Jean Arp was born in Strasburg on September 16, 1886 to a German father and Alsatian mother. As a young man, Arp spent a short time studying Ecole des Arts et Métiers, but left to study at the Kunschuk Weinmar from 1905-1907. In 1908, he went to Paris, where he attended the Academie Julian.
After spending a few years in Switzerland, Arp returned to Paris and fell into an artistic circle that included Guillaume Apollinaire, Max Jacob, Amadeo Modigliani, and Pablo Picasso. Arp, however, only stayed in Paris for one year, returning to Zurich in 1915 where he commenced an artistic relationship with Sobie Taeuber, his future wife. That following year, Hugo Ball opened the Cabaret Voltaire, which acted as a meeting palce for many in the Dadaist movement, including Arp. Even after leaving Zurich in 1919, Arp continued his Dadaist activities, participating in the Exposition Internationale Dada at the Galerie Montaigne in Paris.
During the twenties, Arp became a member of the Surrealists, and this included showing his work in the first exhibition of the Surrealists at the Galerie Pierre in Paris in 1925. Arp was interest in automatism (involuntary or unconscious action), and used this method in his work. For example, he would often create collages with torn paper that he would let fall freely to the ground and then glue to where they landed. He also produced many abstract reliefs in wood during this time. After 1928, however, Arp began to focus more on creating three-dimensional sculptures in the round. His interest in these simple, anthroporphic forms appealed to the Surrealists, particularly Joan Miró.
From the 1930s until his death on June 7, 1966, Arp spent a large part of his time writing and publishing poetry and essays. He contributed to magazines, such as Merz, Mecano, destijl and La Revolution Surrealiste. His visual work, however, continued to bring him great acclaim, including a grand prize for sculpture at at 1954 Venice Biennale. In 1958, he was honored with a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and four years later at the Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris.