Dada, artistic and literary movement reflecting a widespread nihilistic protest against all aspects of Western culture, especially against militarism during and after World War I (1914-1918). The term dada, the French word for hobbyhorse, is said to have been selected at random from a dictionary by the Romanian-born poet, essayist, and editor Tristan Tzara. Dada was originated in 1916 by Tzara, the German writer Hugo Ball, the Alsatian-born artist Jean Arp, and other intellectuals living in Zürich, Switzerland. A similar revolt against conventional art occurred simultaneously in New York City led by Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, and Francis Picabia, and in Paris, where it became the inspiration for the Surrealist movement. After World War I the movement spread to Germany, and many of the Zürich group joined French Dadaists in Paris. The Paris group disintegrated in 1922.
In their efforts to express the negation of all current aesthetic and social values, the Dadaists frequently used artistic and literary methods that were deliberately incomprehensible. Their theatrical performances and manifestos were often designed to shock or bewilder, with the aim of startling the public into a reconsideration of accepted aesthetic values. To this end, the Dadaists used novel materials, including discarded objects found in the streets, and new methods, such as allowing chance to determine the elements of their works. The German painter and writer Kurt Schwitters was noted for his collages composed of waste paper and similar materials. French painter Marcel Duchamp exhibited as works of art ordinary commercial productssuch as a store-bought bottle rack and a urinalwhich he called ready-mades. Although the Dadaists employed revolutionary techniques, their revolt against standards was based on a profound belief, stemming from the romantic tradition, in the essential goodness of humanity when uncorrupted by society. Dada as a movement declined in the 1920s, and some of its practitioners became prominent in other modern-art movements, notably surrealism. During the mid-1950s an interest in Dada was revived in New York City among composers, writers, and artists, who produced many works with Dadaist features.