Dada – Art Against War

Following World War I, artists, reacting to the sheer volume of atrocities brought on by the war, felt it necessary to rebel against all existing standards of art and aesthetic, as a means of reconstruction. They were replacing the values of a society which created WWI in an attempt to pave the way towards a more progressive social order. A major component of this movement away from tradition was absurdism and parody.

Marcel Duchamp, ‘Fountain’ 1917, replica 1964
Fountain,  1917
Marcel Duchamp

Perhaps the most famous piece to come out of the Dada movement, Marcel Duchamps’ Fountain perfectly encapsulates the guiding principles of dadaism. The piece itself, a urinal with the words “R, Mutt 1917” scrawled along the top, by many, would not be considered art. But in claiming the object as art, Duchamp is calling into question what we define as art, and why. The inherent lack of meaning of the work illustrates the messages dadaist artists were trying to get across: that we must discard our notions of what is beautiful and what is art, breaking down the established norms, if we are to progress as a society.

Marcel Duchamp, 'The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass)' 1915-23, reconstruction by Richard Hamilton 1965-6, lower panel remade 1985

The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass), 1915-23
Marcel Duchamp

Marcel Duchamp, 'Fresh Widow' 1920, replica 1964

Fresh Widow, 1920
Marcel Duchamp

Other works by Duchamp placed an emphasis on minimalism, moving away from frivolous materialism, as another means of disrupting the current trends in society.

There is no such thing as decoration. The whole concept needs to be buried. We take furniture in, that’s all. We buy the things we need for our comfort. Keep desires to a minimum and do away with what is not strictly practical. That’s it in a nutshell: fittings must be useful.

Duchamp, 1927
Kleine Dada Soiree, 1922
Theo van Doesburg & Kurt Schwitters

Disruption also came in the form of experimentation, altering meaning, in this case through stylizing and obscuring text.

L.H.O.O.Q., 1919
Marcel Duchamp
Raoul Hausmann, ‘The Art Critic’ 1919–20
The Art Critic, 1919
Raoul Hausmann

Parody also factored into the aesthetic of Dada artists, as a direct means of questioning the value and sanctity of existing artistic hierarchies and structures. Although, this would often equate to self-parody, since the dadaists were artists themselves, or in the case of Raoul Hausmann , critics of art. This irony provided dadaists with a great deal of power; their critiques held more weight as self-critiques, rather than general condemnations of society.

Of course, the ultimate goal of the Dada movement proved unsuccessful, as we know, World War II followed not too long after this post-war push towards reform. But the sense of exploration, questioning, and creative energy brought about by this period of art remains a factor in the current artistic landscape.

Information sourced from the Tate Galleries

Dada, world war I
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3 Comments. Leave new

  • […] Aesthetic Exploration: Dadaism […]

  • Really interesting exploration. Pushing back against the ‘establishment’ is near and dear to my own impression of art. I have noticed that this is a very cyclic process in the art world, teeter-tottering between hyper-sensitive and then a subsequent push back. Right now with popular modern artiest like Banksy, it is interesting to see how we are living in another grunge-rebel stage.

  • Brittany Callin
    January 27, 2019 4:29 pm

    Overall, the post was very well done. It gave plenty of information on what Dadaism is, where it originated, and had wonderful pictures of art pieces that exemplify Dadaism. If someone read this post without any background information on what Dadaism is they would leave with a clear idea on what it is. I do think, however, there could have been more in-depth discussion of the last few pictures on the post.


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