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Page history last edited by PBworks 12 years, 9 months ago

by Heather Smith



Futurism: A Modern Movement 
The futurist movement began in Italy in 1909 with Filippo Tomasso Marinetti’s Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism. Marinetti’s mission was to gather recognition for Italy, not as an ancient country, but as a nation embracing modernism. This manifesto “sings of danger, of violent movement, of artistic anarchy” (Hand 337). Because Marinetti had propagated his message on the front page of one of the most popular papers in Europe, the ideas of futurism spread like wildfire and fulfilled Marinetti’s wish to make futurism well-known among every level of society in Italy. Marinetti even intentionally displayed propaganda on the streets of Venice in order to reach the illiterate (Tisdall and Bozzolla 11, 12).
Futurism was a movement defined by its push to forget the burden of the past and place hope in the future:
The concept of Futurism that emerges…is that of a generally modernist movement that argues, first, that the past must be forgotten and if necessary ridiculed and, secondly, that dynamic originality welcomes the advances of modern technology, uses them functionally and discards then when they become obsolete. Therefore it is quite possible to interpret Futurism as simply a manner of thinking that places an emphasis upon doing away with the past and glorifying movement (Hand 338). 

Futurism was essentially a whole-hearted faith in the future that attempted to forego the past and avoid all of its implications. It permeated the realms of culture, intellect, and art in attempt to alter traditions in literature, architecture, poetry, theater, music, film, and politics. A new fascination with technology and machinery inspired a violent and powerful transformation. This focus on the chaos of industrial cities and machines aroused interest in speed, movement, and noise. Combined with the new concept of speed, innovative futurist ideas repudiated dull and inert traditions. Futurism was the first modern attempt to use art as a way of reorganizing society around new technology. As a whole, futurism rejected the cultured intellectual as a method of emancipation from tradition, including areas of academia as well as institutions such as museums and libraries (Martin).

In their attempts to make tradition new, or to rid the future of the past, both futurism and modernism endured the same shortcomings. These two intertwined movements were similar in that in no matter how the past was viewed, it could not disappear because the burden of history tainted everything. Neither futurism nor modernism could simply forget the past because of the inevitability of lingering remnants. Perhaps the downfall of futurism could be attributed to the inability to fully embody its vision, or to the death of Marinetti in 1944, or to the end of WWII as futurism was rooted in politics and closely tied to fascism (Osborn).



The Face of Futurism: Evidence in the Artistic, Cinematic, and Musical Realms 
            The futurist ideas promulgated by Marinetti in his Manifesto came to life through art. In 1910, five Italian futurist artists—Giacomo Balla, Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carra, Gino Severini, and Luigi Russolo—signed the "Futurist Painting: Technical Manifesto." They wanted to create a new identity for Italy in the modern world, separate from its Renaissance past. Futurists, therefore, idealized those who rebelled against conventional constraints and dared to be evocative and innovative. Futurist art, inspired by cubism, used bright colors and fragmented images created by intersecting lines and planes. Artists experimented with light and color, movement and speed, plastic dynamism of form, interpenetration of subjects, and the shattering effect borrowed from cubism (Osborn). 






                               "Speeding Muscles" and

                     "Spiral Expanision of Speeding Muscles"                                                     "The City Rises"

                               (Umberto Boccioni -1913)                                                     (Umberto Boccioni - 1910)


         Boccioni's work here depicts man in motion, moving forward,            "A painting three meters by two in which I attempted

            and shows the great power within the human body.                      a great synthesis of labor, light, and movement . . .

                                                                                                    It is done completely without models, and all the tricks

                                                                                                       of the trade are sacrificed to the ultimate cause of

                                                                                                              emotional expression." Boccioni (Wu)




                                                   Red Cross Train Passing a Village


                             "Abstract Speed and Sound"                                                 "Red Cross Train Passing a Village"

                              (Giacomo Balla - 1913-14)                                                            (Gino Severini - 1914)


               Balla sought to capture the intensity and speed                            Once again, a depiction of an object, this time

                of a car in motion. Notice how the landscape is                             a train, in motion. Notice the prototypical bold,

              broken by the burst of momentous energy and inertia                 vibrant, contrasting colors, and the juxtaposed images.

                as the the car passes by.  The zigzagging and                    

             crisscrossing of lines and intersecting planes mimics

                the pattern of the sound waves produced 

                                 by the movement.      



Energy and speed were not limited to works of art, but saturated the cinematic arena as well. Futurists in the realm of cinematic production embraced an entirely new means of displaying multiple viewpoints and depicting movement.  They were concerned with fragmentation and recombination, but showed greater interest in the ideas of speed and movement (Norden).
The futurist drive to embody the chaos of city life was displayed through art and cinema as well as through musical alterations. The first musical manifesto was constructed by Balilla Pratella and advocated for the creation of music within an environment of freedom while disregarding the concepts of consonance and dissonance in music. Futurist composer, Luigi Russolo, began to incorporate noise into his pieces as a way of bringing musical complexity to a new level. Sounds of the time, such as the automobile, trains, the steamer ships, and airplanes were to be reflected in the music. Russolo classified his sounds into 6 separate categories and even developed a new instrument called the Intonarumori, which embodied the sounds (“Futurism”):
1. Roars, thunders, bursts, explosions, gushings, showers of water, splashes, rumbles.
2. Whistlings, hissings, puffs.
3. Whispers, murmuring, grumbles, confused noises, gurglings.
4. Scrapings, creakings, gratings, rustlings, buzzings, cracklings, rubbings, shufflings.
5. Noises obtained percussively on: metals, woods, skins, stones terrcotta.
6. Voices of animals and men: shouting, screams, groan, shrieks, howlings, laughters, rattles, sobs.
The prevalence of noise, movement, speed, and chaos throughout works of art, film, and music demonstrates the importance of industrial city life among futurists. This modern movement attempted to restructure society as it erased static traditions of art and renounced the old emphasis on the cultured intellectual. As Perloff writes, “Futurist ethos was no more than a poignant expression of the alienation of the modernist artist from the bourgeois society” (33). By devaluing tradition emphases, these overlooked artists found a method by which they could rise up and rearrange the order of society to create a new world dominated by artists rather than intellects. Futurists called for a violent and powerful movement, which Marinetti believed would overwhelm culture and lead people to a radical hope in the future.

