20TH CENTURY EXPRESSIONS III : INTRODUCING DADA Hannah Hoch, (German, 1889- 1978), Love, photomontage, 21 x 21cm, 1931.
But first…. CLIVE BELL
CLIVE BELL : “The Aesthetic hypothesis” (1914) Bell (British, 1881-1964) was an important and influential writer on Modernist art. The starting point for all systems of aesthetics must be the personal experience of a peculiar emotion. The objects that provoke this emotion we call works of art. All sensitive people agree that there is a particular emotion provoked by works of art. I do not mean, of course that all works provoke the same emotion. On the contrary, every work produces a different emotion. But all these emotions are recognizably the same in kind… …that there is a particular kind of emotion provoked by every kind of visual art, by pictures, sculptures, buildings, pots, carvings, textiles etc is not disputed, I think, by anyone capable of feeling it. This emotion is called the aesthetic emotion; and if we can discover some quality common and peculiar to all the objects that provoke it, we shall have solved what I take to be the central problem of aesthetics. We shall have discovered the essential quality in a work of art, the quality that distinguishes works of art from other classes of objects.
Van Gogh Gauguin Cezanne
… …there must be some quality without which a work of art cannot exist; possessing which in the least degree, no work is altogether worthless. What is this quality? What quality is common to St Sophia and the windows at Chartres; Mexican sculpture, a Persian bowl… … Piero Della Francesca and Cezanne? Only one answer seems possible – significant form. In each, lines and colours combined in a particular way, certain forms or relations of forms, stir our aesthetic emotions… … ‘significant form’ is the one quality common to all works of visual art. St Sophia (Hagia Sophia) Turkey, c. 500 Chartres Cathedral, France, detail Of stained glass, c.12th century
We are all familiar with pictures that interest us and excite our admiration but do not move us as works of art… …I call ‘descriptive painting’ – that is painting in which forms are used not as objects of emotion, but as a means of suggesting emotion or conveying information…pictures that tell stories and suggest situations, illustrations of all sorts, belong to this class. Of course many descriptive pictures possess significant form, but many more do not… …according to my hypothesis, they are not works of art. William Powell Frith, Paddington Station, 1862
Most people who care much about art find that most good art… …is what the scholars call “primitive”… …As a rule, primitive art is good – and here my hypothesis is helpful – for as a rule, it is usually free of descriptive qualities. In primitive art you will find no accurate Representation, you will find only significant form. Yet no other art moves us so profoundly. Whether we consider Sumerian sculpture or pre-dynastic Egyptian art or archaic Greek… … or Byzantine Art of the 6th century… … in every case we observe 3 common characteristics – absence of representation, absence of technical swagger, sublimely expressive form… …Formal significance loses itself in preoccupation with exact representation and ostentatious cunning. Byzantine mosaic, c. 6th century Sumerian sculpture – ancient.
Let no one imagine that representation is bad in itself; a realistic form may be as significant, in its place as part of the design, as an abstract. But if a representative form has value, it is as a form, not as representation. The representative element in a work may or may not be harmful; always it is irrelevant. For to appreciate a work of art we need bring with us nothing from life; no knowledge of its ideas or affairs, no familiarity with its emotions. Art transports us from the world of man’s activity to a world of aesthetic exaltation. For a moment we are shut off from human interests; our anticipations and memories are arrested; we are lifted above the stream of human life…
… …Significant form stands charged with the power to provoke aesthetic emotion in anyone capable of feeling it. The ideas of men go buzz and die like gnats; men change their institutions and their customs as they change their coats… …only great art remains stable and unobscure… …because its kingdom is not of this world. … …what does it matter whether the forms that move [you] were created in Paris the day before yesterday or in Babylon fifty centuries ago? The forms of art are inexhaustible; but all lead by the same road of aesthetic emotion to the same world of aesthetic ecstasy. PHEW! Thanks for that Clive….we will hear more about these ideas as the century progresses….this essay (and writing by his colleague, Roger Fry) started the idea of FORMALISM (based on his idea of significant form.
Dada – what on earth was it? This sculpture – an assemblage, as its not created from modelled clay, nor carved nor cast but isa conglomeration of readymade, mass produced objects - is very odd looking. What kind of world is the artist representing here? Use of weird materials – tape measure; slide rule; type blocks; the internal mechanism of a clock, all stuck onto some sort of mannequin or store model. The use of mannequins or models or dummies was a feature of Dada, and Surrealism which followed it. So the actual media used itself is making a comment, similarly to the Cubist collage elements. Raoul Hausmann, (Austrian, 1886-1971) The spirit of our time, assemblage, 33cm high, 1921.
