a history of western art

from the renaissance to the present

Dada and Surrealism


people, terms, and concepts: nihilism, readymade, the subconscious, automatism, frottage, dream verism


This topic looks at two movements of the 1910s through the 1930s: Dada and Surrealism.

          What was the aim of the Dada movement? Why are Dada artworks and performances often so iconoclastic and offensive? Why were science, religion, and art particular targets of Dada scorn?

          What are ‘readymades’ and why did Dada artists exhibit them?

          What is the ‘unconscious’ or ‘subconscious’? How does it differ from ordinary thoughts and emotions?

          What two techniques (that we discussed) did the Surrealists develop to express the unconscious? What was the logic behind each; that is, why did they think those techniques would express the unconscious?


Max Ernst, The Horde, Surrealist ‘automatism’ (frottage), 1927

What Surrealist technique does Ernst use here to express his unconscious? Be able to describe that technique and explain how it was thought to express the unconscious.


Dali, The Persistence of Memory, Surrealist ‘dream verism,’ 1931

What Surrealist technique does Dali use to express his unconscious? What unconscious themes does the technique reveal here? Why did Dali use such careful naturalistic techniques (including perspective, chiaroscuro, etc.)?


Duchamp, The Large Glass (The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even), Dada, 1915-23

This work is essentially a machine or a diagram of one. What does the machine do? How is it a good example of Dada?


Hugo Ball reciting ‘Karawane’ at the Cabaret Voltaire, Dada, 1916

What kind of performance is this? How are both the costume and the poem being recited good examples of Dada?