The Seeds of Futurism: Global Tangents


          The earliest traces of futurism in America date back to 1909 when copies of the manifesto were published in the European avant-garde magazine, Poesia, and later translated into English. Although futurist ideas had been planted into the American mindset through writing, futurism did not physically enter into the United States until May of 1915, when the first Italian Futurist paintings and sculptures were displayed in San Francisco (Hand 337). Futurism played a role in the twentieth century American modernist movement as “The ‘Futurist Moment’ was the brief utopian phase of early modernism when artists felt themselves to be on the verge of a new age that would be more exciting, more promising, more inspiring than any preceding one” (Perloff 36). 

          One of the most distinguished American futurists was Joseph Stella who became famous for painting "The Brooklyn Bridge" in 1919. The Italian-born Stella quickly gained recognition in American society for his depictions of industrialism and his attitude toward the present. His futuristic mindset is reflected in his statement, "I have seen the future and it is good. We will wipe away the religions of old and start anew." In his work, Stella also consciously addressed the issue of industry taking over religion. His "New York Interpreted" is patterned after a religious altarpiece, but displays buildings and skyscrapers rather than saints as the focus ("Joseph Stella").




                                           "The Brooklyn Bridge"                                                         "New York Interpreted"

                                           (Joseph Stella - 1919)                                                                         (Joseph Stella - 1922)                                                 



          Futurism extended into literary circles as authors attempted to decipher the relationship of the past to the present. While poets like T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound looked to classical literature as the lost tradition whose renewal would refresh and awaken society, many other writers struck a dividing line with past traditions. These, like William Carlos Williams, looked forward to new traditions in order to advance American literature just as society was progressing. Poems such as Hart Crane's "The Bridge" and the poetry of Carl Sandburg glorify America and technological advancement. Like the Italian futurists, they thrust forward with the rush of mechanics and cities in attempt to build a new representation of the American tradition.

          A British equivalent of futurism was founded by Wyndham Lewis in the early twentieth century. Vorticism, a smaller and shorter lived movement, came out of cubism and was related to futurism in its celebration of the new as well as the excitement and dynamicity of the age of machinery: “Vorticism was to take on board both futurism’s concern with an urban, technological modernity and its desire to exploit its latent energy within the pictoral space of painting” (Gasiorek). Like the futurists, the vorticitsts were in love with motion, sound, and activity. However, vorticism was an almost exclusively British movement, as opposed to the more cosmopolitan cubism and futurism. It differed from futurism in that vorticism tried to capture an image using bold lines and harsh colors to draw eyes to the center of the canvas. As its name (coined by Ezra Pound) implies, vorticism was concerned with the power and speed of the modern age. The vorticist manifesto, Blast, was supposed to be a serial, but appeared in only one edition as the movement quickly spun out of existence. Blast featured work by key writers of the time, such as Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot.






Works Cited

Gasiorek, Andrzej. “Vorticism: 1913-1920.” The Literary Encyclopedia 14 June 2003. The Literary Dictionary Company. 25 April 2007 < http://www.litencyc.com/php/stopics.php?rec=true&UID=1175>.

Hand, John Oliver. “Futurism in America: 1909-14.” Art Journal 41.4 (1981): 337-342. JSTOR. Messiah College, Murray Library. 16 Feb. 2007 <http://www.jstor.com>.


“Joseph Stella.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia 25 April 2007. 25 April 2007<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Stella>.

Martin, Marianne W. Futurist Art and Theory: 1905-1915. New York: Hacker Art Books, 1978.
Norden, Martin F. “The Avant-Garde Cinema of the 1920s: Connections to Futurism, Precisionism, and Suprematism.” Leonardo 17.2 (1984): 108-112. JSTOR. Messiah College, Murray Library. 16 Feb. 2007 <http://www.jstor.com>.
Osborn, Bob. “Futurism.” Futurism and the Futurists <http://www.futurism.org.uk/futurism.htm>.
Perloff, Marjorie. The Futurist Moment. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1986.
Tisdall, Caroline, and Angelo Bozzolla. Futurism. London: Oxford University Press, 1977.
Wu, Frank. “Futurist Art.” 3 Sept 1998. 1 April 2007 <http://www.frankwu.com/futuristart2.html>.
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Comments (2)

Anonymous said

at 3:00 pm on Mar 7, 2007

An excellent start, Heather. I'd encourage you to not rely exclusively on web sites for research, but this is a good beginning. For our purposes you might try to include some more refelction on how futurism connects or doesn't connect to the American scene.

Anonymous said

at 7:31 am on Apr 25, 2007

OK, a good basic page. It seems to me that for our purposes it might be useful to add a little more on American manifestations or relationships to futurism. The connection to vorticism is very good, for instance, and could possibly be explored in more detail. You could also ask about negative reactions to futurism in terms of American modernism. Again, just some possibilities.

I would also include a few more internal links for parties interested in following on to other issues.

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