Dada and Surrealism

Dada and Surrealism were two movements that developed as a reaction to the confusion following World War I. Dada started in the neutral city of Zurich in Switzerland immediately following the end of the War. (Documents, 2001) Dada, however, was not intended to be a new art movement. According to Tristan Tzara, one of the founders of the movement, “The beginnings of Dada were not the beginnings of art, but of disgust.” (Documents, 2001) People were confused and angry after the Great War, and their rage fueled their artistic creativity. They sought to break down conventions in the arts in order to bring forth a new, improved culture. Even the name “dada” mocked the time period because the name for the movement was decided upon by randomly choosing a word from the dictionary. (About Art History, 2003) The Dada movement made thorough use of obscenities, satire, humor, puns, and everyday objects (usually with a little tweaking) to evoke feelings of rage or shock. (About Art History, 2003) It was whimsical and original, which is perhaps why the public enjoyed the movement while it lasted. One of the most famous artists of the Dada movement was Max Ernst. One of his most famous pieces was called “Celebes,” painted in 1921. The painting is of a creature that somewhat resembles an elephant. It shows darkness (via the colors) and mockery (disfigurement of the creature), which are key aspects of Dada art. The Dada movement subsided around 1923, which gave way for a similar movement to prosper in its place: surrealism.

Max Ernst, Celebes (1921)
Max Ernst, Celebes (1921)

Surrealism was similar to the Dada movement because it was meant to defy the reason and logic in response to the seemingly unreasonable World War I. In contrast, surrealism focused on positive expression. (Surrealist, 1998) Surrealism also employed the use of subconscious and unexpected juxtapositions, especially with certain imagery, to stress the illogicality of the times. The movement shifted to include dream-like sequences, which combined aspects of subconscious thought (since dreams supposedly reveal our deeper thoughts) and irrationality (since anything can happen in a dream, even if it does not make sense in the real world). (Dada and Surrealism, 2006) Surrealism was said to have two types: automatism (Dalí) and veristic surrealism (Picasso). Automatism focused on art being abstract and less analytical because the subconscious relies on feeling, not analysis. Veristic surrealism focused on the images they created to be metaphorical, as a bridge between the feelings evoked by the image and the image’s counterpart in the real world. (Go Surreal) One prominent artist of the Surrealism movement was Salvador Dalí. One of his most famous paintings was “The Persistence of Memory,” which he painted in 1931. It shows positivity (via the bright colors), yet subconscious and dreamlike imagery through the distortion of the clocks.

Salvador Dalí, The Persistence Of Memory (1931)
Salvador Dalí, The Persistence Of Memory (1931)


1. “Documents of Dada and Surrealism: Dada and Surrealist Journals in the Mary Reynolds Collection.” Sept 23, 2009. <>

2. “Dada Art History 101 Basics.” Sept 23, 2009. <>

3.  “Surrealist.” Sept 23, 2009. <>

4. “Dada and Surrealism.” Sept 23, 2009. <>

5.  “History of Surrealism.” Sept 23, 2009. <>

Artwork retrieved from “Dada and Surrealism.” Sept 23, 2009.

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Alina Samusevich

Born in Belarus, raised in New York. Sagittarius - December 6, 1991. Macaulay Hunter 2013 !