From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Futurism was a 20th century art movement. Although a nascent Futurism can be seen surfacing throughout the very early years of the twentieth century, the 1907 essay Sketch of a New Aesthetic of Music by the Italian composer Ferruccio Busoni is sometimes claimed as its true jumping-off point. Futurism was a largely Italian and Russian movement although it also had adherents in other countries.
The Futurists explored every medium of art, including painting, sculpture, poetry, theatre, music, architecture and even gastronomy. The Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti was the first among them to produce a manifesto of their artistic philosophy in his Manifesto of Futurism (1909), first released in Milan and published in the French paper Le Figaro (February 20). Marinetti summed up the major principles of the Futurists, including a passionate loathing of ideas from the past, especially political and artistic traditions. He and others also espoused a love of speed, technology and violence. The car, the plane, the industrial town were all legendary for the Futurists, because they represented the technological triumph of man over nature.
Marinetti's impassioned polemic immediately attracted the support of the young Milanese painters —Boccioni, Carrà, and Russolo—who wanted to extend Marinetti's ideas to the visual arts (Russolo was also a composer, and introduced Futurist ideas into his compositions). The painters Balla and Severini met Marinetti in 1910 and together these artists represented Futurism's first phase.
- "We will fight with all our might the fanatical, senseless and snobbish religion of the past, a religion encouraged by the vicious existence of museums. We rebel against that spineless worshiping of old canvases, old statues and old bric-a-brac, against everything which is filthy and worm-ridden and corroded by time. We consider the habitual contempt for everything which is young, new and burning with life to be unjust and even criminal."
Futurist Painting and Sculpture in Italy 1910-1914
Marinetti's impassioned polemic immediately attracted the support of the young Milanese painters - Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carrà, and Luigi Russolo - who wanted to extend Marinetti's ideas to the visual arts. (Russolo was also a composer, and introduced Futurist ideas into his compositions). The painters Giacomo Balla and Gino Severini met Marinetti in 1910 and together with Boccioni, Carrà and Russolo issued the Manifesto of the Futurist Painters. It was couched in the violent and declamatory language of Marinetti's founding manifesto, opening with the words,
- "The cry of rebellion which we utter associates our ideals with those of the Futurist poets. These ideas were not invented by some aesthetic clique. They are an expression of a violent desire, which burns in the veins of every creative artist today. ... We will fight with all our might the fanatical, senseless and snobbish religion of the past, a religion encouraged by the vicious existence of museums. We rebel against that spineless worshipping of old canvases, old statues and old bric-a-brac, against everything which is filthy and worm-ridden and corroded by time. We consider the habitual contempt for everything which is young, new and burning with life to be unjust and even criminal."
They repudiated the cult of the past and all imitation, praised originality, "however daring, however violent", bore proudly "the smear of madness", dismissed art critics as useless, rebelled against harmony and good taste, swept away all the themes and subjects of all previous art, and gloried in science. Their manifesto did not contain a positive artistic programme, which they attempted to create in their subsequent Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting. The Technical Manifesto committed them to a "universal dynamism", which was to be directly represented in painting. Objects in reality were not separate from one another or from their surroundings: "The sixteen people around you in a rolling motor bus are in turn and at the same time one, ten four three; they are motionless and they change places. ... The motor bus rushes into the houses which it passes, and in their turn the houses throw themselves upon the motor bus and are blended with it."
The Futurist painters were slow to develop a distinctive style and subject matter. In 1910 and 1911 they used the techniques of Divisionism, breaking light and color down into a field of stippled dots and stripes, which had been originally created by Giovanni Segantini and others. Later, Severini, who lived in Paris, attributed their backwardness in style and method at this time to their distance from Paris, the centre of avant garde art. Severini was the first to come into contact with Cubism and following a visit to Paris in 1911 the Futurist painters adopted the methods of the Cubists. Cubism offered them a means of analysing energy in paintings and expressing dynamism.
They often painted modern urban scenes. Carrà's Funeral of the Anarchist Galli (1910-11) is a large canvas representing events that the artist had himself been involved in in 1904. The action of a police attack and riot is rendered energetically with diagonals and broken planes. His Leaving the Theatre (1910-11) uses a Divisionist technique to render isolated and faceless figures trudging home at night under street lights.
