The greatest philosopher in modern art? Or did the art world make him, artificially construct him into a “readymade” himself, the philosopher who would trash tradition and under the pretext of modernism and the new, engage in the kind of dead-end misogyny and patriarchy he was ostensibly freeing the art world from. At heart, was as philosophy goes, given to the philosophical basis of say a Heidegger in his sparring anf jabbing with the structure of aesthetic convention that had been rigor-mortisized with the Protestant ethic of the Enlightenment, consumerism and the rampant individualism it seemed to create. Hard to say.
There is no doubt he contributed to 20th century art, its the nature of that contribution and in particular the way it shaped a “business” ethic of art as seen in Warhol and even worse poseurs and masters of the gesture in Koons, Hirst, McCarthy et al. that have pushed money values of art to the forefront, subsuming all other considerations, that places Duchamp central in any study of aesthetics.
Duchamp’s scientific style was directed against the aesthetic preconceptions that had defined art since the Renaissance. (Interestingly, when asked what traditional painting he did like, he professed an admiration for the pre-Renaissance Italian Primitives.) Duchamp used the term “retinal” as a concise formulation of his opposition to the received opinions about beauty and form that had been in effect since the fourteenth century and da Vinci. He said
. . . too great an importance [has been] given to the retinal. Since Courbet, it’s been believed that painting is addressed to the retina. That was everyone’s error. The retinal shudder! Before, painting had other functions: it could be religious, philosophical, moral.
Duchamp was endeavoring to dispel aesthetic dogma, and the adoption of a scientific style enabled him to do so in a form that matched his own cool and intellectual stance. He himself describes his line as
Mechanical drawing. It upholds no taste, since it is outside pictorial convention.