Art and the Unthinkable: an Introduction to Dada
Born in the wake of World War I, Dada survived only a few brief years. Yet, with its deliberate embrace of the nonsensical and its resolute rejection of bourgeois individualism, Dada (named at random after the French word for “hobby horse”) helped pave the way for artistic modernism—and even, arguably, postmodernism. For Dadaists, art was inseparable from the contingent experiences of everyday life. In their work, they sought to capture the sense of fragmentation, precariousness, and impending doom that defined the early part of the 20th century. Exploring the history and legacy of Dada, we will ask: Should art provide an escape from the material conditions of everyday life? Or should it seek to transform political consciousness through reflecting the conditions and contingencies of material life? What is the influence of Dada on modernism and post-modernism? Can Dada help us to understand and picture the political conditions of our world today, marked as it is by radical individualism, psychic fragmentation, and impending and ongoing catastrophe?
In this course, beginning with the artists Hugo Ball and Tristan Tzara, we will explore the roots of Dadaism, the social and political context of the interwar period, Dadaism in America, and the adjacent works of Marcel Duchamp. We will examine artists, critics, and theorists engaged with Dada, including Duchamp, Tzara, Ball, Francis Picabia, Emmy Hennings, Karl Kraus, Mary Wigman, Hans Arp, Kurt Schwitters, Raoul Hausmann, Walter Benjamin, Sigmund Freud, and T.S. Eliot, among others. We’ll also look at some texts and images from Italian Futurism and contrast Dadaism with 19th century artists such as Paul Gaugin, George Seurat, and Vincent Van Gogh.
Course ScheduleSunday, 2:00-5:00pm ET
October 23 — November 13, 2022