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Dada and Surrealism - the movements and their influence

Watching in class (if we have enough time):

  • Luis Bunuel & Salvador Dali's Surrealist short film "Un Chien Andalou" (1928) wayney.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/uca.htm
  • "Man Ray" Documentary by Jean-Paul Fargier
  • Norwegian Documentary "Merz", on Dada artist Kurt Schwitters.


Dada was an art movement that at the time was considered to be anti-art. It arose as a response to the senseless horrors of WWI. Although there are some similarities with Italian Futurism, such as their anti-establishment attitude and willingness to protest in the streets. The main difference was one of politics - Dadaists were, in the main, pacifists, unlike the Futurists who considered war to be 'cleansing'.

Dada included nonsense poems created by randomly cutting phrases from books and magazines, silly dances, performances in invented languages, collaged posters and parades of people with shoes painted on their bare feet.

"Dada or Dadaism [French, from dada, child's word for a horse] Nihilistic movement in the arts that flourished chiefly in France, Switzerland, and Germany from about 1916 to about 1920 [and later -ed.] and that was based on the principles of deliberate irrationality, anarchy, and cynicism and the rejection of laws of beauty and social organization". Source: peak.org/~dadaist/English/Graphics/index.html

A quote from a Dadaist Manifesto:

"Dada, on the other hand, wants nothing, nothing, nothing, it makes the public say 'We understand nothing, nothing, nothing'. The Dadaists are nothing, nothing, nothing and they will surely succeed in nothing, nothing, nothing."
who knows nothing, nothing, nothing.


Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968)

I'm sure you'll remember the "Fountain" from last semester. Duchamp's "Readymades", as well as classic cubist experiments portraying movement such as "Nude Descending a Staircase" make him an undeniably important figure in the early development of Modernism. His foundation was in the Dada Movement, and the irreverence he demonstrated in his later works clearly stems from the Dadaist premise that all rules must be broken.

Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948) - Creator of "assemblages", creations with found objects - he lived in a house called Merzbau which was an artwork in creation for decades (sadly, bombed to destruction in WWII). This house had shrines with names such as "the Catherdral of Erotic Misery". Like a number of other Dada artists, he would juxtapose seemingly unrelated objects and ideas to challenge the status quo. After rejection by the main body of the Dada movement due to his non-political stance, Schwitters named his Movement-of-one Merz. His friends included Theo van Doesberg (de Stijl Movement) and Mies van der Rohe (Bauhaus) who both donated items for use in the assemblages of the Merzbau. He also developed 'ursonate', a melodic nonsensical language that made music of the human voice.

A list of additional Dada artists with some basic biographical information can be found at this site: lib.uiowa.edu/dada/dadaists.html

The Dada Movement disintegrated fairly quickly - probably unavoidable, considering that one of it's most fundamental points was that there was no point to anything - including itself! It did, however, have a huge effect on both Modernism and Postmodernism.


Surrealism developed from the Dada Movement in Europe in the mid 1920's, although it was also influenced by the earlier Symbolist Movement and developments in psychology such as the work of Freud and Jung. The primary goal of Surrealist art was to portray the subconscious through fantasy. There is no intention for Surrealist art to make sense, and as such has been a huge influence on Postmodernism.

Automatism, which means doing something involuntarily, was used by the Surrealists in an attempt to access the subconscious. For example, automatic writing and art were experimented with, for example by inducing trance-like states. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surrealist_automatism

Andre Breton was the founder of the Surrealist Movement and tried to keep control of it by allowing or disbarring people from it's ranks. He was strongly political (a revolutionary socialist) although this did not show directly in his work. He was French, and had been involved with the Dada Movement before founding Surrealism.

Salvador Dali (1904-1989) Best known of the Surrealist artists, Dali was a painter, sculptor and film-maker. His technical virtuosity as a painter was exceptional, but it was his creativity, personality and sheer output that established him as the face of Surrealism. In the Matthew Collings' series "This is Modern Art", Freud is said to have told Dali he was more interested in his conscious than his unconscious. He was shunned by the 'serious' Surrealists such as the movement's founder Andre Breton because he was overtly commercial and dedicated to making money from his art.

Max Ernst (1891-1976) Dadaist and then Surrealist painter. mcs.csuhayward.edu/~malek/Ernst.html


Man Ray (1890-1976)

Born Emmanuel Radnitzky in the USA, Man Ray changed his name and moved to Paris. Initially he was a Surrealist painter, but then he turned to photography where he became both a technical and creative force par excellence. He and Marcel Duchamp had a lifelong friendship and rivalry, both in chess and in their art. manray-photo.com


Rene Magritte (1898-1967)

Belgian artist Magritte developed his own spin-off from Surrealism, known as Magic Realism. He always denied psychoanalytical readings of his works, which removes him form the main body of Surrealists. His strangely flat-looking paintings often feature men in bowler hats. Matthew Collings mentioned in the "This Is Modern Art" series that Magritte's paintings look like illustrations from "the Ladybird Book of Phenomenology" perhaps. One of his best known works, "The Betrayal of Images" (1928), emblazoned with the text "this is not a pipe" was a classic turning point in Modern Art, a deep questioning of the representational nature of art.atara.net/magritte
Google Image Search for Rene+Magritte

Joan Miro (1893-1983) Spanish Surrealist sculptor and painter.

retrokat.com quite nice sites

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