Modern Artist or Visual Politician? – Dada (part 1)

Over the short period in which I have decided to openly pursue a career in art, I have been asked on a number of occasions to what, in my opinion, it means to be an artist. After the seemingly hundredth time of being asked this repetitive question I began to, and to my dismay, question both my future role as an artist and the role of past artists who I admire. An example of one of these being the artist Hannah Höch. I began to imagine myself in the future and compare my practice in the modern world to the work of past artists.

In this series of blogs, which will consist of six parts, I will debate over the argument of ‘whether the role we traditionally cast the artist in is appropriate when addressing the modern artist’. Furthermore, I will be using the Dada Movement as a case study in order to explore if an artist has ever successfully earned the right to an altered title. In the past the artwork produced by the artist has generally been more concerned with the depiction of beauty and the ideal, rather than having a dominant political agenda. This was a result of there being a larger emphasis on the appeasement of the patron.

However, since the beginning of the 20th century, artists have begun to prioritize the development of the individual style and the means to which they convey an emotional message. Therefore, the emphasis, which had previously been on the portrayal of the utopian world; like arcadia, now shifted to images that critiqued and portrayed the society of the present. It is these images with their intertwined messages that bring the artist’s title into question; Modern Artist or Visual Politician? The artist acts in the same manner as the politician in the sense that they are drawing the public’s attention to their ‘campaign’. A historic practice has been for governments to commission artists to create artwork that reflects the ideals of their political party. According to the definition of a politician in the Cambridge Dictionary; ‘a member of a government or law-making organization’[1], in the act of being commissioned the artist embodies the role of the politician as they are now an active member of the campaign. However, an artist can also embody the role of the visual politician by opposing a regime or a campaign. It is the latter from which Dadaism is stemmed.

The Dada movement was a political art movement that was at its pinnacle of popularity between the years 1916[2] and 1922[3]. Dada artists such as Hausmann and Höch all preached anti- art.[4] One of Dada’s preferred mediums of art was photomontage as it enabled the artist to draw from physical mementos of their everyday, and thus project a message that was consistent with their life experience.[5] This creates a clear contrast between Dada and other movements that ran alongside it such as Expressionism and later on Surrealism.[6] The Dada artist was unlike any artist beforehand as they were not only against other forms of art, that in their eyes may have appeared sycophantic or to be conforming to the time, but were also against their own creations.[7] This generates the question, what is the artist’s role in society? I was forced to confront this debate as how can one be called a politician or even an artist if they themselves do not believe in their own campaign?

[1] Dictionary, politician. “Politician Meaning In The Cambridge English Dictionary”. N.p., 2016. Web. 13 Aug. 2016.

[2] Murray, Peter and Linda Murray. Dictionary of Art And Artists. New York: Praeger, 1966. Print. pg102

[3] Ibid, pg102

[4] Ibid, pg102

[5] Ibid, pg102

[6] Weston, Neville. Kaleidoscope Of Modern Art. London: Harrap, 1968.Print. pg116

[7]  Ibid, pg119

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