Boccioni's The City Rises (1910) represents scenes of construction and manual labour with a huge, rearing red horse in the centre foreground, which workmen struggle to control. His States of Mind, in three large panels, The Farewell, Those who Go, and Those Who Stay, "made his first great statement of Futurist painting, bringing his interests in Bergson, Cubism and the individual's complex experience of the modern world together in what has been described as one of the 'minor masterpieces' of early twentieth century painting." (Humphreys, R. Futurism, Tate Gallery, 1999) The work attempts to convey feelings and sensations experienced in time, using new means of expression, including "lines of force", which were intended to convey the directional tendencies of objects through space, "simultaneity", which combined memories, present impressions and anticipation of future events, and "emotional ambience" in which the artist seeks by intuition to link sympathies between the exterior scene and interior emotion.
Boccioni's intentions in art were strongly influenced by the ideas of Bergson, including the idea of intuition, which Bergson defined as a simple, indivisible experience of sympathy through which one is moved into the inner being of an object to grasp what is unique and ineffable within it. The Futurists aimed through their art thus to enable the viewer to apprehend the inner being of what they depicted. Boccioni developed these ideas at length in his book, Pittura scultura Futuriste: Dinamismo plastico (Futurist Painting Sculpture: Plastic Dynamism) (1914).
Balla's Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash (1912) exemplifies the Futurists' insistence that the perceived world is in constant movement. The painting depicts a dog whose legs, tail and leash - and the feet of the person walking it - have been multiplied to a blur of movement. It illustrates the precepts of the Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting that, "On account of the persistency of an image upon the retina, moving objects constantly multiply themselves; their form changes like rapid vibrations, in their mad career. Thus a running horse has not four legs, but twenty, and their movements are triangular." His Rhythm of the Bow (1912) similarly depicts the movements of a violinist's hand and instrument, rendered in rapid strokes within a triangular frame.
The adoption of Cubism determined the style of much subsequent Futurist painting, which Boccioni and Severini in particular continued to render in the broken colors and short brush-strokes of divisionism. But Futurist painting differed in both subject matter and treatment from the quiet and static Cubism of Picasso, Braque and Gris. Although there were Futurist portraits (e.g. Carrà's Woman with Absinthe (1911), Severini's Self-Portrait (1912), and Boccioni's Matter (1912)), it was the urban scene and vehicles in motion that typified Futurist painting - e.g. Severini's Dynamic Hieroglyph of the Bal Tabarin (1912) and Russolo's Automobile at Speed (1913)
In 1912 and 1913, Boccioni turned to sculpture to translate into three dimensions his Futurist ideas. In Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913) he attempted to realise the relationship between the object and its environment, which was central to his theory of "dynamism". The sculpture represents a striding figure, cast in bronze posthumously and exhibited in the Tate Gallery. (It now appears on the national side of Italian 20 eurocent coins). He explored the theme further in Synthesis of Human Dynamism (1912), Speeding Muscles (1913) and Spiral Expansion of Speeding Muscles (1913). His ideas on sculpture were published in the Technical Manifesto of Futurist Sculpture In 1915 Balla also turned to sculpture making abstract "reconstructions", which were created out of various materials, were apparently moveable and even made noises. He said that, after making twenty pictures in which he had studied the velocity of automobiles, he understood that "the single plane of the canvas did not permit the suggestion of the dynamic volume of speed in depth ... I felt the need to construct the first dynamic plastic complex with iron wires, cardboard planes, cloth and tissue paper, etc." (Marianne W. Futurist Art and Theory, Hacker Art Books, New York, 1978)
In 1914, personal quarrels and artistic differences between the Milan group, around Marinetti, Boccioni, and Balla, and the Florence group, around Carrà, Ardengo Soffici (1879-1964) and Giovanni Papini (1881-1956), created a rift in Italian Futurism. The Florence group resented the dominance of Marinetti and Boccioni, whom they accused of trying to establish "an immobile church with an infallible creed", and each group dismissed the other as passéiste.
