Fantastic Art and its Movements

The Dada Movement (1916-23)

Hannah Hoch, Cut with the Kitchen Knife Through the First Epoch of the Weimar Beer-Belly Culture, 1919

Hannah Hoch, Cut with the Kitchen
Knife through the First Epoch of the
Weimar Beer-Belly Culture
, 1919

Dada was a cultural movement that originated around 1916 Zurich, Switzerland and spread to other parts of the world like Berlin, Cologne, Paris and the Netherlands, also finding expression in New York. It occurred as a reaction to the World War I which provoked artists to deny the conventions of the world, and promote absurdity, nihilism, and irrationality in art, writing, poetry, theater, music, and other art forms. Artists opposed the accepted norm, and called for deliberate chaos and randomness to reflect the senselessness of war. It is said that Dada was chosen as its name when a penknife was randomly placed into a dictionary pointing to the word dada which in French translates to a child's hobby horse, and also represents the child's first spoken word. This title also symbolized the childish nature of the movement that refused to accept what was happening. Dadaists strove to put a stop to violence as well as traditional art and culture through radical creations and behavior. They fervently opposed visually pleasing and stimulating art movements such as Impressionism, Expressionism, and Cubism, because they defied their powerful colors and visually provoking qualities.

Violence and death during World War I had taken a great toll on the morale of people all over the world. Devastating loss of life opened everyone's eyes to the destruction and horror that had become a part of everyday reality. Disillusioned with war, many artists, writers, poets, and musicians reacted in their own way to express anger, frustration, and intolerance with society, culture, politics, and art. Their voices and actions against artistic and cultural traditions resulted in nihilistic art -- art of the irrational, chaotic, destructive nature. Also known as anti-art, it stood against everything beautiful, handmade or aesthetically pleasing. It called for rebellion against the society's principles which were believed to have contributed to WWI. Through loud and offensive protests, Dada followers identified with those injured and killed in the war. Their unconventional and often offensive activities reflected their views on politics, culture, art, society, and life in general.

In addition, the Dada artists explored the naïve, or childlike nature of art. Senseless songs, poetry, rhymes, and performances revealed their embrace of the irrational. For example, during public performances and demonstrations, curious audience members were publicly mocked and humiliated. While poets recited senseless verses, musicians played loud arbitrary notes. Strange "accidental poetry" was created by randomly picking out word cutouts from newspapers. Regardless of the disorganized and chaotic nature of this movement, many creative and spontaneous forms of art developed, including verbal, conceptual, and physical inventions. All of these experiments and practices allowed the Dadaists to escape the harsh reality and embrace a world of fantasy, imagination, absurdity, and insanity. Fantasy and explorations of the unconscious were direct fruits of the Dada movement. With time, out of chaos and nihilism grew an interest in the dream world.