Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Dada art, Dada cartoons and The New Yorker

Dada was, officially, not a movement, its artists not artists and its art not art.  that sounds easy enough, doesn't it ?  Of course, there is a bit more to the story of Dadaism than this simplistic explanation.

This little mini-essay will attempt to shed light on the so-called "mystery"of why so many conventional magazine cartoonists since the sixties and seventies continued to try in complete puzzlement to  "understand" what in the world was happening to the magazine cartoon field ( mostly The New Yorker ).  It was as if all of a sudden you were coasting along just fine as your predecessors did, then POW . . . The Viet Nam war .

 It seems, like almost a reenactment . . .  just like right after the First World War when the original DADA stuff originated.. . banding together in a loosely-knit group, these artists and writers and poets used any public forum they could find to ( metaphorically ) spit on nationalism, rationalism, materialism and any other ism was moving in this direction, they said, we'll have no parts of its traditions, including . . . no wait . . . especially artistic cartoon traditions.  We, who are the non-artists or cartoonists, will create non-art or non-cartoons - since art ( and everything else in the world ) has no meaning anyway.

About the only thing these non-artists and non-cartoonists all had in common were their ideals.  They even had a hard time agreeing on a name for their project. " Dada " -which some say means "hobby horse" in French and others feel is just baby talk - was the catch phrase that made the least amount of sense, so "Dada" it was.

   - Dada had only one rule: Never follow any known rule.
   - Dada was intended to provoke an emotional reaction from the viewer ( especially shock and  outrage ).  If its art failed to offend traditionalists then something was wrong.
   - Dada art and cartoons are non-sensical to the point of whimsy.  Almost all of the people who created it are ferociously serious, though.

( You know, however, it IS possible to be SERIOUSLY wrong, and not know it. )

As for me . . . I don't like to join movements and organizations . . . I like Grouho Marx's outlook: He said he would never join an organization that would admit him into the membership.

Don't try to figure it out.

It just IS.

DA-DA . . . DOO-DO  ( You know . . dog do-do . . )

What the hell's the difference ?

- For something that supposedly meant nothing, Dada certainly created a band of off-shoots.  In addition to spawning numerous literary journals, Dada influenced many concurrent trends in the visual arts ( especially in the case of  Constructionism )  The best known movement Dada was directly responsible for is Surrealism.

Dada self-destructed when it was in danger of becoming " acceptable".

For all the traditionalists out there it's just a matter of time . . . It's like when your teenager starts to act strange you always say to yourself, " It's probably just a phase . . . "  " It'll go away soon . . . " " He'll soon grow out of it. "


" As a recreation of reality, a work of art has to be representational; its freedom of stylization is limited by the requirement of intelligibility; if it does not present an intelligible subject, it ceases to be art. "

- Ayn Rand
- "Art and Cognition"  The Romantic Manifesto


Here is an image of the masterpiece sculpture, The Thinker by the greatest sculptor of the nineteenth century, Auguste Rodin.


And here you have a piece of sculpture called The Fountain by Dada sculptor Alfred Stieglitz ( 1864 - 1946 )  I have to describe it for you . . . what it is, is a water drinking fountain made from a urinal. . . . Hey ! New Yorker cartoon ! 

One is "whimsy" . . . . and the other is traditional art.  One will fade away . . . the other will be here till we are all gone.  One is a joke. Dada, Gaga, Do-do, dog do-do . . . . You know, if it feels good, do it !  It's all relative . . . everything is gray . . . fuzzy . . . foggy . . ya-h-hh . . . Up is down, down is up, top down, bottom up, the middle inside out,  nothing matters . . . You can't prove anything . . . How do you KNOW anything ?  How do you know that you know ?  Only fools are positive . . . are you SURE ?

I remember when I was in The Marine Corps, the prevailing thought was that the most dangerous man in the Marine Corps was a Second-Lieutenant with a Liberal Arts degree . . . Nuf sed.


  1. Didn't Duchamp exhibit the urinal as a readymade?

  2. Hi mark - I've been looking for one in the lobby at 4 Times square, but they decided to go " traditional " ( I don't know why ) on the water fountain there.
    I know that if it appeared in a one-inch ad in The NYer magazine it would pro0bably sell like wild. I would buy one.