For perhaps 500 years or more there have been art "movements". Some are merely the figments of art historians' fertile imaginations, fulfilling a need to give a "name" to a period in the course of human artistic events. In so doing, they have developed two light-hearted theories regarding art history. One, the sequential view, states that art history is just one damn thing after another. The other, a cyclical view, states that art history is the same damn thing, over and over again. There are viable arguments for both views but personally, I tend to favour the cyclical over the sequential.
(1916 - 1922)
Regardless of your point of view, during this century, art movements have become much more self-conscious, and none more so than that which arose in 1916, during World War I, which declared itself against art itself. The name chosen by the architects of this movement, chief amongst them Marcel Duchamp, was the supposedly nonsense term, Dada. Said to have been chosen at random from the dictionary such a claim is at best, dubious. The term, in fact, has different meanings in different languages (as befits an international movement). In Russian, for instance, it means simply "yes, yes". In English, it is often a baby's first word. Whatever the case, it has come to refer to art that is meaningless, absurd, and/or unpredictable.
Citing the absurdities of life, death, and war (and the insanities that give rise to it), the Dadaists declared that art, a reflection of such nonsense, was itself stupid and must be destroyed. Yet, to communicate their outrage, the Dadaists created works of art. Such contradictions inevitably spelled an end to the movement by about 1922. It did however, during its short life, give birth to a much more substantial movement--Surrealism.
contributed by Lane, Jim
14 December 1997