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The Magpie Sings the Great Depression:
Selections from DeWitt Clinton High School's Literary Magazine, 1929-1942

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Who's Crazy Now—?

By Leonard Harris, '39

The Magpie, June 1937, v. 21, n. 2., p. 57.

On December ninth of last year an exhibition of Surrealist, Dadaist, and Fantastic art hit New York's peace-loving citizens full in the face. And from that day in December, right through to the seventeenth of January, throngs of people crowded through the entrance of the Museum of Modern Art to see the new curiosity. Some of the onlookers openly admired the work contained in those overcrowd. ed rooms, and some just gaped and wondered. But, for the most part, the new exhibition was greeted with chuckles and grins.

"For," the self established art critics asked, "what sense is there in making seven foot masks, and decorating them with every home utensil but the kitchen sink? And what earthly reason could the artist who nailed three pieces of varnished wood together have had when he dubbed it Midnight Landscape?" To be frank, there is no point or reason to any of these things—unless you understand Dada.

For Dada is a state of mind; and ninety percent of New York's art critics called that state of mind 'craziness'. Dada's followers call it 'revolutionary'. Dadaist's one aim is to break down, or at least to ridicule all the rules, all the regulations, and all the customs of our time. Dada is not supposed to be art. For art is Dada's worst enemy.

Dada, or rather what was to be Dada, was born in Zurich, Switzerland, two years before the World War. But it was not until February eighth, 1916, that it was formally named; the method by which it was chosen is typical of the way the Dadaists work. The person responsible for the christening was Hugo Ball, a pacifist writer, who came across the word dada, a child's word meaning hobby-horse, while studying a German-French dictionary. The word expressed primitiveness, and had a quaint sound; thus was the new state of mind named.

At that time Dadaists decided against restricting their efforts to painting. They traversed the fields of poetry, of fiction and, cross our hearts, photography. Their poems are for the most part recited with the jangling of keys, and the booming of drums as accompaniment; and the photography is, as a rule, partially exposed films, with streaks of light running diagonally. The latter were named everything from Lady Unrobed to Hot Soup. But they acted in that imbecilic manner purposely. For that, dear readers, was their method of attack!

But Dada, nevertheless, spread. New Dadaists cropped up. Tristan Tzara, who had composed a book of poems by pulling words out of a hat, became more active than ever. Dadaists lectured. They started magazines. Their forces grew. They spread to New York, where Man Ray, Duchamp, and Picabia kept the ball rolling. They spread to Berlin, where Baader and Haussman took the torch on; they spread to Cologne, to Hanover, and finally to Paris. Their ranks still increased. They carried on their slow, systematic war on convention.

But the way they went about it!

Duchamp, New York's own pet Dadaist, was the most original in the game of 'make to break'. He was the genius who thought of signing typewriter covers, toilet fixtures, and hatracks with his own name, and presenting them as masterpieces of art at his own exhibitions! Another stroke of genius was signing a conventional type of picture, (painted by another man), with his own name, and calling it a 'readymade'.

Duchamp was a pleasant man to have around the house. He was fond of making toys and other playthings out of glass and matchsticks, and endowing them with movement. One of his more original inventions nearly decapitated Man Ray! It was a habit of Duchamps to place clothes hangers on the floor, so that anyone who wished to commit suicide wouldn't have to go to the trouble of being run over, or taking poison. Another one of his brain storms resulted in the invention of a machine that could paralyze one's mind, or, at least drive one the least little bit crazy.

But, Duchamp, with all his publicity attracting antics, will never, if we judge by past experience, reach the heights that Dadaist Salvador Dali has attained. A Spaniard, with little training in formal art, he forsook the road of convention, and turned to Dada for expression. Like so many other Dadaists, and surrealists, if he had taken the straight road of conventional artistry, he would probably have gone far, for in all his work, a beauty of texture and style is noticeable.

Dali, like most of the revolutionary artists, has a system that he follows in all his work. Sitting before a blank canvas, he lets his brush wander, as his sub-conscious mind directs, and then names it according to the figures on the canvas. Probably the most famous of Dadaist paintings is his "Persistence of Memory," which is valued at one thousand dollars. It features dripping watches, placed over a landscape of mountains, water, and dead trees. And, by the way, it was Dali who lectured, some time ago, from the inside of a deepened diving suit, to prove that he was "plunging deeply into the human mind."

And, as the Magpie goes to press, we see, in fashion magazines, dresses, hats, and shoes, fashioned in the approved surrealist manner; we see statements by artists and writers that surrealism is here to stay; we see a recognized women's magazine come out with a Dadaist cover; we see, in the newsreels, Dadaist cars and games; and so, we ask this question; "Who's crazy now—?"

The Magpie Sings the Great Depression

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