Dadaism was an artistic and literary movement that began in Zurich in 1916 as a protest to WWI and all the political and social factors that came together to result in war.[1] From Zurich, the movement spread throughout Europe and into America, the largest centers of the movement being in France and Germany. Dadaists wanted to shock the bourgeois masses out of their complacency with their unique style of art. With WWI ravaging Europe, Dadaists also expressed their disillusion through art. They had hoped for progress, not the devastation that they were witnessing. Dadaists were disgusted by what this war meant for the future of society controlled under the idea of nationalism.

Many artists and intellectuals fled to neutral Switzerland to escape the war that was ravaging their countries. In Zurich, communities of artists opposed to the war became increasingly resentful towards the state of the modern world. Ideas from pre-war modern art movements such as French Cubism, Italian Futurism and German Abstraction came together in Zurich to result in the birth of Dadaism. Dadaism at its fundamental level was anti-war, anti-nationalism and even anti-art. Dadaist rejected all things traditional and believed that art was meaningless and irrelevant to the real issues of modern society.

Dada was a style completely different from any that preceded it, in that it pushed the new idea of destruction of the old, but with a level of abstraction never seen before.  Dada took the fragmentation expressed in Cubism and furthered it to the level of complete abstraction.  Staples of the Dada movement included painting, collage and sculpture.[2] Dadaist wanted a complete break from the old ways of thinking, and blamed these old ways for the start of World War I.  Many other styles from this same time period sought either a return to order or patriotism.  The Dadaist, on the other hand, desired to create something different.  They did so by expanding on German expressionism and Cubism with added abstraction.

Many Dada works were based upon the idea that there was nothing that could be distinguished in their works. The lack of aesthetic meaning was way of protesting more popular forms of art. The only true rule of Dada was that there were no rules.  There were no defining guidelines for the style, and no one wanted to be appointed as the head of the movement.  Dada art was not for aesthetic value or meant for the masses to understand, this stray from aesthetic appeal was meant to stress the meaning of the works instead of pure beauty.  It was meant to be a social commentary on the disorder and disillusion in the world, as well as a statement of what changes must be made.

Dada also differentiated itself from other artistic movements because it was also a cultural movement. Dadaists did not mean for the movement to be exclusively artistic. From the very beginning, Dadaism encouraged cultural change through extraordinary means. The movement was unlike any other simply in that it was an international affair. In Zurich, Switzerland where Dada originated, the movement revolved around stage performances at the Cabaret Voltaire. Berlin’s Dada art was mostly a political protest. In Cologne, they focused on new ways of image creation.[3]

In all locations, Dadaists utilized the most creative methods for expressing their ideas.

Dada was a staple of the avant-garde art. Before Dada there were other artistic movements that strove for societal change, yet not as extreme as Dada. Dada performances were similar to Futurist’s in their disruptive, outrageous characteristics. Dada also was concerned with societal advancement similar to Expressionism and Futurism. However, according to Richard Huelsenbeck’s “First German Dada Manifesto,” the brutal reality of their message and the disregard for conventional aesthetics separated Dada from the rest. [4] Dadaists ignored all expectations. Their art seemed to make no sense. But every piece had a purpose. The irrationality of Dada was reflected in the later movement of Surrealism. [5]

Dada art was far from traditional. According to Dadaists themselves, it was anti-art. This is exactly what defines Dada. It is not just unexpected, it is previously unimagined. The movement undermined the accepted styles of art of the time as well as the entire culture of the time.


[1] Tzara, Tristan. “Dada Manifesto 1918.” In Art in Theory, eds. Charles Harrison and Paul Wood, 252-257. Malden : Blackwell Publishing, 2003. p. 253


[2] Robertson, Eric, Arp: Painter, Poet, Sculptor. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006. p. 17

[3] Dietmar Elger, Dadaism (Los Angleles: Taschen, 2004), 6.

[4] Huelsenbeck, Richard, “First German Dada Manifesto,” in Art in Theory 1900-2000, edited by Charles Harrison and Paul Wood (Massachusettes: Blackwell, 2003), 257.

[5] The Art Story, Dada, accessed April 4, 2012,

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