Schwitters' initial artistic training was as a painter at the Dresden Academy of Art, where he was generally regarded as an able craftsman, but unimaginative. He was from an affluent Hanover family; necessity never drove him to develop his talents. The Expressionists in Hanover around 1916 invigorated and challenged him, but he proved unable to become an important painter. In the next few years, he discovered the Dada movements of Zurich and Berlin. Hans Arp, a Dadaist and pioneer of collage methods as art, persuaded Schwitters to abandon painting, which he did in favor of collage. This proved more fruitful for him, and he developed his own style quickly, calling it Merz.
The following decades were a relentless string of acts in the spirit of intelligently non-brutal public opposition. His Merz works were picture/collages made from bus tickets, string, and anything else an urban European would see on the street as an everyday occurrence, presented in sensitive arrangements that demonstrated a clear eye for beautiful form. In these pieces, realism rubbed shoulders with abstraction. The Dadaists wanted to claim him as one of their own, but instead he found himself among the more serious and substantial, avant-garde abstractionists, including Klee and Kandinsky. In the early 1920s Schwitters committed himself to three completely successful and separate enterprises. He began his own magazine, Merz, which was obviously about his art and the art he advocated. As well, he began, with mind-boggling confidence, a successful advertising agency. He completed and recorded the Ursonate. During this same period he also constructed Merzbau installations, wonderful rooms with a purely aesthetic attitude toward normally functional spaces. With the rise of National Socialism he was gradually became less and less safe in his outspoken, avant-garde views and lifestyle. He had the honor of being in their famous "Degenerate Art" exhibition in 1937, where his Merz works were featured among many of the best artists of the century. He went to England and carried on with his art, but he failed to generate much interest there. Cut off from his own business interests in Germany, he died poor in England at the age of 60.