I saw a blogger I really like talking briefly about Dadaism and ‘anti art’ and I haven’t covered it yet on this blog so here’s an opinion post.
The first time I was introduced to Dada was in my first year of high school, quite fitting, I think, because just as I was beginning to learn what ‘Art’ was I was simultaneously confronted with ‘Anti Art’. I recognize this as brilliant now, because one of the most important things I have so far taken out of my Art education is to question everything, and this is what the Dadaist’s did.
So preliminarily, Dada is an artistic and literary movement (I’ll just focus on art here) that arose in Europe in the early 20th century. You might be familiar with it through artists such as Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray or Max Ernst. These guys did a bunch of weird things that didn’t make them very popular. The main idea of their movement was the ‘Found Object’ or the ‘Ready Made’, these terms signify the existing concepts, ideas, structures and objects in our environment. By placing them with minimal or no alteration in ‘professional’ art galleries or salons, they labelled these objects ‘Art’. This was a pretty big deal to their audiences. THAT’S NOT ART THAT’S A URINAL, was pretty much their reactions.
This work is called Fountain and it was made by Marcel Duchamp in 1917. You will notice that it is indeed a urinal.
There’s an idea that continued throughout the modernist movement, and is pulling through into (or past) postmodernism. The idea that ‘Art’ isn’t actually defined by what we put in galleries, or what we hang in a gilded frame. The Dadaists may have done this in a very odd way, but they were essentially challenging everything that we had perceived before to be ‘Art’. This is how it becomes anti-art.
I always create a link between Dadaism and Realism, because even though Realism was about seventy years prior, its values were against romanticism in art, or viewing its subject matter as something to be improved upon.
This is Jean-François Millet’s The Gleaners (1857), portraying the everyday work of peasants in the field. They’re not dressed well, or even composed, in very many ways it attempts to capture the candid nature of photography as it developed through the disposable camera many years later.
The reason I relate the two movements is because each band of artists shocked and confronted their audiences with their own environments. Dadaism, like Realism, showed audiences what can be celebrated about what they already have. Put a urinal in a gallery, no Duchamp didn’t make it, but some person did, and they worked really hard on making that thing. Everyone makes things, who are we to decide what is worth being ‘seen’, what makes one creator better than another creator?
This also relates to Absurdism, which arose in American theatres in the late 50s, with the idea that ‘Life is the Show’ - we can be seen as meaningless, or we can see the entertainment in our own absurdities. What changes a urinal when it’s placed in a gallery to a toilet? What room makes you look at it differently? Social construct. You look at a Picasso in your grandma’s house surrounded by twelve cats without knowing it’s a Picasso, do you still like it? Would you like it as much as if you saw it with a glass of champagne in your hands and white walls? The things that Dada is questioning is what they had experienced as ‘Art’ in their era, they questioned it, and opposed it, making them ‘Anti Art’.
As I’ve mentioned before, I like still art. Not like Still Life (even though that can be very nice), but I like art that is a moment in time, deconstructed with love and admiration and put back together with creative purpose and more love and more thought. I like art that finds beauty in the intricacies of the life of things around us. I came to this conclusion mostly when looking at street art, appreciating that its a moment of love put into a wall or surface that is so often passed by, fleetingly overlooked. Dada used a fairly ostentatious method of waking people up to this nature of thinking. A urinal is perhaps the most anti art object Duchamp could have chosen, and I feel like this was his point. He showed that if we paid the same amount of stillness in our everyday environments (a toilet is kind of a crude metaphor but he had to get our attention somehow) that we do in galleries, then we might enjoy the fact that culture and meaning doesn’t have to be constructed by ‘Artists’ but by our own making.
I really like having art conversations so idk please message me if you want to geek it up ok bye