Art Movements Throughout History: Dada

An abstract painting in the dada style.

Dada was an art and literary movement that was formed in the post-World War I period. It was a reaction against nationalism and other influences in society that many thought had caused the conflict. Dada was formed by a group of artists in Zurich, Switzerland and included a diverse range of art forms such as photography, sculpture, painting, collage, poetry and performance art. The aesthetic value of Dada was derived from the mockery of nationalistic attitudes as was seen across many cities where Dada artists were found e.g Berlin, Cologne, New York, Paris, and Hanover. In opposition to the materialistic and nationalistic attitudes, the movement became an influential cornerstone to the various categories of contemporary art. With the rise of Surrealism, the movement eventually became dissolute.

Key Ideas And Characteristics Of Dada

Dada was a conceptual art movement that had borrowed much from avant-garde movements such as Futurism, Cubism, and Expressionism. The main goal of the artists was to use art to upend everyday societal beliefs and not to craft aesthetically appealing objects. By using conceptual art, the artists generated difficult questions about society, the purpose of art and ultimately the role of the artists.

The members of Dada were anti-war, anti-bourgeois and closely affiliated to the radical left. They were intent on upending the traditional values of society especially after the long wars that were started and prolonged without effort to end them. One of the founders of Dada, Hugo Ball, was a writer who published a magazine that advocated for anti-bourgeois ideals. He also started a nightclub in Zurich, called the Cabaret Voltaire, which was satirical to the fact that it mocked the idiocies of society.

The group members used readymade objects in their work, found in everyday life without altering the original form of the objects. This raised questions about the artistic creativity of the artists and what they aimed to achieve through their work. This stance challenged the very definition of art and its role in society.

Various artists of the Dada movement such as Hans Arp defied the conventional methods of planning and production of art. Where norms required meticulous planning and completion, Hans Arp incorporated chance in the creation of artworks. The incorporation of chance meant that art was not definitively completed by the artist but rather an ongoing process. In introducing chance, Dadaists questioned the role of artists in the process.

Famous Works

Laws of Chance

Artist: Hans Arp

Year: 1917

This work was a perfect example of incorporating chance in various artworks. Hans Arp made collages that demonstrated the laws of chance. In this work, Hans made squares out of paper of contrasting colors and stood above a large sheet of background paper and dropped the smaller squares on top. He then glued the squares on the random positions they fell onto. This arrangement produced a deep reaction and was contrary to the traditional geometric arrangement of forms. The chance collages became popular in defying traditional art and were influential in Dada’s aim to challenge societal norms and become anti-art.


Artist: Marcel Duchamp

Year: 1919

Dada’s irreverence to conventional art was once again on display through this work. Duchamp used a cheap everyday postcard of the Mona Lisa painting and transformed the face by adding a mustache and a goatee while adding a label that read LHOOQ. The work became famous because of the ongoing events of the time, where the original Mona Lisa painting had only been recently returned to the Louvre after it was stolen in 1911. Duchamp offended many through this work but managed to pose questions that challenged artistic values.

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