Dadaism is considered one of the most extreme artistic vanguards of the modernist period. Created at the beginning of the twentieth century, the movement had the purpose of “destroying art” , repudiating all the traditional, logical and rationalist models of production at the time.

Founded by Tristan Tzara (1896 – 1963) and other artists, Dadaism is regarded as the precursor of surrealist art among many other contemporary genres.

To better understand the essence of this avant-garde, check out some of the key features that define Dadaist art.

Repudiation of traditional and classic art models

Katharina Ondulata (1920), Max Ernst
Katharina Ondulata (1920), Max Ernst

Dadaism emerged in 1916, during the First World War (1914 – 1918), as a cry of protest against the way the capitalist world was shaped.

Disappointed by the rational and institutionalized state of art, Dada artists sought to misrepresent the norms that governed “making art.”

The aim was to shock the bourgeoisie and force a questioning of the interpretations given to the current artistic value (questioning the fact that the artistic object is considered a commodity belonging to the richest classes).

For this reason, the Dada movement can be considered a counter art , since it was not intended to add anything new, but to destroy art as it was known until then.

Opposition to nationalism and materialism

The Skat Players (1920), Otto Dix
The Skat Players (1920), Otto Dix

The Dadaist works expressed intense criticism of the capitalist system as well as the extremist populism that was boiling in Europe at that time. This exacerbated nationalism allied with capitalism was responsible for the outbreak of wars raging on the continent, according to the defenders of Dada.

Thus, as a form of protest, the artists took on an anarchic and irrational role , criticizing the materialism and consumerism of capitalist society.

All this frustration and revolt that the Dadaists felt about bourgeois society was reflected in the works, which expressed an aggressive and unstable nature.

Deconstruction and image disorder

Dadaism is an art of disorder. The artists of this movement were not concerned with the aesthetic beauty of their work, let alone winning the admiration of bourgeois society. Quite the opposite.

The Dadaists wanted to shock the bourgeois, causing discomfort and forcing them to reflect on the true meaning of art.

With the mission of walking in opposition to the classical rules, the Dadaists denied the techniques, forms and themes understood as standard in the arts of that period.

The titles of the works were not associated with what was presented, making the analysis of Dadaist works even more difficult.

Emphasis on nonsense

Switzerland, Birth-Place of Dada (1920), Max Ernst
Switzerland, Birth-Place of Dada (1920), Max Ernst

The figures in Dadaism had a more poetic rather than “mechanical” nature. In other words, this means that the representations went far from portraying ordinary or literal scenes, but apologies to episodes of madness, aberrations and other meaningless images.

The artist sought to construct his works from the mixture of bizarre reinterpretations of reality. They used fantastic figures and hallucinogenic scenes to create subjective images.

Representations of machines, as an allusion to industries (capitalism), anthropomorphic figures, and sexual aspects in various works were usual.

Verbal aggressiveness

This is one of the main features of the Dada movement in the literature . As in fine arts, the purpose is to deconstruct the standard model.

For this, the authors created poetry based on disordered words, meaningless sentence constructions, textual inconsistency, among other particularities that gave a lack of logic and rationalism to the text.

Use of everyday objects in works

The Fountain (1917), Marcel Duchamp
The Fountain (1917), Marcel Duchamp

It was common to use several common everyday materials in Dadaist works. The paintings were fused with other elements such as paper collages or insertion of bottles, metals, auto parts, etc.

Dadaists prioritized the use of unusual objects to be associated with art and created their works based on experimentation and improvisation. Thus, they aimed to shock the public and critics.

A notorious example is Marcel Duchamp’s A Fonte (1917). This work simply consisted of the exhibition of a porcelain urinal, an everyday object, initially unassigned of an artistic nature.

Ready Made / by Marcel Duchamp

The episode of Duchamp’s exhibition of the urinal represented the beginning of the concept of ready made , that is, the choice of a random everyday object in which the artist attributes an artistic interpretation. Thus, there is no need to create or make any kind of intervention on the piece, as this would already be a perfect expression of art.

We need to remember that for Dadaism art was not limited to aesthetics, but only to the field of ideas and concepts that were attributed to objects.


Among the various ways of expressing irrationality, collage was elected one of the most used among Dada artists.

Some artists, such as the German painter Max Ernst , for example, cut images of catalogs into pieces and then reconstructed the figure in a totally illogical order.

In literature, it was also common to cut out random words from a newspaper or magazine that were later mixed and used to construct totally incoherent and contextless poems.

Recipe for Making a Dadaist Poem by Tristan Tzara

“Get a newspaper. Take the scissors.

Choose from an article the size of the size you want to give your poem.

Cut out the article.

Then carefully cut out some words that make up this article and put them in a bag. Shake gently.

Then take each piece one after another.

Copy conscientiously in the order in which they are taken from the bag. The poem will look like you. And he is an infinitely original writer with a gracious yet misunderstood public sensitivity. ”

Evolved into Surrealism

Glass Tears (1932), Man Ray.
Glass Tears (1932), Man Ray.

With the outbreak of World War II, the Dada movement began to decline, mainly due to the fear and pressure that the avant-garde artists suffered.

However, several of its principles and ideas have been passed on to future artistic movements, such as Surrealism and Contemporary Art itself.

Learn more about Dadaism.

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