Theories of Art

  • Tristan Tzara
  • Naum Gabo
Part of the The Documentary History of Western Civilization book series (DHWC)


The twentieth century has given rise to a confusing array of movements in the fine arts, from the cubism of the 1900’s to the aleatoric and pop art of the 1960’s. Some of these movements have hinged their efforts on theories of form that find underlying order in the prevailing chaos of modern life. Others have proclaimed that chaos alone is real and have dedicated themselves to an irreverent assault on reason, religion, and modern civilization in general. The most extreme example of irrationalism in literature and the arts is Dadaism, which originated in 1916 in Switzerland and commanded much public attention in the early postwar years, numbering among its exponents Hugo Ball, George Grosz, Hans Arp, and André Breton. After the demise of Dada, some of the Dadaists went on to found the surrealist movement; but a good deal of the avant-garde art and poetry of the 1950’s and 1960’s strongly calls to mind the jeering nihilism of Dada in its original form. The chief manifesto-writer of the Dadaists, Tristan Tzara, was a Rumanian by birth, a Parisian by adoption. His most conventionally intelligible effort to explain the antiphilosophy of Dada is perhaps this lecture, given in 1922.


Contemporary Artist Constructive Artist Mute Medium Unbearable Suffering Surrealist Movement 
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  1. “Lecture on Dada, 1922,” by Tristan Tzara, trans. Ralph Manheim, in The Dada Painters and Poets: An Anthology, ed. Robert Motherwell (Wittenborn, New York, 1951), pp. 246–48 and 250–51. Reprinted by permission of George Wittenborn, Inc., New York, N.Y., 10021.Google Scholar
  2. “On Constructive Realism,” by Naum Gabo, in Three Lectures on Modern Art, by Katherine S. Dreier et al. (Philosophical Library, New York, 1949), pp. 65–87. Reprinted by permission of Philosophical Library.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1968

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tristan Tzara
  • Naum Gabo

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