Futurism had from the outset admired violence and was intensely patriotic. The Futurist Manifesto had declared, "We will glorify war - the world's only hygiene - militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn for woman." Although it owed much of its character and some of its ideas to radical political movements, it was not much involved in politics until the autumn of 1913. Then, fearing the re-election of Giolitti, Marinetti published a political manifesto. In 1914 the Futurists began to campaign actively against the Austro-Hungarian empire, which still controlled some Italian territories, and Italian neutrality between the major powers. In September, Boccioni, seated in the balcony of the Teatro dal Verme in Milan, tore up an Austrian flag and threw it into the audience, while Marinetti waved an Italian flag.
The outbreak of war disguised the fact that Italian Futurism had come to an end. The Florence group had formally acknowledged their withdrawal from the movement by the end of 1914. Boccioni produced only one war picture and was killed in 1916. Severini painted some significant war pictures in 1915 (e.g. War, Armored Train, and Red Cross Train), but in Paris turned towards Cubism and post-war was associated with the Return to Order.
After the war, Marinetti attempted to revive the movement in il secondo Futurismo.
Futurist Antonio Sant'Elia has probably been the most influential architect of the twentieth century. His idea of modernity was expressed in his series of drawings for "La Città Nuova" ("The New City") project (1912-1914).
Cubo-Futurism was the main school of Russian Futurism which imbued influence of Cubism and developed in Russia in 1913.
Like their Italian predecessors, the Russian Futurists — Velimir Khlebnikov, Aleksey Kruchenykh, Vladimir Mayakovsky, David Burlyuk — were fascinated with dynamism, speed, and restlessness of modern urban life. They purposely sought to arouse controversy and to attract publicity by repudiating static art of the past. The likes of Pushkin and Dostoevsky, according to them, should have been "heaved overboard from the steamship of modernity". They acknowledged no authorities whatsoever; even Marinetti, principles of whose manifesto they adopted earlier — when he arrived to Russia on a proselytizing visit in 1914 — was obstructed by most Russian Futurists who now did not profess to owe anything to him.
In contrast to Marinetti's circle, Russian Futurism was a literary rather than artistic movement. Although many leading poets (Mayakovsky, Burlyuk) dabbled in painting, their interests were primarily literary. On the other hand, such well-established artists as Mikhail Larionov, Natalia Goncharova, and Kazimir Malevich found inspiration in the refreshing imagery of Futurist poems and experimented with versification themselves. The poets and painters attempted to collaborate on such innovative productions as the Futurist opera Victory Over the Sun, with texts by Kruchenykh and sets contributed by Malevich.
The movement began to waste away after the revolution of 1917. Many prominent members of the Russian Futurism emigrated abroad. Artists like Mayakovsky and Malevich become the prominent members of the Soviet establishment and Agitprop of the 1920s. Others like Khlebnikov were persecuted for their beliefs.
Futurism in music
Futurist music rejected tradition and introduced experimental sounds inspired by machinery. It influenced several 20th century composers.
Francesco Balilla Pratella joined the Futurist movement in 1910 and wrote a Manifesto of Futurist Musicians in which he appealed to the young, as had Marinetti, because only they could understand what he had to say. According to Pratella, Italian music was inferior to music abroad. He praised the "sublime genius" of Wagner and saw some value in the work of other contemporary composers, for example Richard Strauss, Elgar, Mussorgsky, and Sibelius. By contrast, the Italian symphony was dominated by opera in an "absurd and anti-musical form". The conservatories encouraged backwardness and mediocrity. The publishers perpetuated mediocrity and the domination of music by the "rickety and vulgar" operas of Puccini and Umberto Giordano. The only Italian Pratella could praise was his teacher Pietro Mascagni, because he had rebelled against the publishers and attempted innovation in opera, but even Mascagni was too traditional for Pratella's tastes. In the face of this mediocrity and conservatism, Pratella unfurled "the red flag of Futurism, calling to its flaming symbol such young composers as have hearts to love and fight, minds to conceive, and brows free of cowardice".
