Artistic Protest: In Paris in 1919, a group of writers and artists launched a protest against everything. They named it "dada"
(hobby horse in French). Everything was nonsense: literature, art, morality, civilization. Action is vain, art is vain, life
is vain, everything is absurd. The activities of the dadaists were an expression of post-WWI bitterness. Without WWI as a
backdrop, there may have been no dadaism at all. The dadaists held public meetings at which poets made brash statements about
art, literature and a hundred other things. Sometimes, whole manifestoes were
read by ten, twenty thirty people at once. Here's a sample:
No more painters, no more writers, no more musicians, no more sculptors, no more religions, no more republicans, no more
royalists, no more imperialists, no more anarchists, no more socialists, no more Bolsheviks, no more politicians, no more
proletarians, no more democrats, no more armies, no more police, no more nations, no more of these idiocies, no more, no more,
NOTHING, NOTHING, NOTHING.
One audience left the hall in the dark, after having thrown coins at the readers. Later, audiences replaced the coins
with eggs. Such a gala effect! One journalist, an adversary of the dadaists, described a show of Max Ernst's collages in the
With characteristic bad taste, the Dadas have now resorted to terrorism. The stage was in the cellar, and all the lights
in the shop were out; groans rose from a trap-door. Another joker hidden behind a wardrobe insulted the persons present. The
Dadas, without ties and wearing white gloves, passed back and forth....Andre Breton chewed up matches, Ribemont-Dessaignes
kept screaming "It's raining on a skull" Aragon caterwauled, Philippe Soupault played hide-and-seek with Tzara,
while Benjamin Peret and Charchoune shook hands every other minute. On the doorstep, Jacques Rigaut counted aloud the automobiles
and the pearls of the lady visitors....
Tristan Tzara, one of Dada's Swiss founders, made poetry by clipping words from newspaper articles, putting them in a
bag, shaking them up and then taking them out at random. Here's the result of one such exercise:
The airplane weaves telegraph wires and the fountain sings the same song At the rendezvous of the coachman the aperitif
is orange but the locomotive mechanics have blue eyes the lady has lost her smile in the woods
Dadaism was a thing of the moment---but in the 1920s it became the vanguard of another artistic and literary movement--surrealism.
Surrealism: Dada deranged meaning. It also held out the possibility of violent and disruptive political protest. Surrealism
was all this plus more. The surrealists borrowed from Freud and later Carl Jung, the idea that in dreams the mind is freed
from the tyranny of reason. The result would most certainly be fresh and authentic symbols. And these symbols were necessary
for surrealism in art meant imagery based on fantasy. The term surrealism, was first coined by the French writer Guillaume
Apollinaire in 1917, but the artistic movement itself came into being only after the French poet Andre Breton published the
Manifeste du surrealisme in 1924. In this book Breton suggested that rational thought was repressive to the powers of creativity
and imagination and thus a hindrance to artistic expression. A Freudian, Breton believed that contact with the hidden part
of the human mind could produce poetic truth.
POST WORLD WAR I THEMES:
experiment with the unknown,
change the rules,
dare to be different,
innovate, and above all,
expose the sham of western civilization, a civilization whose entire system of values was now perceived as one without
MODERNISM then was a reaction against the conventions of liberal, bourgeois, material, decadent western civilization.
But for THE LOST GENERATION of post-war Europe, it seemed to be the only way out of either depression or suicide. In a world
now proven to be without
values, what else was left but what had not yet been tried before.
THE EFFECT ON THEATER: Some people believe that humans, not being truly rational, have need of ritual, romance and religion.
These are often propagandized in theater to show the way.
But in a culture that has broken faith with its history, new rituals and new systems to believe in must be invented or
the ancient must be revived. Both these concepts affected theater productions.