Have you ever been at an art museum, stared at paint splatters on a canvas or a pile of dildos on a pedestal and found yourself thinking, “What is this crap? This isn’t art! I could make something better drunk and blindfolded!”  Turns out, your unenlightened reaction might be the artists intended effect.  So why would art, something meant to be a beautiful expression of human creativity, go out of its way to piss you off?  Welcome to the legacy of Dada.

The Dadaist art movement originated in Zurich, Switzerland in 1916 as a reaction to the horrors of World War 1.  Artists of all genres met at the nightclub, Cabaret Voltaire, and formed a new concept of art that rejected all traditional ideas of logic and aesthetics, choosing instead to embrace nonsense. Even the name ‘Dada’ stems from the absurd, with legend stating that it was either chosen at random from a dictionary or meant to sound like the babbling of a child. Regardless, it’s supposed to be weird.

Dada art was bat-shit crazy. Early examples included: pig-faced mannequins hanging from ceilings, poems filled with fart sounds and a reproduction of the Mona Lisa sporting a mustache.  The most iconic pieces were known as ‘ready-mades:’ everyday objects displayed as art.  Most famous of these was Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, basically a urinal with the artist signature on it.  Needless to say the uppity art world found this offensive, but that was the point!  As Dada artist Marcel Janco stated, “We had lost confidence in our culture. Everything had to be demolished…we began by shocking common sense, public opinion, education, institutions, museums, good taste.” So yeah, mission accomplished. 

By the 1920’s Dadaism was both inspiring and evolving into the post-modern art movement that came to dominate the rest of the 20th century.  Out of this landscape came the mind-bending visuals of surrealists such as Salvador Dali and the satirical eye-candy of Pop-Artists like Andy Warhol.  Dada’s anti-art vibe also had an influence on musicians such as Frank Zappa, Kurt Cobain and the greatest band of the 90’s: Cumbawumba.

So next time you're scratching your head at the DAM or tripping balls at Meow Wolf, just remember that being confused, awestruck or even insulted when dealing with art is just part of the game.  Shout out to the Dadaists, the first to make it cool to go: “Dafuq?!”