Hobbes put it best:
Decorating a dumpster turns it from, well, just a dumpster, into art. Or at least turns it into a background for art, a place for art. Put a picture on it, any picture, and a dumpster becomes a museum too.
And I can’t think of a way to segue fluidly into this but years ago I was in Edinburgh and a homeless man came up and asked me for some change. “I’m not gonna lie to ye,” he said, “I just really want a pint.” I couldn’t resist that honesty so I gave him a pound. He hugged me and thanked me. He told me his name was Hamish and we started talking. He asked where I was from. When I said Nashville he yelled “Elvis! My favorite singer!” I didn’t have the heart to say that while Elvis did a lot of recording in Nashville his home base was Memphis, but the more Hamish talked the more I realized there was plenty he could tell me about Elvis. Hamish was the first person to tell me Elvis was a Monty Python fan which I believed but which also completely changed my perspective of Elvis because it’s not something that often comes up when people talk about The King. It turns out the Pythons themselves didn’t know Elvis was a fan–Eric Idle only learned what a fan Elvis was a few years ago–which still surprises me. Elvis wasn’t shy about contacting people—consider his meeting with Nixon in the White House—so the only thing I still wonder about is why he never called up any of the Pythons to tell them he was a fan.