Art in early 20th century Italy was centered around the past. The atmosphere must have felt stifling and oppressive to those with creative spirits. One such individual was Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. In 1908 he began working on a declaration — which was first published as a preface to a volume of poetry in January of the following year. It’s quite an interesting document to read.
Later, his “Manifesto of Futurism” was published in Paris newspapers, expressing his concept of “a new beauty”. Wikipedia says:
The Manifesto of Futurism … expresses an artistic philosophy called Futurism that was a rejection of the past and a celebration of speed, machinery, violence, youth, and industry. It also advocated the modernization and cultural rejuvenation of Italy.
You can, if you wish, read the complete manifesto here, or you might choose instead to watch this fun little animated video that presents it in quite an amusing way.
Another fun film clip comes from Curious Muse:
While “futurism” may have begun in literary circles, it spread into the world of visual arts. Part of its intent was to “shock” people, to be scandalous. After one of Marinetti’s stage productions was ridiculed, he added provisions that futuristic works should be heckled and criticized.
As an “art form”, futurism led to much performance art complete with “modernistic” costumes, as well as to much colorful, almost abstract art. It’s all about speed, energy, machinery, and the world moving forward.
Below is “Dynamism of a Cyclist” by Umberto Boccioni. I love the brightness and the real sense of “dynamism” I feel when I view this oil painting.
Another of his works, The City Rises, painted in 1910, also caught my eye as I browsed about the Internet to learn more about futurism.
Another futuristic artist was Giacomo Ball. Here is one of his works — The Car Has Passed
And from Gino Severini we have Suburban Train Arriving in Paris:
Art historians believe it’s difficult for us today to fully understand and appreciate the futurist movement. We are quite accustomed to machinery, robots, technology, and a “need for speed” — so much so that there’s even a video game based on the latter. That’s technology meeting technology, I suppose. The point is, we don’t see these new-fangled ideas as revolutionary, world-changing, or note-worthy. We simply accept them and move on with our lives.
But imagine how different the world was in early 20th century Italy. Imagine buildings going up, machinery running, gears grinding, trains rolling across the countryside, and even automobiles carrying people quickly to their destinations. Oh, what mind-boggling achievements those surely must have seemed.
I do like this futurist art now that I’ve learned about it. I think I most love the energy I feel in each of the paintings shown above. Yet while it’s interesting, I wouldn’t want to be around too much of it, or spend too much time with it. It’s a bit too energetic, perhaps.
It’s much like visiting New York City. It’s filled with energy. You can feel it all around you; you can breathe it in the air. And, you know that old saying about New York City: It’s a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.
That’s my feeling about futurism. I love “visiting” these paintings, reading about the crazy “art” performances that came out of this movement, and getting acquainted with the founders, but a little goes a long way for me. I wouldn’t want to live in a fast-paced, futuristic world, at least not without places I can retreat to, gentle scenes that soothe me, and colors of a slightly more peaceful palette.