The movement known as Dada was born in Zurich, Switzerland and was primarily created as a backlash to the traditional views of culture, art, and literature. The first group of Dadaists sought to eliminate all forms of reason and logic due of the atrocities caused by World War I. Art created during the Dada movement was to be interpreted freely by the viewer and was not based on the formal standards shown by earlier traditional artists. The Dada movement was spread throughout Zurich, Berlin, New York, Paris, and the Netherlands and varied by form such as: poetry, art, literature, and music. Surrealism, in turn, was a positive movement which at first was solely focused around automatic writing, expressing the thought and subconscious of the artist. Surrealism was founded by Andre Breton in the 1920’s and stretched the human imagination revealing through artistic imagery a world of fantasy and dreams, not reality. Both Dada and Surrealism share the same purpose to explore avant-garde methods of creativity while rejecting the traditional standards of art.
The complex nature of the Dada movement began as a negative response to society and, in turn, radically altered twentieth-century art. The movement criticized conventional ideas of the use of mediums by utilizing prefabricated supplies, altering them slightly in order to obtain a different view of the piece. Marcel Duchamp’s readymade ,Fountain, a porcelain urinal in which the artist wrote R. Mutt on and submitted it to the Society of Independent Artists Exhibit in 1917. The purpose of the Dada movement was viewed negatively and was “not intended to be creative: it is intended to cast discredit on creative activity”(Frey 12). Max Ernst’s painting Celebes, which was completed in 1919, depicts an ambiguous creature that somewhat resembles an elephant. This painting is an example of the whimsical and bizarre imagery used during the Dada movement. In the bottom right corner of the painting, a headless body is beckoning the creature towards its direction, making the image disturbing as well as humorous. The main focus of Celebes is a fantastical creature whose body resembles a boiler.
Marcel Duchamp Fountain, 1916-17
Max Ernst, Celebes, 1921
Collage was another technique used by artists Hannah Hoch, Kurt Schwitters, and Jean Arp during the Dada movement. Jean Arp’s Collage Arranged According to the Laws of Chance, completed in 1916, displays a random pattern of squares depicting the notion of escaping the rational world. Arp’s collages differ greatly from the academic realm of art because of the way in which he created them, which did not entail a formula. The form of Arp’s Collage Arranged According to the Laws of Chance is not intended to represent or depict an object “since the disposition of planes, and the proportions and colors of these planes seemed to depend purely on chance, Arp [I] declared that these works, like nature, were ordered according to the laws of chance, chance being for Arp [me] merely a limited part of an unfathomable raison d’etre, of an order inaccessible in its totality”(Arnason 244). Arp’s technique in making this collage was based simply on chance, by throwing pieces of paper on the floor Arp was able to see the random pattern that was caused. Arp ventured away from the aesthetic and visual aspect of art by relinquishing control over the work he was creating, while Academic art was focused on the aesthetic nature of works.
Jean Arp, Collage Arranged According to the Laws of Chance, 1916
The art of the Surrealist movement was centered around the irrational and the subconscious, both depicting dream-like images. When the Surrealist movement began in 1919 the main aspect of creativity was applied through automatic writing, which allowed irrational thoughts to be written through lack of reason and logic. The way in which art was later depicted changed when artists began to documenting dreams through imagery in paintings. The Surrealist approach to art depicts the artist’s inner thoughts and subconscious, digressing from the negatively charged Dada movement. Art critics have described surrealism as a “search for the bizarre and marvelous”(Matthews 139) because of the whimsical and dream-like images found in paintings of this movement.
Salvador Dali, a major artist of the Surrealist movement, painted The Persistence of Memory in which he depicts the ordinary objects such as watches in a morphlike stage. Dali depicts the watches in this dreamlike landscape in limp shapes as if they were melting. Dali said that the shapes were “nothing more than the soft, extravagant, solitary, paranoiac-critical Camembert cheese of space and time”(Arnason 305) , in reference to the melting forms of the watches.
Salvador Dali, The Persistence of Memory, 1931
Another artist greatly associated with the Surrealist movement was Joan Miro, who painted whimsical and bizarre images in his works. Joan Miro's painting Carnival of Harlequin, completed in 1924, displays a scene of brightly colored organic forms and shapes in a humorous manner. The creatures or figures in Miro's paintings appear almost as if they are cartoons, taking up the entire canvas so that the viewer doesn't focus on merely one aspect of the scene. Some of the shapes appear to be floating in the top corners of the canvas while others, such as the one on the left side, use ladders to climb up through the work. The figures in Miro's Carnival of Harlequin are "lively, remarkably vivid, and even the [his] inanimate objects have an eager vitality"(Arnason 295).
Joan Miro, Carnival of Harlequin, 1924
Rene Magritte altered the manner in which images were treated in Surrealist paintings in his work The Treachery of Images, completed in 1928, in which he depicts a smoking pipe with the phrase "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" or "This is not a pipe". The ambiguity of Magritte's paintings is due to his treatment of ordinary objects displayed in a different manner, similar to Dali's watches in The Persistence of Memory. Magritte shows a representational approach to art in his works, while Surrealist artists such as Miro use the automatic style of painting.
Rene Magritte, The Treachery of Images, 1928
While Academic art was thought to be a process in which the artist was trained to paint in a specific style, the artists of both the Dada and Surrealist movements created works through an automatic process. This process differs greatly from the method in which Academic art is created due to the irrationality and spontaneity by which the subconscious is expressed. The artists of the Dada and Surrealist movements rejected the “bourgeois art which they [we] regarded as symptomatic of a culture about to crumble with the war”(Remender/Lucareli 210). These artistic movements challenged the way in which society viewed art due to the radical nature of their images.