We learned about the Dada movement in my art history class the other week and it's something that I'm kind of still trying to wrap my head around.
Dadaism was a response to World War I, and an attack on traditional values of art as well as a rejection of bourgeois values and intellectual/cultural conformity. Which, theoretically, that sounds like something I'd be interested in.
But then I learned about the actual artists. Specifically, Marcel Duchamp was emphasized. Duchamp was one of the most prolific Dadaist artists and one of the most controversial. He "pioneered" the idea of readymades, or previously-manufactured objects that an artist sort of just arbitrary elevates to artistic status.
For instance, Duchamp submitted a signed urinal that he'd bought to an exhibition in New York. It's very Dada-- they strove to be everything that art was not. But I really don't want to consider it art.
It's a statement, for sure. It's an attack on traditional ideas about art. But is it actually art?
Another of Duchamp's "readymades" was a copy of the Mona Lisa that he drew a mustache on, and then wrote something sort of derogatory on it, which is apparently supposed to be exemplify his "ironic sense of humor." Should that also be considered art?
I've noticed this happen with a lot of movements-- the intentions are good. I am all for challenging mainstream ideas about things. But I think it gets to a point where the artist, or someone else who's part of the movement, or whatever, gets so wrapped up in this idea that they're brilliant revolutionaries/voices of a generation/ultimate challengers of the status quo/whatever else when a) they're not truly social outcasts, so they just happen to dislike a certain aspect of mainstream culture and end up being really obnoxious about it, and b) they end up not really achieving much of anything, but get lauded for it anyways.
The same textbook that practically worships Dadaism and the like also refers to African artwork and masks, the styles of many western artists "borrowed" for their own work and received praise for it, as "primitive"-- there's a lot of things I see wrong with that, but one of the things that most immediately comes to mind is the fact that a urinal submitted to an exhibition is widely regarded in the western art world as an iconic work of modern art, yet African masks that take an immense amount of skill to make and hold high cultural significance are considered to be... primitive.
Until Picasso used them in one of his most famous pieces, anyway.
I mean, I'm definitely biased, but there's still something wrong with this picture. I'm wary of a lot of counter-culture movements, particularly when they originate among groups of people whom society already favors. There's a lot of movements like that and they all seem to end in a lot of ego, pretension, bigotry, abuse, weird nostalgia, drug use, and unnecessary hero worship.
Beat poets. I'm talking about beat poets.
Also hipsters, but I digress.