Dadaism Evoking the absurd

Originating in post-war Zürich around 1916, the Dadaist movement began as a conscious renouncement of culture as it was widely understood. Capitalism, political corruption, unyielding nationalism, and the repressive social norms of the early 20th century became a source of unrest and disillusionment. In direct opposition to these social binds, Dada found itself in the absence of cohesion; it sought refuge in a subversive reality undulating beneath the tension of a continent struggling to regain order. Dada chose to abolish order entirely, instead favoring a dreamlike, absurdist perspective that experimented with revolutionary ideals as much as it did the very foundations of art.

The Stylings of Dada

Dadaist art took on many forms, most famously collage, photomontage, poetry, painting, and sculpture. The generally anarchist approach most participants had towards art gave them creative freedom to impulsively explore the limits of each medium with little regard for aesthetics. Above all, substance was favored.

Protagonists of Dadaism

Marcel Duchamp

“I was interested in ideas—not merely in visual products.”

The irreverent Duchamp, as all Dadaists, dealt with life as if it existed to be unraveled. In spite of his evident skill and training, he challenged the notion that either were prerequisites to success in the art world. He often framed common, everyday objects as being art, referring to the pieces as "Readymades" given their universally accessible stature in society. By taking an object one would not otherwise give a second glance, Duchamp had his audience wonder about the significance of beauty in art as well, or rather, to what extent we misinterpret beauty. If an albeit unconventional beauty is within Duchamp's bicycle wheel (pictured above), then what caused us to overlook said beauty? This type of conceptualization was a vehicle for Dadaist thinking-- the undoing of art as a science, the reduction of art back to a theory.

Tristan Tzara

"Dada means nothing, it's just a sound produced by the mouth."

Perhaps Dada's most fervent advocate, Tzara even went so far as to publish a manifesto in its name, aptly titled Dada Manifesto (1918). That being said, his work was mainly poetic in nature, somehow utilizing written language over other mediums. Tzara took an interest in African poetry which he readily incorporated into his work; if not literal excerpts, he would opt for the sounds or imitations of African languages. The efficacy and passion behind his writing led to him being an esteemed public figure; his eloquence translated as well in speech as it did on paper. Tzara coordinated the majority of Dada's gatherings at their meeting place, the Cabaret Voltaire (the name of which was an homage to the philosopher). Tzara's publications drew international attention, eventually pulling him from Zurich to Paris, where he would join an avant-garde art collective, hosting numerous and tremendously successful literary events. Ironically, Tzara tended to alienate other major figures in Dadaism, who preferred quieter, more introspective methods.

WWI's Influence On Dadaist Thinking

Dadaists adhered to a Nihilistic view of life. Many of whom had been drafted into the war, but by fate and circumstance, narrowly avoided enlistment and/or active duty. On the edge of involvement, the minds of these men who presumed they would be sent to war were wracked with questions of existentialism, of the worth and complexity of their individual lives, especially given the importance of the state over the men of which its composed; however, the horror and cruelty of the war from an outsider's perspective was enough to draw one into dadaism, which propagated a seemingly hyper-simplified understanding of life and modernity. If death, coup-de-tats, or devastation were always on the horizon, better to dissociate from the terror and redirect one's emotions to art, philosophy, and concept. Dadaism was very much a defense mechanism in response to the culture.

Legacy of Dadaism

Dada faded organically; its newspaper (facilitated by Tzara) still regularly printed editions until 1922. Dada served as a formative precursor to the equally anti-rationalist and absurdist Surrealist movement. Without Dadaists like Duchamp, art as an intellectual exercise would likely have seen less of an influx during the 20th century, when it became especially political and pithy.

L.H.O.O.Q. by Marcel Duchamp


  • The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. "Dada." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 20 Dec. 2016. Web.
  • "MoMA Learning." MoMA | Dada. N.p., n.d. Web.
  • "MoMA Learning." MoMA | Marcel Duchamp and the Readymade. N.p., n.d. Web.
  • National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. "NGA-DADA - Introduction." NGA-DADA - Introduction. N.p., n.d. Web.
Created By
Amanda Janks

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.