Luigi Russolo (1885-1947) wrote The Art of Noises (1913), which is considered to be one of the most important and influential texts in 20th century musical aesthetics. Russolo used instruments he called intonarumori, which were acoustic noise generators that permitted the performer to create and control the dynamics and pitch of several different types of noises. Russolo and Marinetti gave the first concert of Futurist music, complete with intonarumori, in 1914.
Futurism was one of several 20th century movements in art music that paid homage to, included or imitated machines. Feruccio Busoni has been seen as anticipating some Futurist ideas, though he remained wedded to tradition. Russolo's intonarumori influenced Stravinsky, Honegger, Antheil, Edgar Varèse, Stockhausen and John Cage.Template:Fact In Pacific 231, Honegger imitated the sound of a steam locomotive. There are also Futurist elements in Prokofiev's The Steel Step.
Most notable in this respect, however, is George Antheil. His fascination with machinery is evident in his Airplane Sonata, Death of the Machines, and the 30-minute Ballet mécanique. The Ballet mécanique was originally intended to accompany an experimental film by Fernand Léger, but the musical score is twice the length of the film and now stands alone. The score calls for a percussion ensemble consisting of three xylophones, four bass drums, a tam-tam, three airplane propellers, seven electric bells, a siren, two "live pianists", and sixteen synchronized player pianos. Antheil's piece was the first to synchronize machines with human players and to exploit the difference between what machines and humans can play.
Futurism in literature
Futurism as a literary movement made its official debut with F.T. Marinetti's Manifesto of Futurism (1909), as it delineated the various ideals Futurist poetry should strive for. Poetry, the predominate medium of Futurist literature, can be characterized by its unexpected combinations of images and hyper-conciseness (not to be confused with the actual length of the poem). Theater also has an important place within the Futurist universe. Works in this genre have scenes that are few sentences long, have an emphasis on nonsensical humor, and attempt to discredit the deep rooted traditions via parody and other devaluation techniques. The longer forms of literature, such as the novel, had no place in the Futurist aesthetic of speed and compression.
Futurism in film
When interviewed about her favorite film of all times, famed movie critic Pauline Kael stated that the director Dimitri Kirsanoff, in his silent experimental film Ménilmontant "developed a technique that suggests the movement known in painting as Futurism".
Futurism in the 1920s and 1930s
Many Italian Futurists instinctively supported the rise of Fascism in Italy in the hope of modernizing the society and the economy of a country that was still torn between unfulfilled industrial revolution in the North and the rural, archaic South. Marinetti founded the Partito Politico Futurista (Futurist Political Party) in early 1918, which only a year later was absorbed into Benito Mussolini's Fasci di combattimento, making Marinetti one of the first supporters and members of the National Fascist Party. However, he opposed Fascism's later canonical exultation of existing institutions, calling them "reactionary", and, after walking out of the 1920 Fascist party congress in disgust, withdrew from politics for three years. Nevertheless, he stayed a notable force in developing the party thought throughout the regime. Some Futurists' aestheticization of violence and glorification of modern warfare as the ultimate artistic expression and their intense nationalism also induced them to embrace Fascism. Many Futurists became associated with the regime in the 1920s, which gave them both official recognition and the ability to carry out important works, especially in architecture.
Throughout the Fascist regime Marinetti sought to make Futurism the official state art of Italy but failed to do so. Mussolini was personally uninterested in art and chose to give patronage to numerous styles and movements in order to keep artists loyal to the regime. Opening the exhibition of art by the Novecento Italiano group in 1923 he said, "I declare that it is far from my idea to encourage anything like a state art. Art belongs to the domain of the individual. The state has only one duty: not to undermine art, to provide humane conditions for artists, to encourage them from the artistic and national point of view." Mussolini's mistress, Margherita Sarfatti, who was as able a cultural entrepreneur as Marinetti, successfully promoted the rival Novecento group, and even persuaded Marinetti to sit on its board. Although in the early years of Italian Fascism modern art was tolerated and even embraced, towards the end of the 1930s, right-wing Fascists introduced the concept of "degenerate art" from Germany to Italy and condemned Futurism.
Marinetti made numerous moves to ingratiate himself with the regime, becoming less radical and avant garde with each. He moved from Milan to Rome to be nearer the centre of things. He became an academician despite his condemnation of academies, married despite his condemnation of marriage, promoted religious art after the Lateran Treaty of 1929 and even reconciled himself to the Catholic church, declaring that Jesus was a Futurist.
