Jean Hans Arp (1887-1966) Skip to Images
French poet, essayist, diarist, painter, and sculptor.
Founder of the Dadaist movement and a participant in literary and visual surrealism, Jean Arp was one of the most prominent artists of the twentieth century. Arp wrote surrealist poetry as well as essays discussing avant garde art and his own artistic vision.
As a founder and adherent of Dadaism, Arp believed that artistic creation should mirror creation in the natural world. Because of this belief, Arp frequently used collage to symbolize the law of chance. Similarly, he used the collage form in his poetry, bringing together seemingly disparate images to form a whole. Arp's earliest poetry is strongly influenced by nineteenth-century German Romanticism as well as by German folk and fairy tales. In 1912 he had begun experimenting with poetic styles that echoed his interest in abstract visual art. In the poems in both Der vogel selbdritt (1920) and Die wolkenpumpe (1920) Arp was still using Romantic imagery, but his forms and style were becoming more spontaneous and whimsical but simultaneously apocalyptic, reflecting the mood of World War I-era Europe. While Arp was in Zurich, he and the other Dadaists involved in the Cabaret Voltaire participated in poetry experiments known as automatic poetry, in which poems were composed verbally onstage by a variety of people speaking different languages at the same time. These poetry performances further influenced Arp's poetry writing, as he explained in Unsern Täglichen Traum (1955), his account of his years with the Dadaists in Zurich. Arp's poetry in the 1920s reflected the end of the Dada period. Rather than focusing on subjects rooted in nature, Arp began to write about commonplace objects in unexpected and unusual juxtapositions. Arp called these surreal combinations “object language.” The poems in Weisst du schwarzt du (1930) revolve around the opposition of black and white. After the deaths of his mother and wife, Arp produced a number of meditative elegies on dreams, life, and death, turning again to the nature imagery of his earlier writing. For the poems in Poèmes sans prénoms (1941) Arp was influenced by medieval and Renaissance mysticism, particularly the elements of alchemy and geometry. In the 1940s and 1950s Arp published some of his best-known poetry anthologies, including Le siège de l'air (1946) and wortträume und schwarze sterne (1953). In the last decade of his life Arp's poetry became more meditative and probed religious issues, particularly his continuing despair over the loss of Taueber and his hope for an afterlife.
Widely considered one of the most important and influential artists of the twentieth century, Arp also bore a strong hand in shaping the century's poetry. Critics have praised his emphasis on the sense and order of the alogical, and especially his focus on chance in the writing of his poetry. Additionally, many critics have found that Arp's poetry gives equal weight to both sound and sense, producing a sense of organic unity. Raoul Hausmann wrote of Arp's influence: “Arp was incontestably one of the most important innovators in French poetry.”