Introduction to Dada Art  

File:Dada 4-5 Zurich-1919-Collage et bois gravé de Arp en couverture LB.4-0531 mb.jpg

Jean Hans Arp, woodcut and collage for the cover of Dada 4-5 (Tristan Tzara dir.), Zurich, 1919

Dadaism or Dada art is an art movement that originated out of Europe in the early 20th century. It was a form of avant-garde art and had its early centres in Zurich, at the Cabaret Voltaire, a very famous art club, circa 1916. Dada art took over New York around the same time in 1915 and by 1920 it was flourishing in Paris.   

Dada art grew and developed as a reaction to the First World War when the feeling of nationalism was heightened amongst the folk. It was during this time that many artists, writers and intellectuals sought refuge from conscription in Switzerland, so much so that Zurich became a melting pot for those seeking exile. And so, in 1916, writer Hugo Ball and Emmy Hemmings opened up the Cabaret Voltaire. It was a club for the more radical and avant-garde and acted as an arts centre where artists would exhibit their work.  

The Cabaret thus saw a lot of artists who opposed the war. The initial performances and art displayed at the cabaret were conventional however they began getting more radical, showcasing dissent and anarchic responses to the War. The members were known to see society at that time as a failure of systems and corrupt. They protested against the war and opposed the establishment under the banner of Dadaism.   

For the most part, Dadaists were united through their ideals and morals, yet the lacked a unifying style. Thus, Dadaism art attracted a host of different artists Like Marcel Duchamp, Kurt Schwitters, Tristan Tzara, Raoul Hausmann, and many more. It was an art form deeply inspired by other avant-garde art movements like Cubism, Futurism, Constructivism and Expressionism. The amalgamation of all these art movements led to a wildly diverse output; works ranged from art to poetry to paintings to collages.   

Dada Art Movement - History:   

The dada art movement consisted of artists that rejected traditional art; they rejected logic, reason and aestheticism. Dada’s weapon of choice quite literally, against all that was going on in society- against war and establishment was confrontation and provocation. In short, they were anti-war, anti-establishment and anti-art. It wanted to stop the war as well as be a space for people to vent their frustration towards the nationalist and bourgeois. Their anti-authority stance made the dada art movement a protean movement.   

They openly rejected and refused to accept traditional art values and opted for irrational attitudes that led to the provocation of the conservative. It showed strong dissent against the prevalent complacency with harsh statements and actions. The Dada art movement was almost like an assault on traditional art which was seen as a part of the “system” that was culpable and had to be overthrown. In the bargain, Dada art questioned the very meaning and value of art, and whether its existence was only for the rich and the bourgeoisie to indulge in. Dadaism wished to create a climate for art that was alive in the spur of the moment and not restricted by established values.   

The dada art movement is truly unique in all senses. Usually, movements are named years later by famous critics but Dada was one such art movement that was named by the prevalent artists at the time itself. Though there is not enough evidence about the exact date and time of the naming, it is assumed by Hans Ritcher, the term Da-Da was taken from the Romanian language of Tzara and Janco which translated to “yes-yes”- a positive affirmation to life.   

Another more agreed-upon meaning of the word is that the term “dada” is a French term meaning hobbyhorse, but it also is the first words a child usually utters and thus was chosen for its childishness and absurdity that was liked very much by the group, since they were keen to break away from the conventional society.   

Dada Art Ideas:   

Dada art is inspired deeply form the works of Picasso and Braque. Unlike Cubism that dealt with still life images, Dadaists created collages that included a wide array of iconography from reinterpreted portraits to figures that were based on fantasy. They also incorporated more variety of materials.   

Dada members were renowned for using worthless or unimaginable items like tickets, candy wrappers, newspapers, 3D items or other overlooked items in an innovative manner. Dadaists challenged the traditional notions of art by transforming ephemera into sophisticated artworks.   

The dada art presents an interesting and intriguing overlap and paradoxes that seek to elucidate artwork that was popular at the time, but yet it remained cryptic enough to let the view make an opinion of their own. Some dada art sought to deconstruct daily challenges and experiences in rebellious ways. Irreverence was a key component when it came to dada art, be it the lack of respect that was shown towards the bourgeois convention, the government, the conventional production method or the artistic world.   

The decline of Dada Art:   

Dada art differed in terms of its intensity when it came to its ideals. The main groups were Germany, New York, Paris and Switzerland. Out of these, the Berlin group was seen as the most anti-establishment, New York was the most anti-art, while Hannover was seen as the most conservative. Dadaism’s sense of irreverence was closely linked to humour and wit mainly in the form of irony.   

Those who truly appreciated the art form required a readymade embrace towards Dada’s use of irony as it showed awareness, that didn’t require inherent value. Irony allowed artists to be flexible and express their true selves. It let them embrace their crazy and excused it from being taken too seriously. It allowed the artists to be them without being blamed for being stuck in a dream of utopia.   

The biggest irony and paradox yet, is that Dada art claimed to be anti-art yet we sit here in the 21st century discussing the art movement. Their negative attack on the establishment resulted in positive developments for art and paved the way for future developments in 20th-century art.   

The movement spanned visual, literary and sound media, including writing and sculpturing. The Dadaist artist used art as a way to express their discontent and as a result, created techniques that are pillars of art today- collages, cut-up technique, photomontage, assemblage, etc. These artists created art that had obscenities, humour, puns in everyday scenarios and thus was repulsed by the general public. However, this was a huge encouragement for the Dadaists.   

The Dada art movement was a protest yet it was enjoyable and amusing. It used sarcasm while being quirky and silly. For common folk who were unaware of the movement, they wouldn’t understand the art pieces. Despite being known for its amusing elements, Dadaists were very serious about their work. They did not favour one medium over the other; everything from glass to wood to plaster to geometric tapestries was used. Dada art truly is responsible for influencing various trends in the field of art. Dadaists eventually declined and gave way to Surrealism.