The Dada art movement was born in Zurich during the First World War, as a reaction to the sheer horror and madness of the fighting. As the Dadaist sculptor and painter Jean Arp later wrote, “While the guns rumbled in the distance, we sang, painted, made collages, and wrote poems with all our might.” The art the Dadaists created was often nonsensical and absurd, but frequently satirical and backed by critical thinking. Many, including the Dadaists themselves, labeled it “anti-art.” It was, as Arp said, the reduction of “positive and negative to utter nonsense.” Understandably, the Dada movement was highly influential upon later styles such as surrealism and pop art.
The Dadaists worked in many different formats, encompassing all kinds of visual arts, literature, and sound media. Politically, they were most closely linked to far-left and sometimes radical-left politics, and unified completely by an abhorrence of war and violence.
Despite embracing folly and the absurd, the Dadaists were intellectuals with plenty to say — even if they often said things in peculiar and sometimes impenetrable ways. This made them eminently quotable, not that they really cared for all that. As artist Man Ray once said, “Quote me as much as you like; as a matter of fact I don’t even mind if you misquote me.” So, here are 17 deep and defiant quotes from famous Dada artists — without, we promise, any misquotes.
We were seeking an art based on fundamentals, to cure the madness of the age, and find a new order of things that would restore the balance between heaven and hell.Jean Arp
Every word that is spoken and sung here says at least this one thing: that this humiliating age has not succeeded in winning our respect.Hugo Ball
Art is a spiritual function of man, which aims at freeing him from life's chaos.Kurt Schwitters
I think I have spoken enough to you about serious things; which is why I speak [now] of something to which I attribute great value, still too little appreciated — gaiety. It is gaiety, basically, that allows us to have no fear before the problems of life and to find a natural solution to them.Sophie Taeuber-Arp
The summit sings what is being spoken in the depths.Tristan Tzara
My life is full of mistakes. They’re like pebbles that make a good road.Beatrice Wood
When I saw I was under attack from all sides, I knew I was on the right track.Man Ray
I don’t care about the word “art” because it has been so discredited. So I want to get rid of it. There is an unnecessary adoration of “art” today.Marcel Duchamp
What’s the matter with everyone wanting to make a museum piece out of Dada? Dada was a bomb… can you imagine anyone, around half a century after a bomb explodes, wanting to collect the pieces, sticking it together and displaying it?Max Ernst
Every artist is crazy with respect to ordinary life.Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven
The war was a mirror; it reflected man's every virtue and every vice, and if you looked closely, like an artist at his drawings, it showed up both with unusual clarity.George Grosz
[I want] to show the world today as an ant sees it and tomorrow as the moon sees it.Hannah Höch
The best and most extraordinary artists will be those who every hour snatch the tatters of their bodies out of the frenzied cataract of life, who, with bleeding hands and hearts, hold fast to the intelligence of their time.Richard Huelsenbeck
Perhaps we'll be able to do beautiful things, since I have a stellar, insane desire to assassinate beauty.Francis Picabia
Dada is the Creator of all things and God and the World Revolution and the Last Judgment simultaneously, all in one. It is not fiction, it is within man’s reach.Johannes Baader
The streets are full of admirable craftsmen, but so few practical dreamers.Man Ray
Dada was anything but a hoax; it was a turning on the road opening up wide horizons to the modern mind. It lasts and will last as long as the spirit of negation contains the ferment of the future.Hans Richter
Photo credit: Mishal Ibrahim/ Unsplash