Dadaism in 8 Minutes: Can Everything Be Art?

Why is an urinal considered a piece of art? What does the word Dada represent? What are Dada soirees? What does Dadaist poetry sound like? And can everything and anything become a work of art if we chose to declare it art? In this story, we'll find out the answers to these questions and learn more about the famous art movement called Dadaism.

The art movement known as Dada was born in a cool little nightclub named Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, Switzerland in February 1916. The times when this amazing movement started its life were, however, not so amazing. World War I was roaring and artists from different countries were running away from the terror. Fleeing from the ongoing war, a group of artists moved to neutral Switzerland and formed a new artistic group.

Dada was truly an international movement with artists coming from all over Europe. Tristan Tzara and Marcel Janco came from Romania, Emmy Hennings and Hugo Ball from Germany, and Jean Arp from France. Dada united artists opposed to war, who were looking to find new and alternative art practices through which they could communicate their feelings about the world around them. They wanted to create a new universe that was completely different from the one happening around them.

Dada, therefore, became anti-everything. Anti-war, anti-bourgeois, anti-nationalist, anti-establishment, anti-museums, anti-materialism. Dada, as Andre Breton said, was a state of mind. Dadaist truly wanted to bid farewell to established rules, ideals, and conventions. They aimed to destroy what was thought of as reasonable. Or as Jean Arp phrased it "Dada is for the senseless which does not mean nonsense. Dada is senseless like nature. Dada is for nature and against art."

Since Dadaists were anti-meaning too, they chose a peculiar name for their movement. The word DADA could represent a sound a baby would make, or it could mean a rocking horse, or it could mean yes-yes in Romanian. Either way, Dada could mean everything and nothing!
So, you might be wondering, what was dadaist art like? Well, the previously mentioned Cabaret Voltaire became a hotspot for all things Dada. It was the place where performances, poetry readings, dances, exhibitions, and dada soirees were held at. It was a center for all types of avant-garde artistic entertainment. The Cabaret lasted for six months only, but its legacy is surely enormous.

Many dada soirees, or dada evenings, consisted of Dadaist poetry readings. And Dadaist poetry was certainly unconventional. Artist Tristan Tzara even wrote an instruction on how to create a dada poem. What you need to do is take a newspaper, cut out the words, put them in a bag, shake the bag, and then you take the cutouts one by one, and there's your poem! You could even try and make a dadaist poem yourself!

A number of Dadaist poems, like the ones Hugo Ball wrote, consisted of random nonsensical words that would just represent a seemingly meaningless sound. You might have heard the famous Talking Heads song called I Zimbra. The lyrics were written by none other than the Dadaist Hugo Ball. And the lyrics go like this: Gadji beri bimba clandridi Lauli lonni cadori gadjam. Yes, these are all random words that don't mean anything in particular, fascinating right?

Other Dadaists like Jean Arp also liked to play with the idea of spontaneity and chance in art. When creating some of his collages, Arp would drop paper cut-outs from the air and glue them exactly where they fell.

After the war ended, Dadaists started moving to other places from Switzerland, so Dada spread around too! Mainly to France, Germany, and the USA. After Zurich, Dada had its new centers in Paris, Berlin, and New York City.

The Berlin group, led by Hannah Hoch, Richard Hueselback, and Raoul Hausman, was the most openly political of all Dadaist branches. During the 1920 First International Dada Art Fair In Berlin, even the ceiling was used for exhibiting a piece. Artists John Heartfield and Rudolf Schlichter created a life-sized doll of a soldier with a pig's head made out of paper-mâché and named it The Prussian Archangel.

The Berlin Dada group is also famous for coming up with a new art-form known as the photomontage. Photomontages represented a new version of collage where media images from newspapers and magazines were cut out to create a work of art with a political message. Photomontages showed the media images used in the Weimar Republic, but Dadaists used them in subversive and even feminist ways, especially in the case of Hannah Hoch who created many pieces reflecting the idea of what the new modern woman should be like.

Now, let's move on to the American branch of Dada. The New York Dada is connected to the very famous Marcel Duchamp. Duchamp created one of the best-known Dadaists pieces and probably one of the most famous art pieces in the history of art - The Fountain. The Fountain consists of a signed piece of a regular white porcelain urinal seen in restrooms all over the world. So, you might be wondering, why is this considered art? The answer is actually quite simple: because the artist chose to make it an artwork. Duchamp's main goal was to show that the artist had the intellectual power to choose what object becomes art and change its context. What's important here is the artistic idea and not the object itself. And this notion became a big game-changer in the history of modern art. 

Duchamp's philosophy of art was of enormous importance for postwar art movements like conceptual art, performance art, and postmodern art. What we choose to see as art can be art, it doesn't mean that it's good or bad, it's just - art.

Duchamp decided to call his chosen mass-produced objects made into artworks his readymades. A bicycle wheel, a shovel, a bottle rack, you name it, Duchamp made it into an artwork! And Dadaism made all of that possible.

Dada slowly dissolved during the early twenties with artists going their own ways and moving on to new art movements like surrealism for which dada laid the foundation for. But if you're wondering if Dadaist artworks are still relevant today. The answer is - absolutely yes! Without Dadaism, we wouldn't have Marina Abramovic's performance art, or any conceptual art piece. Maurizio Catalan’s infamous banana wouldn’t ever be considered art without Dadaism, and Banksy’s pieces probably wouldn’t have been sold in the art market. So, Dadaism's legacy is huge and ever-present, both in the history of 20th-century art and the contemporary art world.
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