Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Dada Movement

            The Dada movement was an art movement that was seen as a response to the apparent collapse of bourgeois cultural values.  Dada artists responded to the devastation of World War I.  The war showed the barbarism and the collapse of society, and their art was a critique of that society and mimicking too the chaos and the probability of chance.  They challenged artistic conventions by critiquing the ideas of art and who defines what art is.  They also wanted to reject subjectivity in art and take out the artist as the subject of the art, and instead embrace objectivity.

            Where Impressionist and Cubist artist had been more interested in producing subjective art rather than making a political statement, Dada artist are interested in critiquing society and the politics of the times.  A Dada work of art that shows the a critique of society is the War of Corpses – Last Hope of the Rich, by the German artist John Heartfield, which was published in 1932.  His work is a photomontage that makes a blatant critique of the bourgeoisie and government.  By cutting up the different pieces of pictures and joining them together into a cohesive whole, he has created a powerful statement about the rich taking advantage of the war and even profiting from the devastation.   The concept of the artist taking a partisan role and using their art to draw awareness or a critique is similar to Simonian definition of avant-garde (Wood p. 234). 

Even though photomontage wasn’t a new technique used by artists, it became a new form for Dada artist for making political and societal critiques, and was considered an objective medium that removed the subject of the artist.  It also challenged the usual artistic convention of using the usual fine arts medium and incorporated found object art.  The different photos are not ones that Heartfield found himself, thus they fit into the category of found object art.  Photos were seen as an objective way of portraying the world around you and since Heartfield didn’t take the photos himself, can it removes the artist’s influence within the individual photos themselves.  

Dadaist changed the concepts of what art is.  It questions whether the artist has to be the original creator of the art to be considered art and if the artist needs to be technically trained to be considered art as well.  Heartfield found the photos, but he was not the original creator of the photos.  I’m also assuming he was not technically trained in photomontage, that he simply took the photos and cut them and put them together.

A different artist who is well known for questioning the concepts of what is defined as art and who defines art, is the Dadaist artist Marcel Duchamp.  He was known for taking found objects or readymade objects and calling it art.  One of his pieces, Bottle Rack, from 1914, is simply a bottle rack that he purchased and called art.  If I look at the piece for it’s formal qualities, and I didn’t know what it was or that he simply purchased it and did nothing to change it in any way, I would without hesitation call it art.  It has a very sculptural feel to it and I like the rounded forms juxtaposed with the sharp lines coming out of the form.  Knowing the background, though, and that he did nothing to the piece himself, I can’t help but feel a reticence to call it art.  And that is the point that Duchamp was trying to make with his artwork.  His work was more about questioning what defines what we normally call art.  By naming the piece, he let’s you know right away what it is.  He is not trying to disguise it or hide what the piece is.  He makes us question our conception and views of art, and what or who defines art.  Each viewer of his piece will determine whether consider it appropriate to call it art, thus he leaves the viewer as the critic and to come up with their own views.  Heartfield’s artwork showed how the form and content of art changed in the Dada movement by using photomontage, a found object art, as a means to make political and social critiques.  The change in concepts of art such as what and who define art can be seen in Duchamps’s bottle rack that was a readymade item.


  1. I found it interesting that the dadaist were using politics in their artistic satire. I had not thought about how the use of the collage of photos could be making a powerful political statement on the war and the profiteers. I could see this combination of work referred to today in our current situation and the wars going on around the world. Thank you for an thought provoking blog.

  2. I enjoyed reading your post! Like you have mentioned that the Dada style "rejects subjectivity in art and take out the artist as the subject of the art, and instead embrace objectivity." This can be seen in their artworks such as the sculptures that they have made. By looking at a piece of metal that you might have seen before as scrap in your garage, and seeing it positioned differently and displayed as an artwork, will not make you think of the artist that thought of this. Instead, you will look at that metal sculpture and try to see what it stands for now that it had been put on it's side and given a new name. There is nothing in those pieces that will make an onlooker think of the artist personal feelings when creating that piece of "art".

  3. When I look at the dadaist of the past, it still lives well today. Grab something, label it, and stick it in a storefront. I'm not big on the concept that they were making major political statements, seems they could have found a way to still make their statement in the confines of some sort of mastery. It seems fitting that to the leaders of the political world at that time, looking at this dada art must have confirmed to them that art of the day was childlike. I'm relatively certain, there was very little respect being given to the artists.

  4. Totally have to agree with Kevin on this one. Im kinda not on the side of these huge abstract concepts that only a few people can understand. And Dada, at least at the time, was definately along lose lines.