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, Dadaism
a nihilistic artistic movement of the early 20th century in W Europe and the US, founded on principles of irrationality, incongruity, and irreverence towards accepted aesthetic criteria
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(from French dadaisme, from dada—hobbyhorse; figuratively, incoherent prattling as by infants), a modernistic literary and artistic trend that existed from 1916 to 1922. It originated in Zurich in 1916 (although dadaists-to-be had spoken out somewhat earlier in the United States). Its origins were among anarchist-minded intellectuals who regarded World War I as the unleashing of man’s age-old bestial instincts and reason, morality, and aesthetics as the hypocritical masking of these instincts. From this view followed the programmatic irrationalism, extreme nihilism, and demonstrative cynical anti-aestheticism of the dadaists, a kind of artistic hooliganism. Among the dadaists were the French artists M.Duchamp, F. Picabia, and H. Arp; the German artists M. Ernst and K. Schwitters; the French poet, a Rumanian by birth, T. Tzara; the German poet R. Hülsen-beck; and the Rumanian writer M.Janco. The methods of the dadaists were in essence a kind of scandalous playing of pranks—graffiti, pseudotechnical blueprints, meaningless combinations of words and sounds, and the grouping of random objects or pasting scraps of paper on a canvas (collage). In 1916–17 the dadaists published a journal in Zurich entitled Cabaret Voltaire.

After the war the group broke up, and its members went their separate ways. Tzara moved to France in 1919, where he headed the group of so-called absolute dadaists, which included A. Breton, the early L. Aragon and P. Eluard, and J. Ribemont-Dessaignes. This group published the anthology Dada and such periodicals as Litterature, Proverbe, and Cannibale. It strove for an “absolute” art, devoid of any social function. In Germany dadaist groups were formed in Berlin (1917–20), Cologne (1918–20), and Hanover (1919). Standing somewhat apart was the Berlin group of so-called political dadaists, whose escapades often took on a quality of anarchic protest against militarism and the bourgeois order. In the 1920’s in France, dadaism was absorbed by surrealism, which took over the paradoxical techniques of dadaism, while in Germany it was absorbed by expressionism. Some of the political dadaists subsequently abandoned dadaism because of its absence of any idea content and adopted the views of revolutionary proletarian art, applying the techniques of pavement drawing in satirical graphics (G. Grosz) and the technique of montage in political posters (J. Heartfield) for new purposes. The dadaist technique of combining “ready-made” objects became one of the sources of pop art in the middle of the 20th century.


Istoriia frantsuzskoi literatury, vol. 4. Moscow, 1963.
Kaptereva, T. “Dadaizm i siurrealizm.” In Modernizm. Moscow, 1969.
Hugnet, G. L’Aventure dada. Paris, 1957.
Richter, H. Dada-Kunst und Antikunst. Cologne, 1964.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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