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.”
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!