by Pericles Lewis

In 1919, the same year in which T.S. Eliot wrote “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” the dadaist Marcel Duchamp presented a less reverent way of relating to past artistic tradition. Duchamp exhibited one of his “assisted ready-mades,” which consisted of a reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa,” on which he drew a moustache and scrawled five letters that alluded to a French obscenity: “L. H. O. O. Q.” (Duchamp’s polite translation of the phrase was “There is fire down below.”) This act seems to mock one of the most famous of Renaissance masterpieces, but Duchamp’s own artistic product (the “assisted ready-made”) only has an artistic meaning of its own because we as viewers recognize the status of Leonardo’s painting as an icon of high art.[1]

  1. ↑ This page has been adapted from Pericles Lewis’s Cambridge Introduction to Modernism (Cambridge UP, 2007), p. 27.