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Jaclyn Holzer


By: Jaclyn Holzer
College Now Course - HUM 1

Dadaism is an art form that rose out of the restlessness of artists in the early twentieth century. The term "dada" literally means hobby horse, something that has nothing to do with what the movement actually stood for. It was set into motion by Tristan Tzara, and was created to be art that was the complete lack of art. It was full of contradictions, and spoke out against the rigid structure of previous art, as well as against the walls of society.

There was a huge amount of tension due to World War I. It was glorified and justified through the use of propaganda, and caused a great deal of disgust. Many artists fell to the horrors of battle in their prime (such as Boccioni, Marc, Macke, Gaudier-Brzeska, etc.). Culture itself was splitting, the youth trying to break away from the old and traditions. Dadaism celebrated the freedom to experiment and explore that had been denied in wartime. In this, the artists wished to express their desire to save mankind and to change social conditions. The Dadaists had a decided lack of love for all machinery, something which set them apart from the futurists, where some of the inspiration had been drawn. One aspect of dadaism, which was elementary art, was completely spontaneous. It idolized the innocence and chance that come with childhood, something that people seem to lose so easily.

The purpose of the Dadaists was to create mass hysteria, but of a controlled kind, to force change upon the society that they rejected. This was a belief of Marinetti's (although he held an appreciation for the mechanical which was not shared with Dada). Dadaists strove to destroy culture of the present so that the future would have a chance to thrive and develop, as well as for the sake of the past. Although they wished to throw the bonds off, they also wanted to preserve the influences that legend could have on the inevitable future.

An artist that had a profound effect on the movement as well as liberally shook the foundation of the world as it was known was Marcel Duchamp. He ventured into realms that no artist had ever dreamed or dared when he introduced "The Urinal." This artwork was exactly what the title suggested; a urinal, something that one expects to see in a bathroom and most certainly not in an art show or museum. This pre-made art proved a very important thing: anything can be art, for it is in the eye of the beholder that the meaning lies. Another example of this concept was the "Bicycle Wheel." A bicycle wheel was stuck into a stool and put on display. Many people may fail to see what is artistic, and dismiss it. They may also be completely right. After all, dada is anti-art, and Duchamp's displays were both examples of art and mockeries of it at the very same time. The bicycle wheel is an object that most people would never give much thought about. They were common enough in households. And, critics most likely did not dwell on urinals, except for their brief encounters to do their business. However, when Duchamp displayed them, they provoked a great deal of thought, of desperate attempts to find the significance of it all. Duchamp would probably be laughing today at the brain wracking that viewers may do when presented with his work. It was just so utterly shocking...and that is part of what made it brilliant.

Another piece by Marcel Duchamp that shook foundations was LHOOQ. This was a parody on classical and romantic art and society all rolled into one. When pronounced in French, the title translates to "She has a hot ass." The actual picture is a reproduction of the Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci, with one minor change: a mustache on her lip. It is truly amazing how one tiny cosmetic change can totally alter a painting's meaning. The Mona Lisa is the portrait of a woman whose identity and purpose have been argued since it came into existence. The Mona Lisa simply sits very serenely, and apparently there is a slight, mysterious smile twisting her lips that many can speculate about, but who knows what was running through DA Vinci's head? LHOOQ makes a subtle statement about the relations between men and women as well as shooting down the celebrated "culture hero" in relentless satire. The fact that a male part was put on a female's body was found utterly disgusting (and it kind of makes one wonder what else is wrong with her) and too barbaric to even contemplate. The painting shows how men held such status over women: the first thought that would enter the mind of a male over a female in possession of something traditionally masculine is "How dare she!" The title holds some significance in this situation. Of course, the Mona Lisa's behind is nowhere to be seen in the portrait. But it shows how women were so often debased and reduced, simply because of the gender they were born with. Hmm, a woman debased because she shows some inkling of masculine shocking! Why can't the culture hero be a culture heroine, after all? LHOOQ is a satire on that traditional, romantic woman: peaceful, perfect, calm, and of relative beauty. Men could discover that they were idealizing a pompous fool, just as they had grown into. Marcel Duchamp certainly left a lasting impression on the art world and nudged his own social ideas into the turmoil of the time.

The art world was in need of a change from the stale and old, something that loomed over its head because of the death of so many creative minds. World War I nearly decimated an entire generation of young men, thrust to fight in a battlefield they did not believe in. All that it caused was anguish, this powerful emotion that fueled the Dada movement. The War most definitely helped it along in the birth process, and shaped the protest that it represented. After all, without that emotion to inspire the artists into rebellion, what really would have been the spark that created Dada? It gave the need to strive for freedom, to show the unfairness of war and convention in art. People can be contradictory hypocrites themselves: they find a war just, when it is truly a beast... .and when they are faced with an art form that may not be pleasing to the eye, that does not strive to erase the chaos but encourages it, they recoil. Chaos is an integral part of humanity as well, and Dada was a mere taste of the boundless expressiveness of the human spirit, of what it is capable of creating.