While Cubism flourished in the early part of the 20th century, the beginning of World War I gradually stimulated the Dada (Dadaism) movement which was characterized by it’s rejection of reason and logic, and its movement toward nonsense, the irrational and intuition. Dadaism was a protest against nationalism and colonialism and not a true artistic movement. If anything Dadaism was an anti-art movement, which sought to destroy traditional culture and aesthetics. In so doing, it fostered higher levels of geometric abstraction in art that emerged in the 1920s as Surrealism. This new movement offered a positive emphasis in comparison with Dadaism’s destructive nature. Gradually, Surrealism showed more interest in revolutionary art, stimulating an approach that featured the dream, free association, and the unconscious. It embraced idiosyncrasy and rejected madness, an appropriate response the Dadaism.
Art, it seemed, tried to access the unconscious as Freud did in his psychoanalytic process. The paintings of Salvador Dali, for example, employed a visionary even hallucinatory approach in panoramic psycho-pathological paintings. Although Surrealists may have thought they were making an effort to approach art though the unconscious mind, Freud disagreed. But in other arenas such as quantum physics, science began to resemble art, as art began to look like science. Uncertainty, chaos and wave behavior, all features of quantum physics worked their way into art, while Heller’s studies and technicolor representations of quantum waves began to resemble art.
Surrealism took center stage between World War I and World War II, advanced initially by great painters like Matisse and clearly blended and advanced with artistic, scientific, social and political issues. Discoveries in the sciences may well have inspired many developments in art, but art may also have informed science as the two became interwoven in complex geometries.
As World War II approached, artists increasingly fled from Europe to America. American artists shifted toward Abstract Expressionism which grew from contacts between American (mostly New York) artists and self-exiled European Surrealists. Gradually when World War II came and intensified, the war itself overshadowed nearly all artistic work. There was no clear end to Surrealism after the war. The movement declined but continued to have an influence in philosophy, literature, and poetry that developed later. After the war art contemplated the outcome of geometric abstraction that had dominated the century’s art through Cubism, Surrealism and other directions in art that now all seemed out of touch with the reality of poverty, despair and intense destruction in the world as a result of the war.