Dada erupted during World War I. It ran roughly 1915-1923 but its influence has continued to contemporary art. The name itself, Dada, was allegedly chosen by chance from a dictionary. It arose in different cities and countries, all with different ‘flavours’ and concerns. It was characterised by a sense of confusion; mayhem& contradiction, which was how they saw the contemporary world. It worked against the Western modern tradition of the importance of reason; the progress of technology; the optimism associated with science and knowledge. Sometimes Dada created mischievous art, and sometimes much more serious, politically based art. Max Ernst, Little machine constructed by Minimax Dadamax in person, pencil & ink frottage,watercolour, gouache, 1919-20
Dada lacked a single recognisable style like,say, Cubism. It used many different art formsIncluding collage; photomontage; performance; assemblage; painting and drawing; puppetry; graffiti; use of typography; poetry and writing. Dada was a reaction against the War. It associated war with a corrupt, ruined society and believed that art, as it stood, was a part of that corruption. Dada pronounced itself to be ‘anti-art’, which means anti- what had gone before. Use of typography in new and puzzling ways: Kurt Schwitters & Theo von Doesburg, Small Dada Soiree, lithograph, 1923.
Dada started in neutral Switzerland, where many were seeking refuge from active conflict. Hugo Ball founded the Café Voltaire, Zurich in 1916. It became a venue for all sorts of performances with dance, spoken word, costumes.Ball is seen here wearing a preposterous costume, performing a sound poem which has no meaning. Contemporary Dadaist Interpretation of Ball’s poem: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8o-tLrI2K6Y&feature=related
Because of this skepticism of the Western tradition of reason and logic, some Dadaists were interested in interacting with the laws of chance, e.g. Hans (Jean) Arp. The implication of this was that the artwork had some sort of ‘life of its own’. This questioned the traditional notion of the artist as talented genius or individual. (The Surrealists who came soon after would also play with ideas of chance and ‘automatism’.) This is a different approach from Picasso and Braque’s collages, which were carefully drafted and planned in a manner much more like traditional artworks (even if they looked different.) Hans Arp, Collage with squares arranged according to the laws of chance, collage, 48 x 35cm, 1916-17 Hans Arp, Automatic drawing, ink on paper, 42 x 54cm, c. 1917
We are meant to be puzzled; meant to be at a loss: perhaps maddened or annoyed by Dada. There is often little interest in the aesthetic here. There was more interest in stating a viewpoint of the contemporary world…to make sense of what was happening, or declaring that there can in fact be no sense made of it. We can never speak in absolutes though… many Dada artists created works which were visually interesting. Max Ernst & Louise Straus-Ernst, Augustine, Thomas and Otto Flake, collage, 1920
In Berlin after WWI there was much hardship, food shortages and unrest. There was a lot of corruption; war wounded were on the streets. Dada in Berlin was very politically motivated. Many Dadaists were associated with the new Communist party in Germany, in the interests of social justice. Photomontage was a popular medium for political comment. Clip on Otto Dix: http://www.moma.org/explore/multimedia/audios/29/702 John Heartfield, (German, 1891-1968)The meaning of the Hitler salute: little man asks for big money, photomontage, magazine cover, 1932. Georg Scholz, (German, 1890-1945) Profiteering farming family, lithograph, 42 x 50cm, 1920
The 20th century finally saw more women being recognised as artists in their own right. Hannah Hoch was a professional working person, trained in graphic design, who was relatively independent. Hoch’s art reflects her interest in exploring the new roles and identities of women in Germany at this time. Her job was pattern making for knitting, crocheting and embroidery. Her collages / photomontages use images taken from popular women’s magazines. The Berlin Dadaists were in fact slow to accept a woman into their ranks, and Hock was the only one in the Berlin group. Beautiful clip of some of Hoch’s images: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=waTi-Fwx-gA&list=PL2D885F5ED630353D&index=10&feature=plpp_video Hoch in her studio, 1976
Hoch, Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany, photomontage; 144 x 90cm, 1919. It’s important to remember that this photomontage and collage was a new thing: Hoch pioneered photomontage. This large work is a commentary on both political and gender issues in Germany, with the women physically active and free. They represent the new style of woman of the 20th century. Also it includes many political figures in Germany at the time, and whether they were pro or anti Dada. In the bottom RHS is a map showing what countries allowed women the vote. http://www.moma.org/explore/multimedia/audios/29/704