What Is Dadaism in Art?

Posted by Robert Lange on

What is Dadaism in art? It’s a movement that started in Europe and the US in the early 1910s and 1920s. Dadaism art is characterized by irrationality, humor, and silliness and is often called the first conceptual art movement. Many of the artists embracing this style used found objects and images from mass media, which they distorted and remolded in simple ways to create a new image and achieve a certain level of nonsense. Do you want to find out more? Then we invite you to read on!

What Is Dadaism? Definition.

Dadaism is a movement in art that was started as a reaction to the capitalist culture and war, so present in the early 20th century. Marcel Duchamp even described it as anti-art, as it's often spontaneous and incorporates any found objects.

This art often involves humor and cleverness despite it originating from serious matters and questions. It’s strongly tied to politics, as most of the original Dada artists had left-wing political views and questioned society in the era of early capitalism.

Dada artists utilized numerous techniques when creating their art – there was no single approach to it. Therefore, such art could be created through:

  • collage,
  • photography,
  • airbrushing,
  • tearing items apart,
  • assemblage on everyday objects (readymades),
  • embracing chance – creating art at random, without a plan.

The History of the Dada Art Movement

When did Dadaism start, and who is the father of this movement? This question is tricky. You could say that it was Marcel Duchamp when he came up with his readymade sculptures early in the 1910s, but most people would argue that the true father is Hugo Ball – a German poet.

Ball was among the artists who fled to neutral terrain during World War I. He aimed to create an artist community and started his Cabaret Voltaire there (in Zurich, to be more specific), where fellow artistic souls could present their stage-spoken poetry, performances, and other avant-garde happenings.

One of the most important elements of such performances was creating spontaneous poetry. The artists cut books and newspapers into random pieces, which fell to the ground, and formed their poetry by picking them up randomly. It was then that Ball, along with his fellow artist Richard Huelsenbeck, found a page in a dictionary with the word dada, meaning “rocking horse” or “hobbyhorse” in French, and made up their mind to use it to describe the absurd and nonsensical art created at the time.

At the same time, Dadaism became popular and widely known. Hence, it traveled the ocean, as the artists in the US started to embrace it as well. It became an inspiration for many future art movements, especially surrealism art and pop art.

The Most Famous Dada Artists

Who were the most influential Dada Artists? What are the most famous works they created? Here’s a short overview:

Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) – As one of the fathers of Dadaism, Duchamp was most widely known for his readymade sculptures – ones prepared from found, everyday objects turned into art. His most iconic work is, undoubtedly, Fountain – a urinal turned into an art piece.

Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven’s reproduction of Duchamp’s Fountain, photo taken by Alfred Stieglitz.
Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven’s reproduction of Duchamp’s Fountain, photo taken by Alfred Stieglitz.


Hugo Ball (1886-1927) – Another one of the founding fathers of the Dada art movement. He was known for his poetry – his most notable piece is Karawane.

Hans Arp (1887-1966) – One artist who tried to evade the war by fleeing to Switzerland. He embraced change and was known for his collages and sculptures. He created many Dada artworks, like Configuration, and then pursued surrealism.

Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971) – As one of the main Dada movement artists in Berlin, Hausmann was mostly associated with photographic collages and poetry. Yet, his most famous work is a sculpture, Mechanical Head (The Spirit of Our Time), which is a perfect example of the art of assemblage.

Photo of Mechanical Head made by Dickerman for the National Museum of Art Washington, 2006.
Photo of Mechanical Head made by Dickerman for the National Museum of Art Washington, 2006.

Dadaism Art Today

Is Dadaism still relevant today? Are there artists from this movement nowadays? Yes.

At its origin, the Dada art movement aimed at opposing war and capitalism, but in its nature, it can be anything against certain concepts or events. Modern Dadaism could switch from newspapers to social media, from wars to the deterioration of our planet. Even memes and many trends on TikTok have their roots in the concepts of Dadaism art.

The Takeaway

We hope that we have explained to you what Dadaism is clearly. It’s one of the most crucial movements in history, as it inspired the ones that followed it, and you can still see the characteristic traits of Dada in modern art and pop culture.

You might also read: What is Abstract Art? Complete Guide

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