Art Quiz: The Answer is Surrealism

I knew this one, so I’m sure you probably did, too.

So, what defines the surrealist art movement? And what was the Dada movement from which it arose? While I’m familiar with surrealism, I knew very little about Dadaism. As I began researching it, I was fascinated by what I read. The “Dada” movement in art began soon after World War I. It is often described as “irrational” art, and, indeed, it’s all a bit crazy. It’s said to have been a much-needed contrast to the horrors of war.

According to “A Brief History of Dada” from Smithsonian magazine, the movement got its name when German artist Richard Huelsenbeck and German writer Hugo Ball, came across dada in a French dictionary. “Dada is ‘yes, yes’ in Rumanian, ‘rocking horse’ and ‘hobby horse’ in French,” he noted in his diary. “For Germans it is a sign of foolish naiveté, joy in procreation, and preoccupation with the baby carriage.”

Tristan Tzara — Portrait by Robert Delauney

Romanian artist Tristan Tzara, however, disputed that story and claimed that he had coined the term. Tzara used the term on posters, put out a Dada journal, and wrote an early “Dada Manifesto” — which, quite fittingly, made little sense. You can find his 1918 treatise here.  He writes:

To put out a manifesto you must want: ABC
to fulminate against 1, 2, 3
to fly into a rage and sharpen your wings to conquer and disseminate little abcs and big abcs, to
sign, shout, swear, to organize prose into a form of absolute and irrefutable evidence, to prove
your non plus ultra and maintain that novelty resembles life just as the latest-appearance of
some whore proves the essence of God.

Fun reading, for sure! I do wonder, though, if he meant sing instead of sign. 

Now, moving on to surrealism, when and how did it come about?

After the war, many of the artists who had participated in the Dada movement began to practice in a Surrealist mode. Surrealism was officially inaugurated in 1924 when the writer André Breton published the Manifesto of Surrealism. Similar to Dada, Surrealism was characterized by a profound disillusionment with and condemnation of the Western emphasis on logic and reason. However, Breton wanted to create something more programmatic out of Dada’s nonsensical and seemingly unfocused activities. Consequently, Surrealist works were bound up with the psychoanalytical theories of Sigmund Freud relating to the irrational and instinctual drives of the unconscious. Through the use of unconventional techniques such as automatism and frottage, Surrealist artists attempted to tap into the dream-world of the subliminal mind, visualizing its secrets and mysteries. Some of these artists include René Magritte, Man Ray, Max Ernst and Salvador Dalí. In its intention to undermine established values, the oppositional stance of both Dada and Surrealism served as an important precursor to late 20th century artistic developments such as Neo-Dada, Nouveau Réalisme and Institutional Critique while still inspiring artists today. — From Dada and Surrealism — Oxford Art Online

The article quoted above includes links to many surrealist artists and other individuals involved with the movement, as well as links to essays on related topics.

I certainly enjoyed reading about both Dadaism and Surrealism. I like nonsense. I think we need nonsense, don’t you? I’d love to hear your opinions on these art movements, so please leave me a comment!


  1. When I first saw Dada as a high school kid on a field trip to MOMA it was Mountains Table Anchors Navel ( those are probably not in the correct order) by Arp. I got on a laughing jag. Then when I saw the urinal fountain by Duchamp I was mad at him for years. hahaha Dada wants to do that, make you laugh or make you mad. Know what I mean?

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    1. Yes, and the more I learn about Dada, the most I’m liking it. Well… except for that “fountain”, but I think I dislike it only because somebody was willing to call it art. My take on it is that “Dada” is really a sort of slap in the face to the pretentiousness of art and art critics. It seems like a lot of wildly intelligent and talented people having fun and seeing how far they could go with the joke, if you know what I mean. I could be totally wrong, but that’s how I feel about it. Now, I want to read more about it, and play more at just being totally ridiculous with art. Hey, maybe that load of laundry I drew really WAS art LOL. Nah, that’s stretching it a bit. I am having fun learning about Dada. I like it better than surrealism. I have a lot to learn about both art movements.

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      1. Yeah, it’s still making people mad and it’s old so it must be pretty good! They call it anti art because they would like to destroy the art world. They were successful. How about the banana taped to a wall that was famous? Then you have all kinds of bull—t meaningless but intellectual sounding, art statements and conceptual art coming out too. Deconstructionists etc. You can have some fun with it. Postmodern. It’s still happening.

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      2. LOL… yeah, the banana is problematic for me, as is “the unmade bed”, although in a weird way I can see the point behind it. I think I like the term “anti-art”. That lets me see these weird things separate from what I call art.

        Right now, so much of what I’m doing with my own art involves letting go and just having fun no matter how crazy my so-called “art” turns out. So maybe exploring Dada is something that is happening for me at the right time. Maybe a few months from now I’ll turn my nose up at it and wonder why I ever wanted to learn anything more about it.

        Until then, I’m giving myself greater freedom with my art. Who knows where this is going to take me! LOL

        Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s definitely interesting! There’s always something to be said IMHO about just letting our “crazies” have fun. We all have crazies inside our brains. We need to take them out for walks, exercise them, let them play. I think that actually helps keep us sane.

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