Digital Dadaism

a movement in art and literature based on deliberate irrationality and negation of traditional artistic values

Merriam Webster
  • Key dates: 1916-1924
  • Key regions: Switzerland, Paris, New York
  • Keywords: Chance, luck, nonsense, anti-art, readymade
  • Key artists: Hugo Ball, Marcel Duchamp, Hans (Jean) Arp, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Hannah Höch, Man Ray, Francois Picabia
  • Key characteristics: Humoristic, tending towards the absurd, satirical attitude towards authority

Developed in reaction to World War I, the Dada movement consisted of artists who rejected the logicreason, and aestheticism of modern capitalist society, instead expressing nonsenseirrationality, and anti-bourgeois protest in their works


A hundred years ago, a movement in European art was somewhat of a backlash against the industrial revolution and western capitalism. They called the art Dada.

Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917

I think a new Dadaism is forming in the world today as a backlash to the new digital revolutions that have been happening and the new platforms that make expression easier than ever.

A great example is this incredible effort of making the entire OK Computer Album by Radiohead, except using his own voice as 100% of the parts of the songs.

OK Computer by everything is shonkywonkydonkey voice

If we think about this as a single exploration, one could imagine an acapella band like Pentatonix doing a cover of the same songs, but it would be much more polished. It would end up being boring because it would fall somewhat into the uncanny valley.

The uncanny valley chart

In other words, it would be too close to the real thing. (See chart above) The way the shonkywonkydonkey did it was different. It was way better than a lay person could achieved. Clearly, there were many artistic choices and many hours of audio editing. There is no way for me to experience this without thinking of it as artistic and therefore artwork. However, he did not go all the way to fully polished otherwise it would have lost it’s special quality.

The artwork itself is not negative towards Radiohead, but rather an absurdist take on modern audio editing and music creation. It is humorous, absurdist, and serious at the same time.

Another example is the recent Netflix special by Bo Burnham named Inside. It has the veneer of comedy, but is more of a dadaist performance art. He wrote, directed, filmed, performed the entire special from a single room during the pandemic lock down of 2020. It’s incredible that he achieved what he did by himself.

All Eyes on Me by Bo Burnham

There is a similarity between these two pieces of artwork. They are both done by a single person using modern technology. They have moments of absurdity and happiness. In Bo’s case, there is also a strong thread of anxiety, depression, and our impending collapse of civilization. In the shonkywonkydonkey  case, the choice of OK Computer is important. That album is a breakthrough in music. Listen to what Dave Grohl said about it.

Dave Grohl reflexting on OK Computer by Radiohead

A final example is artwork being sold as NFTs. This is Dada artwork in its most modern incarnation. I would call it Neo Dadaism except that Neo-Dada was invented in the 1960s.

Robert Rauschenberg, 1963, Retroactive II; combine painting with paint and photos.

Thus, I call it Digital Dadaism (roll credits). This is the absurdist and artistic use of the following:

  1. Online purchasing of equipment (studio)
  2. Personal computers, smart phones, lighting equipment (recording)
  3. Personal video / audio editing tech (editing)
  4. Social platforms (group distribution)
  5. Streaming services (mass destruction)
  6. Block chain (commercial transactions)

Selling the rights to own a digital image is absurd in the extreme. Paying millions of dollars for it is mind-boggling. However, there it is for all to see. This may be a bubble, but it’s a real bubble made out of bits and bytes.

Never before has so much been possible by so few. You can make artwork in many mediums with less capital and time. This has opened the door to many more artists than every before.

With this new digital capability also comes a backlash. Thus, the artwork will often mock or transform the technology that made the expression possible in the first place.

There are hundreds more examples, but I hope you get the idea. We as humans, all have the potential to be artists. See the world as your canvas and everything looks like a paintbrush. Be creative. Hopefully, the future is filled it.


Whatya think?