What is Dadaism?

A to Z of art terms Dadaism

What is Dadaism? Traditional morality and traditions were severely damaged by World War I, and all hope for the future was destroyed. The devastation caused by the war resulted in a deep loss of confidence in the advancements made in nineteenth-century Europe, raising questions about the viability of Western civilization and the effectiveness of traditional ideals. From 1916 until 1923, the Dada movement—a modern literary and artistic movement—arose in response to these feelings. Dada, a movement that originated in Western Europe, rejected conventional society and artistic forms in an effort to find true reality. The French term for the trend is "hobby-horse," and it originated in Zurich and spread to other places in Northern Europe, including Berlin, Cologne, and Paris, as well as New York. Although its precise origin is unknown, Hugo Ball is sometimes credited with accidently inventing the name "Dada" while leafing through a French-German dictionary. Ball proposed that a child's first sound, "dada," represented primitivism and a new beginning in art.

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Early Dadaist Movement and Key Figures

At first, a large number of Dadaists identified as Futurists and Expressionists, but by 1917, this affiliation had diminished. The movement's founder, Tristan Tzara, used creative oddities to question society. Dadaists produced "anti-art," which valued ugliness over beauty, because they felt that a society that was constantly at conflict did not merit traditional art. Even though their goal was to use absurdity to convey their dissatisfaction, the public embraced their work and turned it from anti-art into art that reflected the turmoil of the war. These artists rejected conventional values in favour of accepting disorder as the inherent state of the world and constantly researching its nature.

Following World War I, a culture of “disgust, disillusionment, distrust” surrounded the work of artists such as Tzara and Ball. They reinterpreted art and accepted “the agonies of the chaotic universe” rather of running away from these emotions. Their pervasive mistrust and pessimism produced an expressively spontaneous artistic approach. Dadaism created art based on impulsiveness, which is admired for its free and natural expression rather than for being better or more beautiful. Dadaism also emancipated language by dismantling semantics.

The Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, a tavern they transformed into a centre for literary and artistic events and performances, served as the Dadaists’ first meeting location. In addition, Hugo Ball started a journal with the same name where authors and artists would publish their creations. Dadaists included non-figurative form representations in these manifestos, greatly influenced by Kandinsky’s abstract painting. Dadaism’s relationship with primitivism and primitive art, which emphasised the artist’s inner thoughts over outside societal characteristics that they disliked, was another important part of the movement.

Challenging Society Through Absurdity

Dadaism demonstrated a deep distaste for society and bourgeois culture and combined a number of revolutionary movements. Declaring that "DADA exists for no one," Tristan Tzara sought to expose "the emptiness of all his endeavours, even his profitable nationalism, and the unreality of [the bourgeois] world." Dada was never meant to be a new art movement for financial gain or political messaging. The aristocratic arts society of the period viewed Tzara's ideas as revolutionary, even though they may not seem as radical now. For example, Beatrice Wood, a Dadaist in New York City, painted a naked woman with a bar of soap glued over her genitalia in her picture "A Little Water in Some Soap." Rich New York art buyers did not find this exhibit to be very appealing. Wood's decision to bring a mass-produced consumer good into the esteemed field of fine arts infuriated or delighted a lot of the visitors to the exhibition. Famous Dadaist Marcel Duchamp had an impact on Wood's creative decisions. This example is significant because the way Dadaist media is received compares to the range of responses that are currently seen to user-generated memes on the internet.

Symbolist Literature and Art

Dadaism's origins can also be found in symbolist literature, which opposed naturalism in the nineteenth century. Writers such as Flaubert and Ibsen, as well as poets like Tennyson and Browning, matched verbal imagery to physical reality with a materialistic precision that the symbolists condemned. Dadaist art also borrowed from early abstract, futurist, and cubist attempts. Similar to the symbolists, artists such as Picasso and Braque disapproved of the idea that art should strive to replicate nature. The Dadaists advanced this concept beyond simple abstraction in order to achieve their own goal of creating anti- or non-art.


Dadaism was perceived by modern commentators as purposefully anarchistic. Early in the 1920s, André Gide mockingly wrote about the movement, saying, “What! Our language is to be spared the hardships endured by our crops, communities, and cathedrals! It is crucial that the intellect keep up with the material world; after all, it has a right to some ruin. Dada will take care of it.


Dadaists were "theoretical anarchists in an admirable comprehensive and singularly cosmical sense," according to William A. Drake in 1922. Recognising the movement's potential, Albert Schinz endorsed its nihilistic goals, arguing that the world required a thorough cleansing and that Dadaism's extremes could bring the artistic community back to reason. The Dadaists were extremely bright anarchists who applied their ideals to language without limitations. They also had a rational approach to creative writing. Dadaist poetic theory is not very influential in modern times. Any lessening of the societal ills they denounced most likely came from movements with greater clout. Pure sound, non-logical coherence (as exhibited by Gertrude Stein), and Dadaist graphic surrealist approaches have been explored by writers and painters since the 1920s; nonetheless, significant instances of their influence in contemporary painting are scarce.


The Dadaists were serious about their aim, even though they seemed to parody traditional society. Their deep distress was reflected in their profound cynicism and destructiveness. They were logical thinkers who understood the self-destructive nature of their principles, even in the midst of their chaotic expressions. After realising these repercussions, one Dada artist completely gave up on art, while war-wounded Jacques Vaché took his own life, reading dadaism in a negative light. Like certain individual psychoses, dadaism was a common craziness that culminated in rambling incoherently.

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