Relationship Between Politics & Art in the Early 20th-Century

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Art of Wassily Kandinsky: Periods, Influences & Architecture

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:01 Art, Culture, War, Revolution!
  • 0:34 Dada & Anti-War Sentiment
  • 1:48 Italian Futurism
  • 3:18 Styles of the Future
  • 5:23 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed
Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy Roberts is an adjunct instructor in English, film/media studies and interdisciplinary studies.

Explore the art, culture, and politics of early 20th-century European culture. Learn about how Dada and Futurist artists fused political messages with artistic techniques.

Art, Culture, War, Revolution!

When you think of art and politics, the most memorable images that pop up will probably be the anti-war messages and propaganda from the 1960s. The Vietnam war spawned a massive revolution in American culture that solidified into an identifiable aesthetic of pop and folk art, like that of Andy Warhol and Yoko Ono, which associated the hippie attitude with counterculture.

But what you may not know is that the revolutionary culture of 1960s America had set a precedence in the art and political culture of Europe in the first decades of the 20th century.

Dada & Anti-War Sentiment

Dada, which arose in Switzerland, reacted to the outbreak of the First World War with revolutionary sentiments. A nonsense word, Dada borrowed from Cubism and Expressionism, using collage and juxtaposition to question the order in everyday life by negating seemingly rational categories.

Dada artists took up collage, a craft technique that uses paper, paint, print, ribbon, and other found objects in the assemblage of visual art pieces, as a form to express their preoccupation with the absurdity of modern culture. Using a method called juxtaposition, they combined different, seemingly unrelated images to draw attention to how the chaos lay beneath the logic. Hannah Hoch's Cut with the Kitchen Knife through the Beer-Belly of the Weimar Republic (1919), for example, draws attention to gender politics through the juxtaposition of manufactured objects and gender roles: kitchen 'knife' and 'beer' belly.

Cut with the Kitchen Knife through the Beer-Belly of the Weimar Republic

Dada prefigured many of the themes and preoccupations of the later Surrealist movement, which brought in Freudian psychoanalysis to delve further into the unconscious imagery of absurdity and modern irrationalism.

Italian Futurism

In stark contrast to the skepticism of Dada, Italian Futurists were patriotic and optimistic about the role of technology and war in modern society. The Futurists fused the political climate of Fascism and Nationalism with the cultural sentiments of the time, careening into an idealistic future on the themes of speed, machine power, and violence.

In the first decade of the 20th century, society was advancing at a dizzying pace, transforming class and economic structure through the scientific discovery of the electron, special relativity, technological advancements like wireless communication, automobiles, and airplanes.

In this cultural atmosphere, it was easy to get caught up in the currents of progress and scientific optimism. The key word here is 'speed', reflected in the themes of technological advancement and transportation. Futurists used these themes both in their philosophy and in their aesthetics.

The art of the Futurists evolved in parallel with Fascism, a right-wing political ideology associated with authoritarianism and nationalism. Futurism and Fascism percolated in the same political and cultural climate. But connections between politics and art remain ambiguous. In Italy around the time of World War I, Fascism was synonymous with the name Benito Mussolini. While Mussolini admittedly had no interest in art, he admired the prose of the Futurist literature that fused poetry with propaganda.

Styles of the Future

In 1909, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, an Italian poet, published the Manifesto of Futurism in the French newspaper Le Figaro. It was perhaps his penchant for moving prose that caused political and cultural revolutionaries to rally around his cause.

He wrote:

We affirm that the world's magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed… Except in struggle, there is no more beauty. No work without an aggressive character can be a masterpiece. We stand on the last promontory of the centuries! … Time and Space died yesterday. ….We will glorify war -- the world's only hygiene -- militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for…

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account