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Tristan Tzara

Romanian Poet, Writer, and Filmmaker

Tristan Tzara Photo
Born: April 16, 1896
Moinesti, Romania
Died: December 24, 1963
Paris, France
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Art has not the celestial and universal value that people like to attribute to it. Life is far more interesting... Dada introduces it into daily life. And vice versa.
Tristan Tzara Signature

Summary of Tristan Tzara

Tzara is considered the founder of Dada, a nihilistic, anti-art movement formed in Zurich during World War I. Although also producing artwork, his primary contribution was publishing manifestos outlining the goals of Dada and circulating them to as wide an audience as he could solicit and arranging vulgar and shocking performances at a local Café featuring deconstructed language and outrageous acts purposefully intended to shock his audience and upset all preconceived expectation. Tzara worked hard to spread Dada, formulating the Dadaglobe project intended to catalogue Dada output across the world and introducing his own brand of chaotic spectacle to the Parisian avant-garde in the mid-1920s. By 1930 he began to break away from the destructive side of Dada and began to explore Surrealism, a movement propagated by his friend André Breton, with its combination of juxtaposition and chance. Throughout his career he strove to overcome what he felt were the evils of bourgeois society and to offer, in their place, an antidote based on a distinct lack of historical precedent.

Key Ideas

Biography of Tristan Tzara

Tristan Tzara Photo

Tristan Tzara, born Samuel Rosenstock, came from a Romanian family with Jewish roots. A highly original thinker by nature, his early years were marked by feelings of boredom with the small, agricultural town in which he lived. While attending school in Bucharest he became captivated by Symbolism, and co-founded the magazine Simbolul with Ion Vinea and Marcel Janco. In 1915 he went to Zurich, a hotbed of revolutionary ideas, to study philosophy. His freethinking, anti-bourgeois principles led to painful clashes with his family that eventually led his father to cut him off. As he later wrote, "I was dead for him."

Important Art by Tristan Tzara

Unpretentious Proclamation (1919)

Unpretentious Proclamation (1919)

Tzara co-founded Dada in Zurich. The Manifestos he wrote from 1916, including this one regarding "unpretention," all outlined the principles of the movement as well as its raison d'etre. "Art needs an operation." - with these uncompromising words Tzara set forth his philosophy that Art with a capital A was pretentious and that traditional artists were self-absorbed hypocrites. He called for something he called "Dada's magic revolver" to put "Art" (any work of creativity) to sleep (really, put aside) so that a new world that emphasized life and the living could be born. The Dada movement initiated a militant anti-art revolution. As Tzara explained: "Get ready for the action of the geyser of our blood-submarine formation of trans chromatic aeroplanes, cellular metals numbered in the flight of images above the rules of the hand."

This Unpretentious Proclamation, released a few years into the movement, not only outlines its precepts but also indicates its visual idiom. The typeface, a corrupted version of standard Victorian print, was purposefully chosen. Tzara co-opted typefaces from advertisements and newspapers and changed the font, orientation, and boldness in an effort to articulate his ideas. This text indicates the inherent contradiction of the Dada position: making art while simultaneously denying it.

Contents, Dada 3 (1917)

Contents, Dada 3 (1917)

This bulletin illustrates Tzara's "cut-up" style wherein pieces and morsels of previously printed material were gathered and juxtaposed in what seems a random manner, coming together to form an artwork as if by accident. As he specifically recommended for poems: "Take a newspaper. Take a pair of scissors. Choose an article as long as you are planning to make your poem. Cut out the article. Then cut out each of the words that make up this article and put them in a bag. Shake it gently. Then take out the scraps one after another in the order in which they left the bag. Copy conscientiously. The poem will be like you. And here you are a writer, infinitely original and endowed with a sensibility that is charming beyond the understanding of the vulgar."

This same technique was recommended for visual material and it can be seen in this Bulletin where syntax and imagery are arranged in an unconventional manner. Tzara explained "Every page should explode, either because of its profundity, or because of its vortex, vertigo, newness, timelessness, crushing humor, enthusiasm of its principles, or the way it is printed." Here text is arranged in bits and bursts on the page, some running left to right but other surprisingly running up on an angle or tipped to the side. There's no clear margin and no formal arrangement into paragraphs, instead lines wrap around in an almost random fashion. The illustrative material is squeezed into the space that remains in an almost coincidental fashion.

Tzara's efforts in these works of typographic collage share a lot with those of other Dada artists including Janco. The concept of collecting items or bits or words and arranging them on the page so that the viewer is forced to find meaning was consonant among all the artists active in this movement.

Dadaglobe solicitation form letter (1920)

Dadaglobe solicitation form letter (1920)

This missive, primarily instigated by Tzara, outlined the goals of the Dadaglobe project as well as clearly presenting its stylistic idiom. The Dadaglobe intended to further promote the international nature of the movement and serve as a cross-cultural guidebook to the future of art. It was an encyclopedia that included self-portraits, photomontages, collages, drawings, poems, and book designs from artists across the world including the former combatant states of Germany and France. To insure its international availability he planned to publish in French, German, and English.

Tzara worked on the project from 1920-21, collating material received from a range of artists including Hans Arp, Andre Breton, Max Ernst, Hannah Hoch, and Sophie Taeuber-Arp, before abandoning it. The letter illustrated, signed by Francis Picabia, Tristan Tzara, Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes, and Walter Serner on November 8, 1920, called on artists from all over the globe to submit writings and artworks demonstrating the global expansion of Dada. Almost one hundred years later, on the 100th anniversary of Dada's founding, the Kunsthaus Zürich brought the Dadaglobe artworks and writings together for the first time and completed Tzara's original project with the publication of Dadaglobe Reconstructed.

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Content compiled and written by Jen Farren

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by , Caroline Igra

"Tristan Tzara Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Jen Farren
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Caroline Igra
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First published on 05 Aug 2016. Updated and modified regularly
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