Arp was born in
Strasbourg, the son of a
French mother and a
German father, during the period following the
Franco-Prussian War when the area was known as
Alsace-Lorraine (Elsass-Lothringen in German) after
France had ceded it to
Germany in 1871. Following the return of Alsace to France at the end of
World War I, French law determined that his name become Jean.
In 1904, after leaving the
École des Arts et Métiers in
Strasbourg, he went to
Paris where he published his poetry for the first time. From 1905 to 1907, Arp studied at the
Germany, and in 1908 went back to Paris, where he attended the
Académie Julian. Arp was a founder-member of the Moderne Bund in Lucerne, participating in their exhibitions from 1911 to 1913.
In 1912, he went to Munich, called on
Wassily Kandinsky, the influential
painter and art
theorist, was encouraged by him in his researches and exhibited with the
Der Blaue Reiter group.
 Later that year, he took part in a major exhibition in Zürich, along with
Robert Delaunay and
 In Berlin in 1913, he was taken up by
Herwarth Walden, the dealer and magazine editor who was at that time one of the most powerful figures in the European avant-garde.
In 1915, he moved to
Switzerland to take advantage of Swiss neutrality. Arp later told the story of how, when he was notified to report to the German consulate, he avoided being
drafted into the
German Army: he took the paperwork he had been given and, in the first blank, wrote the date. He then wrote the date in every other space as well, then drew a line beneath them and carefully added them up. He then took off all his clothes and went to hand in his paperwork.