Raoul Hausmann and the Dada Revolution

            Raoul Hausmann was one of the leaders of the avant-garde art movement of Dada. Hausmann’s art heavily critiqued the society in which he lived. He especially questioned the need for war. Hausmann’s use of non-traditional art protested war and particularly the conservative values that he believed influenced war. His Dada works gained attention for his anti-war message because they were so far from the usual. He even used an unconventional style of art called photomontage to serve this purpose. Hausmann’s techniques allowed him to flourish in the Berlin Dada movement, which was as much political as it was artistic.

Raoul Hausmann was born on July 12, 1886 in Vienna, Austria. At the age of 14 he would move to Berlin where he started down an artistic path. His early artwork was very traditional. While in school, Hausmann studied nude drawings and the anatomy of the human body. His early work was influenced by German Expressionism, which uses emotion in the painting to show a subjective perspective of the world. Hausmann’s feelings about war really developed after World War I began in 1914. Though he was not forced to fight for the Germans because of his Austrian birth, his thoughts on the war were initially positive. He subscribed to the idea that destruction was a sort of rebirth.[1] His opinions soon changed drastically. Hausmann created an entire philosophy that was concerned with the destruction of war. He called this Dadasophy. Along with this newfound disdain for war, he developed a different idea of how to create and interpret art. Hausmann found that his art was the best way to convey his opinions on the war. He contributed his ideas to a group of artists in Berlin that shared Hausmann’s feelings. His change in beliefs came with a change in artistic style.

Hausmann was one of the founding members of the Dada movement in Berlin. The Berlin movement was similar to a club for like-minded artists. The group had its own political and social beliefs. As a whole, the Dadaists were vehemently opposed to war and the conservative upper class. [2] Along with fellow Dadaist Richard Huelsenbeck, Hausmann created a manifesto to define the movement and its goals in Germany. The two men declared Dada to be a revolution based on the ideals of radical Communism. The men hoped that Dada ideals would one day become a part of everyday life in their country. They supported the expropriation of property and communal meals as a way to resist the formation of social classes. [3] Many aspects of Hausmann’s proposed utopian city would belong to society as a whole instead of the individual. Hausmann distrusted the capabilities of the individual and he despised the influence of the upper classes. Much of this anti-democratic ideology is reflected in Hausmann’s art as well as the art of other Dada artists.

The Berlin Dada movement was always seeking to serve a purpose; yet, it never ceased to embrace its strange originality. Hausmann and others often referred to Dada as “anti-art.” Dada, though it was painting, collage, and poetry, was still something more. Dadaists found new ways to capture a wide audience. The art favored nonsense and chaos while rejecting anything that was ordinary or simple.

To gain attention, Hausmann had to employ techniques that were very unconventional. Capturing attention was a necessity to the Hausmann. He carried a card that identified himself as “President of the Sun, the Moon, and the little Earth, Dadasopher, Dadaraoul, Ringmaster of the Dada Circus.” Hausmann did not want to be viewed as the traditional artist. Thus, his art was not the traditional painting of past eras. One of his preferred methods was photomontage, which according to Raoul himself, he discovered while on vacation in 1918. Photomontages were basically photographic images pieced together to create a work of art. One of his most famous photomontages is titled Tatlin Lives at Home. Tatlin, a Russian artist, is the central subject. He was an architect and painter of the Constructivist movement. Constructivists like Tatlin concentrated on using art for practical social purposes. In the photomontage, Tatlin’s brain has been replaced by machinery. The organs from a body have been placed on a stand. This represents a switch from organic to mechanical. Hausmann is advocating a change from the flawed ways of the human mind to the more rational ways of machine.[4] The leaders of the Weimar Republic in Germany had failed to use rational thought and thus had contributed to the death and destruction of war. Hausmann believed that too much emotion was the cause of the war. A calculated, rational thought process would come to realize the horrors of sending its people to be killed. Hausmann’s idea of a peaceful world is one in which the people thought mechanically instead of so emotionally.

