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.