Some leftists who came to Futurism in the earlier years continued to oppose Marinetti's artistic and political direction of Futurism. Leftists continued to be associated with Futurism right up until 1924, when the socialists, communists, anarchists and anti-Fascists finally walked out of the Milan Congress, and the anti-Fascist voices in Futurism were not completely silenced until the annexation of Ethiopia and the Italo-German Pact of Steel in 1939.
Futurism expanded to encompass many artistic domains and ultimately included painting, sculpture, ceramics, graphic design, industrial design, interior design, theatre design, textiles, drama, literature, music and architecture. In architecture, it was characterized by a distinctive thrust towards rationalism and modernism through the use of advanced building materials. In Italy, futurist architects were often at odds with the Fascist state's tendency towards Roman imperial/classical aesthetic patterns. However several interesting Futurist buildings were built in the years 1920–1940, including many public buildings: stations, maritime resorts, post offices, etc. See, for example, Trento's railway station built by Angiolo Mazzoni.
Aeropainting (aeropittura) was a major expression of Futurism in the thirties and early forties. The technology and excitement of flight, directly experienced by most aeropainters, offered aeroplanes and aerial landscape as new subject matter. But aeropainting was varied in subject matter and treatment, including realism (especially in works of propaganda), abstraction, dynamism, quiet Umbrian landscapes, portraits of Mussolini (e.g. Dottori's Portrait of il Duce), devotional religious paintings and decorative art.
Aeropainting was launched in a manifesto of 1929, Perspectives of Flight, signed by Benedetta, Depero, Dottori, Fillia, Marinetti, Prampolini, Somenzi and Tato. The artists stated that "The changing perspectives of flight constitute an absolutely new reality that has nothing in common with the reality traditionally constituted by a terrestrial perspective" and that "Painting from this new reality requires a profound contempt for detail and a need to synthesise and transfigure everything." Crispolti identifies three main "positions" in aeropainting: "a vision of cosmic projection, at its most typical in Prampolini's 'cosmic idealism' ... ; a 'reverie' of aerial fantasies sometimes verging on fairy-tale (for example in Dottori ...); and a kind of aeronautical documentarism that comes dizzyingly close to direct celebration of machinery (particularly in Crali, but also in Tato and Ambrosi)." Eventually there were over a hundred aeropainters. The most able were Balla, Depero, Prampolini, Dottori and Crali.
Fortunato Depero was the co-author with Balla of The Futurist Reconstruction of the Universe, (1915) a radical manifesto for the revolution of everyday life. He practised painting, design, sculpture, graphic art, illustration, interior design, stage design and ceramics. The decorative element comes to the fore in Depero's later painting, e.g. Train Born from the Sun (1924). He applied this approach in theatre design and commercial art - e.g. his unrealised designs for Stravinsky's Chant du Rossignol, (1916) his large tapestry, The Court of the Big Doll (1920) and his many posters.
Enrico Prampolini pursued a programme of abstract and quasi-abstract painting, combined with a career in stage design. His Spatial-Landscape Construction (1919) is quasi-abstract with large flat areas in bold colours, predominantly red, orange, blue and dark green. His Simultaneous Landscape (1922) is totally abstract, with flat colours and no attempt to create perspective. In his Umbrian Landscape (1929), produced in the year of the Aeropainting Manifesto, Prampolini returns to figuration, representing the hills of Umbria. But by 1931 he had adopted "cosmic idealism", a biomorphic abstractionism quite different from the works of the previous decade, for example in Pilot of the Infinite (1931) and Biological Apparition (1940).
Gerardo Dottori made a specifically Futurist contribution to landscape painting, which he frequently shows from an aerial viewpoint. Some of his landscapes appear to be more conventional than Futurist, e.g. his Hillside Landscape (1925). Others are dramatic and lyrical, e.g. The Miracle of Light (1931-2), which employs his characteristic high viewpoint over a schematised landscape with patches of brilliant colour and a non-naturalistic perspective reminiscent of pre-Renaissance painting; over the whole are three rainbows, in non-naturalistic colour. More typically Futurist is his major work, the Velocity Triptych of 1925.
