Dada was an informal international movement, with participants in Europe and North America. The beginnings of Dada correspond to the outbreak of World War I. For many participants, the movement was a protest against the bourgeois nationalist and colonialist interests, which many Dadaists believed were the root cause of the war, and against the cultural and intellectual conformity—in art and more broadly in society—that corresponded to the war.
Many Dadaists believed that the ‘reason’ and ‘logic’ of bourgeois capitalist society had led people into war. They expressed their rejection of that ideology in artistic expression that appeared to reject logic and embrace chaos and irrationality. For example, George Grosz later recalled that his Dadaist art was intended as a protest “against this world of mutual destruction.”
According to Hans Richter Dada was not art: it was “anti-art.” Dada represented the opposite of everything which art stood for. Where art was concerned with traditional aesthetics, Dada ignored aesthetics. If art was to appeal to sensibilities, Dada was intended to offend.
As Hugo Ball expressed it, “For us, art is not an end in itself … but it is an opportunity for the true perception and criticism of the times we live in.”
A reviewer from the American Art News stated at the time that “Dada philosophy is the sickest, most paralyzing and most destructive thing that has ever originated from the brain of man.” Art historians have described Dada as being, in large part, a “reaction to what many of these artists saw as nothing more than an insane spectacle of collective homicide.”
Years later, Dada artists described the movement as “a phenomenon bursting forth in the midst of the postwar economic and moral crisis, a savior, a monster, which would lay waste to everything in its path… [It was] a systematic work of destruction and demoralization… In the end it became nothing but an act of sacrilege.