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What Was Dada Art?

Artists Features, Tips and Ideas


DADAOf the many movements that gathered impetus in the opening of the twentieth century, Dada was one that helped define art that came before, during and after it. And how did the Dada artists do this? By speaking, painting and sculpting complete and utter nonsense. 

As well as painting, collage and sculpture, Dada artists explored other avenues, like poetry. Written without agenda or definition, this was pioneered by Tristan Tzara. He would cut up a printed article, put all the words in a bag, shake it up and take out the words, one by one. He theorised that the happenstance of this poem would reflect the poet’s inner nature.

But why did the artists find themselves defying structure like this? During the First World War, many artists turned soldiers for some years. Having seen and experienced violent chaos on a global scale, horror spread in the global art community. The whole Dada movement was the embodiment of this repulsion. Blaming rigid political structures for the war, the artists began to disobey rigid artistic structures as well; rejecting all of the assumed rules and culminating what is often called ‘anti-art’. To the Dada artists, art was a reflection of society and society had grown meaningless.

Having said that, the First World War wasn’t the movement’s only catalyst. Some say the cogs began turning before the war even began, when artists became tired of tradition and its limitations, definitions and boundaries. To dethrone the established artists of history was to change the course of present and future art. Marcel Duchamp, for instance, took the Mona Lisa and painted a moustache on her face in a direct attack not on Da Vinci himself, but on an artistic community that deified his talent and singularised his techniques as the only way to convey beauty.

Duchamp also created the ‘readymade’ artwork. He would take an existing object, sign it with either his name or a pseudonym, and call it art. His most famous readymade was Fountain, 1917; an upturned urinal signed with a name that wasn’t even his own. This is the first time the question ‘What is art?’ was really asked.

Predictably the public and critics were disgusted by Dada but, equally predictably, the Dada artists revelled in their repulsion. 

By shaking the shackles of tradition, the Dada artists allowed new movements to blossom. Suprematism, for instance, was symbolised by Kasimir Malevich’s Black Square; a painting that suggested everything that could be painted already has been, and so art is dead. The Dada artists needed to kill art as it was to give birth to art as it could be.

Is your artwork inspired by the major art movements of the 20th century? Head to our online gallery space, Inspire, to share your inspiration! You can find further resources to aid your artistry here.

'Art is dead. Long live Dada.' 


August 17, 2015 < Back To News

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