AskDefine | Define futurism

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1 an artistic movement in Italy around 1910 that tried to express the energy and values of the machine age
2 the position that the meaning of life should be sought in the future

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  1. An early 20th century avant-garde art movement focused on speed, the mechanical, and the modern, which took a deeply antagonistic attitude to traditional artistic conventions. Originated by F.T. Marinetti, among others.
  2. The study and prediction of possible futures.


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Extensive Definition

Futurism was an art movement that originated in Italy at the beginning of the 20th century. Although a nascent Futurism can be seen surfacing throughout the very early years of the twentieth century, the 1907 essay Entwurf einer neuen Ästhetik der Tonkunst (Sketch of a New Aesthetic of Music) by the Italian composer Ferruccio Busoni is sometimes claimed as its true starting point. Futurism was a largely Italian and Russian movement, although it also had adherents in other countries, England for example.
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 (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. Futurists dubbed the love of the past passéisme. The car, the plane, the industrial town were all legendary for the Futurists, because they represented the technological triumph of people over nature.

Futurist Painting and Sculpture in Italy 1910-1914

Marinetti's impassioned immediately attracted the support of the young Milanese Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carrà, and 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,
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 technique of divisionism, breaking light and color down into a field of stippled dots and stripes, which had been originally created by Seurat. Severini, who lived in Paris, 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." 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)
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

One of the many 20th century classical movements in music was one which involved homage to, inclusion of, or imitation of machines. Closely identified with the central Italian Futurist movement were brother composers Luigi Russolo and Antonio Russolo, who used instruments known as "intonarumori", which were essentially sound boxes used to create music out of noise. Luigi Russolo's futurist manifesto, The Art of Noises, is considered to be one of the most important and influential texts in 20th century musical aesthetics. Other examples of futurist music include Arthur Honegger's Pacific 231, which imitates the sound of a steam locomotive, Prokofiev's "The Steel Step", and the experiments of Edgard Varèse. Most notably, however, might be composer George Antheil. Embraced by dadists, futurists, and modernists alike, he was championed as the musical face of the radical movements of the 1920s. The culmination of his machine obsession, as seen in previous works such as "Airplane Sonata" and "Death of the Machines", was manifest in the 30 min. Ballet mécanique. Originally accompanied by an experimental film by Fernand Leger but scratched due to the length of the score being twice that of the film, the autograph score calls for a daring and bold percussion ensemble, consisting of 3 xylophones, 4 bass drums, a tam-tam, three airplane propellers (one large wood, one small wood, one metal), seven electric bells, a siren, 2 "live pianists", and 16 synchronized player pianos. At the time it was written however, synchronizing 16 player pianos was impossible and was performed in a reduced form (in 1999 the piece was fully realized to a great success). Antheil's piece was a first for music in synchronizing machines with human players, and in exploiting the various differences between the technical competence of humans and machines (that is to say, what machines can play vs. what people can't, and vice versa); this ideology can be seen reflected in even modern day music where the philosophy that man and machine need each other to create the best music has led to the incorporation of software into live performances. Antheil himself described his piece as a "solid shaft of steel."

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 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 Novecento art 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 that 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.
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". 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.
Futurism expanded to encompass other 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.

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. 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


Further reading

  • Gentile, Emilo. 2003. The Struggle for Modernity: Nationalism, Futurism, and Fascism. Praeger Publishers. ISBN 0-275-97692-0
  • I poeti futuristi, dir. by M. Albertazzi, w. essay of G. Wallace and M. Pieri, Trento, La Finestra editrice, 2004. ISBN 88-88097-82-1
  • John Rodker (1927). The future of futurism. New York: E.P. Dutton & company.
  • Futurism & Sport Design, edited by M. Mancin, Montebelluna-Cornuda, Antiga Edizioni, 2006. ISBN 88-88997-29-6
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