Do you remember the Monty Python Show? Were you fascinated by its peculiar animated cut-out montages? Many people didn’t realize that they had been exposed to Dadaism by watching the program.
I loved the anti-art, non-movement, Dada before I ever heard of Monty Python. It appealed to my youthful, anti-establishment feelings. Dadaism is attractive to many teens due to their frustrations encountered in the process of becoming adults. Teens are especially frustrated by things their elders impose upon them such as curfews, seemingly heavy-handed restrictions on freedom, and wars–especially wars.
Dada never really went out of style. Simply said, Dada is rarely ever called Dada anymore. It just crops up in all of its irreverant, surreal, oddness. It makes a statement, we laugh at it, then it apparently disappears.
Dada started at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, Switzerland in February of 1916. Many European artists had taken refuge from the senselessness of the First World War, including Hugo Ball, the German owner of the cabaret. The first Dadaists let out their frustrations in stage performances, declarations, street demonstrations, and confrontations. The Dadaist activists distributed leaflets and magazines. It was all about breaking down barriers.
Richard Huelsenbeck and Hans Arp were attracted to the Zurich group and soon constructed collages and wood sculptures. The two helped coalesce the form into a movement. They affronted the conservative, staid art community as they ignored and insulted aesthetics. The Dadaists were opposed to everything legitimate art stood for. Their “shock art” repulsed the powers that be and much of the general public. The Dadaists were pleased with that reaction.
The legitimate art was the expression of standard Western civilization and its movers and shakers. Legitimate art survived at the whim of wealthy, powerful patrons. The individuals who funded most mainstream artists also owned oppressive factories, armaments firms, financial interests, governments, and others who profit from war. Dadaists wanted nothing to do with anything to do with the horrors of the war that was going on across Europe nor, in turn, legitimate art.
While Dada is not a disciplined movement, it only has one rule of thumb. Never follow any known rules. There is no predominant medium in Dadaism. It includes literature, sculpture, painting, mobiles, collage, photomontage, ready made objects, and more. We find influences of Expressionism and Abstraction in Dadaism.
The artforms are whimsical, seemingly nonsensical, and controversial. However, the “artists” are very serious about their creations.
While Dada is supposedly anarchic, impermanent, and unacceptable, Dada inspired the growth of some legitimate schools. Its best known offshoots are Surrealism and Constructivism. At the same time, Dadaism has influenced Futurism.
The coining of the name “Dada” is uncertain. Some experts believe it is from baby-talk, others think it is the French slang word for hobby horse. Perhaps it is from the Romanians Tzara and Jenco for their frequent use of “Da! Da!” for “yes yes”. Maybe “Dada” was just randomly chosen.
Even the very nature of the commemoration of Dada, “International Dadaism Month” is Dadaist. It began in the unlikeliest place by an unlikely person. After Christmas of 2005, Lawrence, Kansas Mayor Dennis “Boog” Highberger proclaimed the “month”.
The “month” is a random set of dates. Highberger told an aide to draw numbers that correspond to every day of the year, from a tophat. That means “Dada Month” consists of: February 4th, March 28th, April 1st, July 15th, August 2nd, August 16th, August 26th, September 18th, September 22nd, October 1st, October 17th, and October 26th. Sure, Dada Month is only twelve days, but that’s because it’s very Dadaist.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Dadaist Francis Picabia. “Dada talks with you. It is everything. It includes everything. It belongs to all religions. Can be neither victory nor defeat. It lives in space and not in time.”