The History and Agenda of the Dada Movement

Subject: Culture
Type: Profile Essay
Pages: 6
Word count: 1545
Topics: Postmodern, Modernism


Dada represented an artistic and literary movement that gained increased popularity during the First World War. The individuals who initiated the movement in Zürich, Switzerland, sought to oppose the First World War and its ideas. Particularly, the artists in support of Dada recognized that nationalism was one of the factors motivating the war. For this reason, the members of the Dada movement expressed their antagonism towards the nationalistic ideals. The group sought to challenge the ideals governing the society as well as the relevance of the war (Elger & Grosenick 2006). Dada was a highly satirical movement that challenged the meaning of art. The movement gained attention in Europe as well as the United States and had dedicated supporters who promoted its agenda. The movement played a critical role during extremely difficult times when the First World War was at its peak. Some critics did not comprehend the objective of the movement, explaining why they attacked the actions of the members. However, a critical consideration of the movement’s history, as well as the key ideas, will help in understanding and appreciating the role it played in the early twentieth century. This paper will present a critical analysis of the history and agenda of the Dada movement. 

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Dada denoted a literary and artistic movement. However, the focus of this movement was extremely different from that of other art movements. The members of the Dada movement did not seek to develop new aesthetic ideas to improve their artworks (Hopkins 2006). On the contrary, the members sought to mock the existing art movements because of promoting nationalism. The middle-class culture had a strong basis of some of the fundamental concepts defining nationalism. As a result, the Dada movement opposed all the norms associated with the middle-class culture. Apparently, the opposition exhibited by the Dada movement became clear in the manner in which the artists challenged the traditional forms of art production. None of the artists belonging to the movement promoted the norms governing art during that period. The members expressed their determination to pose a challenge to the true meaning of art. Moreover, they sought to question the true obligations of an artist. Their focus was to transform ready-made objects found in daily life into artistic works with minimal manipulation (Craft 2012). In many instances, the artists did not manipulate the ready-made objects before presenting them to the target audience. Notably, there was limited artistic creativity demonstrated by the artists supporting the Dada movement. 

Unlike other movements such as Cubism, the Dada movement did not represent an emerging style in art. On the contrary, the movement brought together artists, musicians, poets, dancers, and theatrics. Evidently, members of the Dada movement believed that the middle class and the capitalists who promoted materialistic values were responsible for the war. In their view, it was time to oppose the conventional and materialistic values that gave rise to the war. Some of the famous Dada artists included Marcel Duchamp, George Grosz, Francis Picabia, Jean (Hans) Arp, and Christian Schad (Richter & White 2016). Specifically, the movement began in 1916, and the artists settled for the name Dada, whose meaning was a hobbyhorse. Scholars have highlighted that the group comprised middle-class young artists with a commitment to insult and mock European civilisation. In their view, the European civilisation has its basis on materialistic and nationalistic values that had triggered the war. After the initiation of the group, different artists met and presented their suggestions concerning the movement (Stanley 2006). In July 1916, the group launched its manifesto. Most of the artists agreed that there was a need to challenge the conventional society despite their different backgrounds. They used a unique form of art to vent their frustration concerning the conventional attitudes governing the society. They all agreed that the World War needed to end, and they established a resistance to fuel the termination of the war. 

The circumstances under which the Dada movement initially emerged have remained unclear. However, the movement attracted different artists from various backgrounds who were willing to challenge the conventional ideals of the society. Zurich was a significant place for the Dada movement because it served as a natural refuge during the First World War (Bell 2005). It was in this refuge that the young artists conceived the idea of the Dada movement and made it a reality. Hugo Ball was one of the important members of the Dada movement who conceived the initial idea. In his view, the society consisted of two spheres that included political power and action as well as one of thought, ethics, and morals. The sphere defining political power and action brought together the military, the industrialists, and the aristocrats (Mahoney 2016). On the other hand, the second sphere included the idealists, politically important intellectuals, and philosophers. In fear of the oppressive militarism in Germany, Hugo Ball and other artists moved to Switzerland and launched their unique venue titled Cabaret Voltaire. It was at this venue that they developed the agenda for the Dada movement. It was after they developed manifestos for the group that it gained recognition as a formal movement. Supporters of the Dada movement felt that the society deserved contempt and satirical attacks because it had demonstrated its conventional ideals that promoted war (Umland et al. 2008). For this reason, many of the works displayed by the Dada artists served to express their anger and rage towards the conventional values. 

The works of Dada artists were extremely shocking to the public. The conversion of ready-made objects into artistic works without any form of manipulation resulted in powerful spectacles in art. Many of the artists demonstrated their commitment to challenge the conventional society through their works (Sheppard 2000). For instance, Marcel Duchamp was responsible for converting ready-made objects into visual art. One of his most powerful works was the Fountain, released in 1917. The Fountain represented a urinal that the artist converted into an artwork. The art piece served as a great ridicule to the society and its ideals. The artists collaborated in a remarkable manner to challenge materialism and nationalism that had given rise to the First World War (Foster & Watts 2004). The Dada artists felt that they could no longer support a society that tolerated a senseless war. For this reason, they separated themselves from the social ideals and artistic traditions. The movement spread remarkably from Zurich to other cities across the world. The guiding principle of the movement was to discard any existing rules and provoke powerful emotions from the audience (Elder 2013). The use of shocking works had a justification because the artists used their works to fuel a form of rebellion against the society and its rules. In the view of many artists, rationalism had triggered the war as well, making the movement disregard rationality and sense. 

The Dada movement lacked a predominant medium because the movement accepted artworks from different geometric tapestries from various materials. Some of the artists formed collages, photomontages, while others assembled different parts to make an object that could evoke different emotions. Evidently, the Dadaists did not receive positive feedback from the European countries. As a result, many of them moved to the United States for exile. The radicalisation of art triggered by the Dada artists had destabilised the artistic traditions (Hopkins 2016). Between 1916 and 1919, the Dada movement had registered a desirable growth with many young artists embracing the agenda of insulting European civilisation and the nationalism that contributed to the war. After 1919, the movement began to dissolve, and its influence reduced significantly. Despite the decline of the movement, the Dadaists have remained as young artists who challenged European civilisation and ideals (Blythe & Powers 2006). There have been numerous works promoting the data agenda and evoking strong emotions from the audience. In Berlin, the Dada movement registered a unique political character, increasing its relevance in 1917. There were numerous public meetings to discuss the role of the movement and its capacity to stop the war (Foster & Berg 2002). Many art critics outlined the bizarre aspects of the Dada movement. Despite such views, the Dada artists continued to spread their agenda. 


Evidently, the Dada movement emerged in 1916 as a literary and artistic movement that sought to challenge the conventional ideals of the society. Particularly, the Dada artists came together with a core objective of stopping the First World War. The original Dada movement lacked proper agreement on the specific ideas presented in the manifesto. However, it was apparent that the movement was willing to challenge any existing rule. They further went against the established art traditions in their efforts to rebel against the First World War. Although the movement did not promote a unique style, it transformed ready-made objects into art pieces with a visual message. The primary objective of the works was to challenge materialism and nationalism by using strong objects that evoked different types of emotions (Pegrum 2007). Until 1919, the Dada movement was still powerful in spreading its message against the existing ideals held by the religious groups and the wealthy middle class. Many historians have given attention to the nature of the movement and the main agenda that the artists promoted.

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