We need to put the thirst back in design professionals to be aware, appreciative and understand art. So my Thursday posts are going to be about the artists who inspired me. This post is about an art movement that disrupted art.

It was 1916. The First World War was over and it had left Europe in ruins. Art was rethinking itself. Dadaism was born as an artistic and literary movement that questioned the way aesthetics was defined till then.

Dada’s aesthetic mocked materialistic bourgeoisie and nationalistic attitude through performance art, poetry, photography, sculpture, and collage. As a young graphic design student, the iconoclasm and thoughts of rebellion were promising. Other than the larger impact I also realized that Dada was the true birth of experimental typography.

Dada was not about pleasing anybody with agreeable aesthetics. It was about questioning the status quo of society, the role of the artist or the creator and the purpose of creativity. It was a politically strong derision of all norms and traditions that led Europe to war. The group’s founding in the Cabaret Voltaire in Zürich was appropriate: the Cabaret was named after the eighteenth-century French satirist, Voltaire, whose novella Candide mocked the idiocies of his society. As Hugo Ball, one of the founders of both the Cabaret and Dada wrote, “This is our Candide against the times.” Watch Cabaret Voltaire in action in the video below.

Dadaism explored techniques like collage, montage, assemblage (a three-dimensional collage) and readymade or rectified readymade, which were manufactured products presented as art. One such example of Marcel Duchamp’s readymade works is the urinal that was turned onto its back, signed “R. Mutt”, titled “Fountain”.

And there was the famous ‘Cut-up’ technique too. Cut-up technique is an extension of collage to words themselves, Tristan Tzara describes this in the Dada Manifesto:

To make a Dadaist poem – Take a newspaper. Take some scissors. Choose from this paper an article of the length you want to make your poem. Cut out the article. Next carefully cut out each of the words that make up this article and put them all in a bag. Shake gently. Next, take out each cutting one after the other. Copy conscientiously in the order in which they left the bag. The poem will resemble you. And there you are – an infinitely original author of charming sensibility, even though unappreciated by the vulgar herd.

If you have time watch this hour-long documentary on Dadaism. With the resurgence of nationalism and divisive politics, we need to relook at Dadaism for a potential revival. I think it is time.