Dadaism and Surrealism are the two important art movements of the early 20th century. These avant-garde movements had a profound worldwide influence on contemporary art, culture, and literature. Artists of both movements were recognized for their highly innovative introspective expressions.
These two significant trends laid the foundation of Modernism as well as other movements in art, literature, and philosophy. Even though a significant number of Dada artists converted to surrealism, the two movements were fundamentally very different from each other that represent two different cultural contexts and time periods.
Dadaism (1916-1920) emerged as a spontaneous reaction of the artists to the horrors of World War I. It was not a quintessential art movement but defiance to the established artistic norms. Dada artists made popular the concept of chance’ as the foundation of their artistic expression. They mostly used manufactured items, magazine pictures, scissors and glue as their medium. In a way, they challenged the very definition of art by not following any of its tenets.
Dadaism was dubbed as anti-art as it rejected the idea that art should make any sense. They would prefer it to be almost dumb and random. It was a reaction to the stupidity that the war was — its stupid logic, the rules, and the judgments. If the war can be justified, anything can be art, even a toilet seat as a sculpture. Dada advocated people to forget everything they knew and live life according to chance. Meaninglessness, absurdity, and chance were the major characteristic of Dadaism and the art inspired by it.
The movement was truly international with its echo heard in Romania, Germany, Switzerland, USA. Duchamp’s readymades, where he would work with manufactured goods to create what he would call art was both defiance of the set norms and a satire on the state of things. His toilet sheet sculpture as a piece of art earned him an iconic status as a Dada exponent.
Dadaism’s artistic tenets are based on having no truths, beliefs, or rules. It is about twisting reality and being outside the mainstream.
Surrealism as an art movement is not an extension of Dadaism, though in the timeline it follows Dadaism without any significant lapse of time between the cessation of Dadaism and the beginning of Surrealism. While Dadaism represented the mockery of rules and shared knowledge and propagated meaninglessness and absurdity, surrealism was about finding a bridge between the subconscious and the reality.
Surrealism was never anti-art or its idea of autonomy never had the same meaning as to what chance’ had for Dadaism. Surrealists were more occupied with the idea of the unconscious and their art was often inspired by dreams, as they felt dreams were some kind of link to the unconscious. They were inspired by Freud; Dadas were not.
Surrealism is much easier to grasp as it is mainly a pursuit of understanding the subconscious and what lies there. It is more of psychoanalysis, dreams, and a liberal association. It involves experimentation’s for a better understanding of the subconscious and the dreams.
Surrealism is dreamlike. It does not have the vibrancy of life; it’s a void. It has the empty effects of another world, strange at times. Can you hear the space? Can you interact with the atmosphere? Can you paint your dreams? These are the motifs for the Surrealists such as Dali and Georgio DiCherico.
Many Dadaists converted to surrealism and the best way to differentiate between their works, as to whether they are Dadaist or Surrealist, is to look at the timeline of their creation. If certain work is considered both Dadaist and Surrealist and if it has been created after 1926, it’s more likely to be Surrealist.
Dadaism vs Surrealism – Final Thoughts
Dadaism and Surrealism are both dominant art movements of the early 20th century, which had a profound influence on the art, culture, literature and philosophy in subsequent decades. Dadaism is somewhat complex as its beliefs include no beliefs, no truths, and no rules. It’s all about demolishing the boundaries of art and celebrating meaninglessness and absurdity. On the other hand, surrealism is an artistic expedition into the subconscious, unconscious, reality and the unseen bridge that exists between them. Dada is so well represented by Duchamp’s urinal while Surrealists ravel in Buñuel and Dali’s dreamy imagery. In short, Dada can be defined by the artistic tradition that draws its sustenance from anti-art, dry humor, absurdity, and chance. Surrealism involves Sigmund Freud, the unconscious, and dreams.