Dadaism: the short lived movement


Born out of disgust for the social, political and cultural values of the time, Dadaism embraced elements of art, poetry, music, theatre, dance, and politics. An inventive response to the nationalism many believed had led World War One; Dadaism was product of various avant-garde movements. The real question, however… was Dada the beginning of the unconventional art world that fuels our society today? By was, I am speaking in the past tense. Originally, Dadaism was powered by cubism, futurism, constructivism, and expressionism; targeting society and questioning what defined art. The movement was short lived, beginning around 1916 and ending in 1924, which was probably something to do with limited support of the group, due to the almost disrespectful and confrontational nature of the movement (even certain Dadaists were anti-Dada!). An exceedingly secretive, mysterious and irregular movement, Dadaism has very little art left to show for the eight years that it lasted. Presenting through mediums including painting, collage, sculptures and photography, Dadaists often used objects to explore the purpose of art in society. Approaching nationalistic and materialistic views with a satirical outlook, Dadaism influenced artists in cities including Berlin, Hanover, Paris, New York and Cologne, within which various individual groups were formed. Viewing itself as a wake up call for modern art, the purpose of Dadaism was to respond to the horrors of the First World War through artwork that was avant-garde in every essence of the word. It went against the foundations and structures society expected from artwork; proposing random shapes, lines and words as a basis for art. Breaking all the boundaries of art, Dada rebelled against the aesthetical qualities of art at the time. Publishing books as well as crafting paintings and sculptures, the authentic disposition of Dada was in its actions: cabaret performances, demonstrations, declarations, confrontations, the distributions of leaflets and of small magazines and newspapers and actions (which today we would call guerrilla art and theatre). Rebelling against the boundaries between and around art, Dadaists had begun to question what it is that makes art art.

Dadaism was a form of artistic anarchy focusing not on creating polite, pleasing, or conventional art, but instead generating complex questions and concepts about the role of artists, the purpose of art, and society. Fixated on going against the expectations of Bourgeois culture, Dadaist often used readymade objects since they didn’t require exceptional amounts of work to be considered as art. Originating in Switzerland, Dadaism depleted following the beginnings of Surrealism. Some of the most influential Dada artists involve Francis Picabia, Marcel Duchamp, Man Rag and Hugo Ball. Famous for going against all social and traditional norms of art production, whereby work was meticulously planned and completed using readymade objects, the Dadaists were able to address questions regarding artistic creativity, and the definition of art, as well as its purpose in society.

Ignoring aesthetics and affronting sensibilities; overall Dada thoughts concerning traditional culture, were also thoughts of destruction; generally opposing everything art stood for. The so-called non-artists turned to creating art that had soft obscenities, scattered humour, visible puns and everyday objects at the core. Marcel Duchamp created what is viewed as one of the most shocking Dada paintings, a copy of the Mona Lisa with a mustache and additional scribbled indecencies under it. Encouraged by the negative response from the public, the movement could be perceived as a protest, despite the fact it was entertaining and amusing to some. Believe it or not, Dadaists were serious about their art.

Another of the most famous and well known Dada art pieces was created by Duchamp in 1917, going by the title of ‘Fountain.’ The first artist to use a readymade object in his artwork, Duchamp knew his choice of subject, an old urinal, would challenge and offend his fellow artists. Other than rotating the object upside down, and addressing it with a title appropriate to its functions and purposes, the piece boldly and satirically represents previous famous fountains designed by Renaissance and Baroque artists. This initial Dada piece questions basic definitions of art, as well as the role of artists in their creations, by removing the piece from its normal environment and into an artistic context.

Essentially, Dadaism responded in a self-destructive way towards the time. As Hugo Ball described it, “For us, art is not an end in itself... but an opportunity for the true perception and criticism of the times we live in". Dadaism fuelled the beginning of 20th century art; some of the most distinct, stimulating and passionate work yet, (Pop Art, Abstract Expressionism etc.). Of course, 20th century art drove the artwork we see today in the 21st century. It was the Dadaists exploration of the definition of art that gave individuals the confidence to express themselves as they felt appropriate. After all, who gets to define what art is? The Dadaists clearly concluded; art can be whatever we make it.

by Bie Bright for Bad Luck Magazine