Action and Reaction

When I first learned about Dada in high school, my mind was blown. Dada came about as a reaction against society, especially as a reaction to World War I. It's a movement that doesn't fit and isn't meant to fit. Up until that point I thought that there was no other way to make good art than to follow the well-defined rules of the principles and elements of art; that went for my life as well--life is linear and it is either a good life or a bad life, according to the rules and structures I had accepted. Dada showed me something different.

The ABCs of Dada, part 1 of 3

That Marcel Duchamp could take a found piece of glass, make work out of it, have it accidentally crack and decide that it was part of his work was a revelation. Jean Arp letting go of some bits of paper and adhering them to where they fell changed my whole perspective on what encompasses life and art. The Dadaists use of found objects and humor in art and their use of junk and performance as media showed me that art is what you make of it. Art can be found in literally anything.

Marcel Duchamp, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass), 1915-1923. Oil, lead, wire, foil, dust, and varnish on glass, 9' 1/2" x 5' 9 1/8". Image taken from Smart History.

Dada is sardonic, which is a character trait also found in Soviet-era Russian literature. Dark humor and absurdity is a product of having to accept that the unthinkable is now your reality; when life makes no sense or the sense that it does make is so cruel, people move to the absurd and irrational. Pointing out the absurdity of political structures or traditional institutions is a way for individuals to take some power away from those institutions. Laughing at them can knock them down to a product of chance.

Jean Arp, Collage Arranged According to the Laws of Chance, 1916-1917. Torn and pasted paper, 1' 7 1/8" x 1' 1 5/8". Image taken from MoMA.

The history of our life is reflected in the larger history of our world. We are made of a series of reactions to or against something. I read recently that if "you stake out a radical position [...] you are nurturing the extreme opposite of your position into existence as well." That's been abundantly played out in history, but it's true in an individual life as well. Exactly 100 years have passed since Dada gave us some of it's most iconic work. I am eager to see how we react collectively to the era we find ourselves in now.

Theo van Doesburg with Kurt Schwitters, poster for "Small Dada Evening," 1922. Lithograph, 11 7/8" x 11 7/8". Image taken from MoMA.


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