Dottori was one of the principal exponents of Futurist sacred art. His painting of St. Francis Dying at Porziuncola has a strong landscape element and a mystical intent conveyed by distortion, dramatic light and colour.
Mural painting was embraced by the Futurists in the Manifesto of Mural Plasticism at a time when the revival of fresco painting was being debated in Italy. Dottori carried out many mural commissions including the Altro Mondo in Perugia (1927-8) and the hydroport at Ostia (1928).
Tullio Crali, a self-taught painter, was a late adherent to Futurism, not joining until 1929. He is noted for his realistic aeropaintings, which combine "speed, aerial mechanisation and the mechanics of aerial warfare". (Osborn) His earliest aeropaintings represent military planes, Aerial Squadron and Aerial Duel (both 1929), in appearance little different from works by Prampolini or other Futurist painters. In the 1930s, his paintings became realistic, intending to communicate the experience of flight to the viewer. His best-known work, Nose Dive on the City (1939), shows an aerial dive from the pilot's point of view, the buildings below drawn in dizzying perspective.
The legacy of Futurism
Futurism influenced many other twentieth century art movements, including Art Deco, Vorticism, Constructivism, Surrealism and Dada. Futurism as a coherent and organized artistic movement is now regarded as extinct, having died out in 1944 with the death of its leader Marinetti, and Futurism was, like science fiction, in part overtaken by 'the future'.
Nonetheless the ideals of futurism remain as significant components of modern Western culture; the emphasis on youth, speed, power and technology finding expression in much of modern commercial cinema and culture. Ridley Scott consciously evoked the designs of Sant'Elia in Blade Runner. Echoes of Marinetti's thought, especially his "dreamt-of metallization of the human body", are still strongly prevalent in Japanese culture, and surface in manga/anime and the works of artists such as Shinya Tsukamoto, director of the "Tetsuo" (lit. "Ironman") films; Marinetti's legacy is also obvious in philosophical ingredients of transhumanism, especially in Europe. Futurism has produced several reactions, including the literary genre of cyberpunk — in which technology was often treated with a critical eye — whilst artists who came to prominence during the first flush of the Internet, such as Stelarc and Mariko Mori, produce work which comments on futurist ideals.
A revival of sorts of the Futurist movement began in 1988 with the creation of the Neo-Futurist style of theatre in Chicago, which utilizes Futurism's focus on speed and brevity to create a new form of immediate theatre. Currently, there are active Neo-Futurist troupes in Chicago and New York.
Another revival in the San Francisco area, perhaps best described as Post-Futurist, centers around the band Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, who took their name from a (possibly fictitious) Futurist press organization (described by founder John Kane as "the fastest museum alive") dating back to 1916. SGM's lyrics and (very in-depth) liner notes routinely quote and reference Marinetti and The Futurist Manifesto, and juxtapose them with opposing views such as those presented in Industrial Society and Its Future (also known as the Unabomber Manifesto, attributed to Theodore Kaczynski).
Prominent Futurist artists
- Giacomo Balla, painter
- Umberto Boccioni, painter, sculptor
- Anton Giulio Bragaglia
- David Burliuk, painter
- Vladimir Burliuk, painter
- Mario Carli
- Carlo Carrà, painter
- Ambrogio Casati, painter
- Primo Conti, artist
- Tullio Crali
- Luigi De Giudici, painter
- Fortunato Depero, painter
- Gerardo Dottori, painter, poet and art critic
- Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, poet
- Vladimir Mayakovsky, poet
- Angiolo Mazzoni, architect
- Aldo Palazzeschi, writer
- Giovanni Papini, writer
- Luigi Russolo, painter, musician, instrument builder
- Antonio Sant'Elia, architect
- Hugo Scheiber, painter
- Gino Severini, painter
- Bela Kadar, painter
- Mario Sironi, painter
- Ardengo Soffici, painter and writer
- Musica Futurista
- Future studies
- Rayonism (also as Rayonnism)
- Universal Flowering
- Russian futurism
- Art manifesto
- Futurist meals