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Dada and Stream of Conciousness

William James

"A person's thoughts and conscious reactions to events, perceived as a continuous flow."

The term was introduced by William James in his Principles of Psychology (1890)


Today, we were asked to do a stream-of-consciousness painting based on the collages, poems and researches that done about Dadaism.

At the beginning, I painted a version that completely based on what my uncontrolled mind. For the right side, there is a colourful hobbyhorse which represented the verbal meaning of "dada". On the left side, I just painted an egg and a word "Sean", which was came from the collage that I did before. However, I found that if I do it on this way, the picture would be quite a chaos. Therefore, I crumpled it into a mass and decided to throw it away, but my tutor, Clare, stopped me and told me that whether I can further expand it, and helped me to unfold the mass.

Suddenly, there was an idea flashing into my mind, "anti-retinal", which was the word may from the artist that I researched is Marcel Duchamp, who against the retinal art works. Relating to the action that I decided to abandon this work, did I unconsciously refused or disgusted the paint that I done because it was not really visually amusing for me? Without thinking deeper into this question, I continued to do my second work, that mainly reflecting what I had done on the research of Duchamp.

There were some art works jumped out in my "consciousness", including Fountain (1917), Self-Portrait In Profile (1958), Fresh Widow (1920), Rotoreliefs (1935), Bicycle Wheel (1913) and L.H.O.O.Q. (1919). I thought those works were pretty representative to demonstrate Duchamp's anti-art opinion. The picture that I conceived was symmetrical.

The use of symmetrical layout and circular objects would easily create several focal points on the middle line. I inverted the Fountain and let it shows as the urinal with a perspective that males usually view in the toilet, tried to get the rid of the Fountain's "artistic"factors.

Moreover, I re-drew the picture of Mona Lisa, let the figure became more neutral and coloured the hair that tend to be more pink. In the next two pictures, I put the profile of Duchamp's portrait around the urinal and wrote "M" and "D" as the acronym of "Marcel Duchamp" to demonstrate the characteristic of this picture, as well as a word game that he usually applied in his work, because in Chinese, "MD" is an acronym of the vulgar language that similar as "sh*t"or the F-word. It was a common situation when the audiences who do not really know Duchamp viewing his readymades, people may be astonished by these "art works" and scream out a vulgar word. For the fourth picture, I really like the colour because there were some pink and blue containing in the white, which made it more textured. In the final two images, I used the Quink and bleach again to write on Duchamp's "aliases", Rrose (Rrose Sélavy) and Mutt (R. Mutt).

However, I was not satisfied with what I had done, because this was too... RETINAL!

Hence, I rolled the picture into a mass as I did for the first one and throw it into the rubbish bin.

Then I literally got the epiphany that seemed like answering my question above at the moment.

What Duchamp did is trying to disrupt the connection with art. Maybe that is what his Dadaism. He was mocking at the art works that looks like a bit untouchable with the real life and firmly following with the guide of retinal amusement. In contrast, he dragged the art directly down from the frame and using the objects that almost everyone used to use or see. Duchamp's readymades looked as if an utter and radical revolution in the art history. Nonetheless, the most ridiculous thing as for me was that the so-called Dadaism, readymade or anti-retina were finally becoming as a part of art, the bring the amusement to the audiences (or bourgeois). This zigzag change of the art works' interpretations or situation reminded me of a Chinese Zen master's saying, which describes the three status of comprehending the Zen. For letting it easier to express, I select two different translations that respectively corresponding to the verbal and emotional way.

  • Thirty years ago, before I began the study of Zen, I said, 'Mountains are mountains, waters are waters.' After I got insight into the truth of Zen through the instructions of a good master, I said, 'Mountains are not mountains, waters are not waters.' But now, having attained the abode of final rest, (that is, Enlightenment) I say, 'Mountains are really mountains, waters are really waters.'

  • Yes it is. No it isn't. Oh yes it is.

The point that I want to express is that everything has the property of uniform and opposite. Same as Dada or specifically Duchamp's work, they all experienced a process of changing. At the beginning, they were known as the "anti-art", "anti-war" and "anti-retina", that tending to stand at the opposite side of the primary art form.

However, at the second stage, people were gradually accepting these "art" works and the so-called anti-art or anti-retinal attitude had converted into a new aspect of amusement in aesthetic realm that bestowed everything the possibility of becoming an art work.

Finally, we may find that, the boundary between art and non-art became is ambiguous now. "Oh yes it is Dada", "oh yes it is art", we finally broadened our horizon of the definition of art and unified the understanding in the mind.

I applied this precess in my work. Firstly, what I drew a work that obviously let me feel visual satisfied. Secondly, I rolled my work as barely a piece of paper and threw it into the bin because in the material way, an art work was simply a paper as well. I wanted to deny the art element in this paper and transfer it to an anti-retinal object. However, as what Martin Creed did (Work NO.88), even a paper ball seems like contain an artistic factor in it. Therefore, the definition of an art work is based on human's ideas that continuously renewing while the age changing. As Duchamp said about Fountain, "I was drawing people’s attention to the fact that art is a mirage. A mirage, exactly like an oasis appears in the desert. It is very beautiful until, of course, you are dying of thirst. But you don’t die in the field of art. The mirage is solid." Therefore, as the final stage, it was regardless that thinking about whether a matter was an art or not, retinal or not. People may just need a channel to interpret the thing, just like the art circle eventually accept Duchamp's nude painting and his readymades.


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