Friday Dada: How do you know?

Short of someone placing the word DADA somewhere in their work, how do you know it is a dadaist piece?

Today, I will go over some over the key characteristics of Dada.

  • DADA loves a pun! The punnier, the better. Whether a visual pun or a verbal one, it matters not, so long as it is punny. A prime example of this turned up this past week in a featured piece from Catherine Mehrl Bennett in my Tuesday Trash Bubbles Post. On the back of her bubble was this little gem :


Here is an excerpt of what Catherine responded to one reader who misunderstood the intention of the artistamp: “The statement, “Make Art/ Not Cents” is more ambiguous than it appears at first glance. Also you need to look at it in the context of mailart, for which this stamp is intended for use. The poetic intent is the phonetic sound of Cents = Sense, and is a Dada statement in that regard. The “mailart” intent involves two levels: One is the context of artistamp design based on official postage which always has a specific VALUE element, and this artistamp is thus given NO value. Two is the context of mailart, which has an unspoken rule of NOT being intended for sale in the official art market.”

  • At it’s core, DADA is nonsensical. The original poets and artists of the new Dada age were trying to escape the real world. Their world had been rocked by war and fascism. They were attempting to create a lighter, more creative atmosphere, one that embraced rather than destroyed. And yet, Dada was negative and destructive in nature. It took things like words, tore them apart and reassembled them. Surely, you recall our previous talks about Tristan Tzara and his cut-up poems. Tristan Tzara, the Romanian poet was the driving force behind literary DADA and editor of the periodical, DADA beginning in 1917 with its first issue. Below are pictures of the covers for the first three issues.

Visual Dada was much the same as literary Dada insofar as nonsense and cutups. Early on, one of the leading visual Dada artists was Marcel Duchamp whose work was indicative of the tearing down of a thing only to reassemble it in another manner. (Remember his cubist-style paintings?) He freely admits that he passed through several movements of art before finding his niche. You really need to watch the following BBC interview of Duchamp from 1968.

See and hear for yourself why Marcel stayed on the fringe… and don’t forget to notice the Ready Made sitting to his left in the film! Yep, it’s his Egouttoir, or Bottle Dryer. I’m not certain if it’s the original from 1914 or a later version, of which there were several.

If you want to check out the Great Glass (Large Glass) that they discuss, this is the best link I’ve found:

  • Cést la vie! This french phrase means such is life, generally speaking. Here in the US, it translates loosely to Shit Happens. Pure Dadaists embraced Chance. By that, I mean that they accepted that things happen and if a thing happened to their art, or during their performance piece, it was meant to happen and it was embraced as part of a thing. This happens all the time in mail art. The postal cancellation, the elements, a footprint, a broken machine that burns marks upon the surface of mail. I hear so many folks say, “I’m so sorry the postal service allowed that to happen to this…” great thing you sent, or received. Few understand the organic concept of embracing the marks as part of the piece.

Well, boys and girls, that’s my DADA talk for today. Go, watch, read and learn! Come back and tell me something cool!

Happy Trash to you, until we meet again!


3 thoughts on “Friday Dada: How do you know?

  1. This reader did not misunderstand anything. This reader made an interpretation that differed from the artist’s. And that is fine.

    Once a piece of art is released into the world, an artist needs to be open to the fact that their intentions might not be all that relevant anymore. It is similar to what happens with children. You bear them, raise and nurture them, but ultimately they are their own persons, and you and your intentions are secondary.

    Early on in my studies something happened that very much impacted my view on this topic. After finishing a novel i went to Amazon, curious as to what others had thought. There were many similar comments regarding a particular set of characters. What amazed me was that the author herself wrote a comment telling all these readers how they were wrong. She had not meant for things to be taken THAT way, but THIS other way. I found that to be profoundly arrogant, and brought it up in an art theory seminar. I learned a lot about message clarity, and more importantly, about the very private interaction between art piece and audience.

    • Forgive me for having misunderstood, myself. Of course ALL art is interpretive in nature. Any reader, viewer, etc. is free infer what they choose. I have never said otherwise. When I read your first comment, on the original post where you said this, “The Make Art Not Cents stamp is pretty, but i strongly disagree with the message. Cents help you make more art and improve your art through education, as you have recently explained in regards to your upcoming trip to Black Mountain School.” I heard you say that you “strongly disagreed with the message.” In fact, I now see that you were merely disagreeing with YOUR INTERPRETATION of the message, rather than the message itself. Thank you for the clarification. The other, more confusing portion of this was that the piece you referred to was created by someone other than myself, leading me to wonder why you assumed it was a personal belief of my own. Was it simply because I called attention to it by saying, “Gotta love it!”? Rather than discuss this publicly, (you’ll see that I posted no response to the original comment) I tried to contact you personally, but as you’ve no real world info. attached to you and your ip address leads back to the winery, where I assume you work, I had no ability to do so. I am glad you came back to offer an explanation. It allowed me to feel I could open this up for more discussion. That you felt passionate enough to comment once, let alone twice, shows me that you are open to it. Thank you.

  2. Dear Jac, Don’t you think that a student of art theory should have an interest in the intentions of the artist and the cultural background and history (in this case, mail art – dada “non-sense”/”non-cents”) from which an art work develops?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s