As Hausmann came to disagree with the emotional mind, he also started to disagree with the style of painting that most emphasized the use of emotion, Expressionism. Even though Hausmann’s earlier pieces were influenced by Expressionism, he grew to hate it. The Expressionist movement had been popular in Germany for years and Hausmann felt like the people were not open to other forms of art. The wealthy upper class was fully supportive of the Expressionism. Hausmann did not like their unwillingness to accept new ideas not just in art, but also in politics and social issues. His photomontage, The Art Critic, was how he attempted to send his message. He was attacking the modern art critic. He saw the critic as a puppet for the wealthy conservatives. The piece essentially made a mockery of the art critic. This was very bold as the art critic held seemingly unquestionable authority on matters of artistic value. Yet, Hausmann did what no one else did. He questioned the entire concept of the art critic. Hausmann portrayed him as a man that was willing to be bribed into writing favorably about whatever he was told. He had a distorted perception of art and was irresponsible with his power.[5] This situation was a microcosm of Germany.

Just as the art critic was irresponsible, so was the German government. Hausmann did not feel as if they had the people’s best interests in mind. Like the art critic was a pawn for the upper class, Hausmann thought the people were similarly being used as pawns by the government. He did not want to the country to fall into another war. In his mind, there were other options to be explored. Hausmann advocated another form of government, Communism. He believed that Communism would take the power out of the hands of the wealthy and spread it throughout the people.

Hausmann felt so strongly because he had seen how years of war affected the people of Germany following World War I. Like his assemblage, Mechanical Head, the German person was dull and unexpressive. Though Dada encouraged rational thought, the people had become too simple. The assemblage consisted of wooden dummy head with everyday objects, such as a ruler, watch, and camera, attached to it.[6] Germans relied on facts and information but were unable to generate any new ideas of value. The people were no more useful than these objects that Hausmann thought had become too important in their lives. The piece stands out among other works because of the materials used as well as their placement. He kept the assemblage simple yet different from the traditional human representation.

Raoul Hausmann was part of a movement that was extraordinary. The art of the Dada movement was not like art from other movements. His artwork may have been bold and seemingly nonsensical. However, there was a purpose behind each piece. He was concerned for Germany and its people. He did not want any more people to die in wars that he believed were unnecessary. That is why his photomontages and assemblages each carried a message. Hausmann knew that his style of art would grab the attention of an audience. He knew that his art was the most effective way to share his message with the people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

Elger, Dietmar. Dadaism. Edited by Uta Grosenick Los Angeles: Taschen, 2004.

 

Hausmann, Raoul, and Richard Huelsenbeck. “What is Dadaism and what does it want in Germany?” In Art in Theory 1900-2000, edited by Charles Harrison and Paul Wood, 359-360. Massachusettes: Blackwell, 2003.

 

NGA-DADA-Artists-Hausmann. National Gallery of Art. Accessed February 1, 2012.      http://www.nga.gov/exhibitions/2006/dada/artists/hausmann.shtm

 

 

 


[1] National Gallery of Art, Dada, accessed March 27, 2012, http://www.nga.gov/exhibitions/2006/dada/artists/hausmann.shtm.

[2] Dietmar Elger, Dadaism (Los Angleles: Taschen, 2004), 19.

 

[3] Raoul Hausmann and Richard Huelsenbeck, “What is Dadaism and what does it want in Germany?,” in Art in Theory 1900-2000, ed. Charles Harrison and Paul Wood (MA; Blackwell, 2003), 259.

[4] Dietmar Elger, Dadaism (Los Angleles: Taschen, 2004), 34.

[5] Dietmar Elger, Dadaism (Los Angleles: Taschen, 2004), 36.

[6] Dietmar Elger, Dadaism (Los Angleles: Taschen, 2004), 38.

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