Movement: Dada

'Dada means nothing. We want to change the world with nothing.'

With the first major retrospective of Dada artist Kurt Schwitters opening at Tate Britain today, I thought I would delve into a movement that, in my eyes, defined everything that came before, during and after it... By being a load of nonsense. Glorious nonsense.

The Dada movement came as a reaction to the horrors of the First World War. The artists, having seen and experienced uncontrollable madness on a global scale, used their trade to display their anti-war politics.

They did this by rejecting all of the assumed rules in the arts in what is often called ‘anti-art’. The idea was to create ‘non-art’, as art is a reflection of society and society had grown meaningless.

For instance, Dada poetry isn’t written with agenda or definition. Tristan Tzara, who pioneered Dada poetry, would cut up a printed article, put all the words in a bag, shake it up and take out the words one-by-one. This poem would be a direct reflection of the poet.

Dada wasn’t just a reflection of a world without meaning, though. A lot of the artists were tired of tradition and its limitations, definitions and boundaries; so they attacked all that came before them. Marcel Duchamp, for example, painted a moustache on the Mona Lisa. He went on to create the ‘readymade’ artwork, which basically means to take an existing object, sign it, and call it art. His most famous readymade was Fountain, 1917; an upturned urinal signed with a name that wasn’t even his own. To me, this is the first time the question ‘What is art?’ was really asked.

As you might expect, the public were not exactly keen on this but (again, as you might expect) the Dadaists thrived off their repulsion. Essentially, Dada wanted to jerk art away from everything it had once been, and to allow it to grow in a new way.

They shook the shackles of tradition and paved the way for movements like Suprematism, which is a movement that basically used blankcanvases to say “We’ve painted everything there is to paint. Art is dead.” Only by killing art were artists able to breathe new life into it. Then came the many movements of the twentieth century – Pop Art, Surrealism and art as we know it. And that’s how Dada redefined the future of art.

So in summation, I am well excited for Kurt Schwitters at the weekend.

'Art is dead. Long live Dada.'

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