Glossary Home Movements


Dadaism was an art and literary movement in Europe during the 20th century. It was a reaction to the senselessness of war during the early 1900s. 

Artists who considered themselves part of the movement rejected the reason and logic they believed led to World War One. This included capitalist rules and regulations. They turned to the opposite, emphasizing nonsense writing, shock value, and artistic freedom and creativity above everything else. 

Interestingly, the members were and are still split in regard to where the name “Dada” came from. Some suggest that the artist Richard Huelsenbeck cut the word out, at random, from a dictionary. Others suggest that the word was invented for its purpose or that “dada” was meant to relate to the first words of a child. 

The term “anti-art” is often associated with Dadaism. It was coined by Marcel Duchamp in order to label artworks that challenged the accepted idea of what art is. Duchamp himself created some of the best-known examples of anti-art. 

Dadaism pronunciation: dah-dah-eh-zum

Dadaism art and poetry definition and examples

Dadaism Definition

Dadaism was a visual art and literary movement that flourished in Europe after World War I. The artists used their work to express their discontent towards the governments and policies that led their communities into war. They spoke out against violence, nationalism and were staunchly left and far-left wing in their  

Within the movement, artists, novel-writers, poets, sound media artists, and more experimented with their techniques and the reasoning behind their work. New visual art forms, like collage and sound poetry, flourished, as did the still popular process of cut-up writing. 

Principles of Dadaism 

Below, readers can explore a few of the fundamental principles of dadaism.

  • Humor and wit
  • Emphasis on creativity
  • Elements of whimsy and nonsense writing
  • Use of different typography
  • Belief in artistic freedom
  • Desire to evoke an emotional reaction
  • Interest in shock value
  • Irrationalism and imagination
  • Spontaneous creation

Examples of Dadaist Literature 

Hugo Ball’s Sound Poems

Ball’s sound poems are some of the most commonly cited examples of DaDadaismn poetry. He was a member of the movement for about two years before working as a journalist for Die Freie Zeitung. Some of Ball’s best-known sound poems are ‘Karawane’ and “Klatzen and Pfauen.’ They are great examples of DaDadaism’s desire to use nonsense, humor, and irony in an interesting way. Below, readers can see an excerpt from ‘Karawane,’ first performed in 1916 in Zurich. The printed version was published later. The poem in its entirety can be seen below. 

jolifanto bambla o falli bambla

großiga m’pfa habla horem

egiga goramen

higo bloiko russula huju

hollaka hollala

anlogo bung

blago bung blago bung

bosso fataka

ü üü ü

schampa wulla wussa olobo

hej tatta gorem

eschige zunbada

wulubu ssubudu uluwu ssubudu


kusa gauma


When Ball performed his poem, he was dressed in a paper costume, resembling the clothes of a clerical member. The audience was reportedly entranced by his performance, and Ball had to be carried off stage after it was over. 

Readers should also take a look at the original printed version, as the typeface adds to the overall experience of the poem. 

Ball is also responsible for the Dadaist manifest created in 1916. It is a short text written on July 14, 1916, and read at the Waang Hall for the first Dada party. In the manifesto, interestingly, Ball expresses his opposition to DaDadaismecoming a real artistic movement. 

Ursonate by Kurt Schwitters 

This very unusual poem was composed in 1922 and is forty minutes long. Throughout, the poet utters strange sounds and words without meaning. It was performed regularly throughout the poet’s life, with adaptions over the next ten years. The first line of the poem reads: 

Fumms bö wö tää zää Uu, pögiff, kwii Ee.

The title, importantly, translates as: “the sonata in primordial sounds.” The above line was used numerous times throughout the poem, spoken in different voices. The importance of these sounds was described by Schwitters himself. He hoped that listeners would make their own connections between the sounds, despite their sounding like complete nonsense at first. 

Cut-Up Poetry

This technique, which falls into the category of found poetry, involves taking a page of text, cutting it in half, and then in half again. These sections get cut into smaller pieces and then smaller yet again. When they finish cutting, one is rearranged into semi-cohesive sentences, forming an entirely new narrative. The technique was first used within the Dadaist movement, but it was popularized by the poet William S. Burroughs during the 50s and 60s. 

Burroughs’ technique has had a lasting influence on fiction writers, poets, and even musicians. Artists like David Bowie and Brian Eno were influenced by his technique and used it within their own music in the 1970s.


What is the concept of Dadaism?

Art and literature produced as part of the Dadaist movement pushed back against the strictures that led to World War I. Artists and writers sought to break artistic norms and surprise readers and viewers with their work. 

What was the purpose of Dadaism?

The purpose is to confuse, shock, and surprise people. Dadaists knew that much of their work would not be easily accepted, and they were happy for it to be that way. 

What did Dada artists believe?

Dada artists believed that logic and rules were confining art in a way that it shouldn’t be. They believed in artistic freedom, imagination, and creativity above all else. 

Related Literary Terms 

  • Confessional Poetry: a style of poetry that is personal, often making use of a first-person narrator. It is a branch of Postmodernism that emerged in the US in the 1950s.
  • Literary Modernism: originated in the late 19th and 20th centuries. It was mainly focused in Europe and North America.
  • Magical Realism:  a genre of fiction writing that is interested in imbuing the modern realistic world with magical, fantastical elements.
  • Mythopoeia: a genre of modern literature (and film) that refers to the creation of artificial mythology.
  • Found Poetry: a type of poem that’s created using someone else’s words, phrases, or structure.

Other Resources 

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