Futurism (from Latin “futuro” – future) is one of the major vanguard movements of the 20th cent. It was represented in the fullest way in literature and fine arts of Italy and Russia.
Futurism started with publishing of its manifest by the Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti in Italian “Gazzetta dell’Emilia” on February 5, 1909, then in French “Le Figaro” on February 20, 1909. It was orientated on young artists and particularly Italians. Marinetti tried to evoke the feeling of their national pride and return them to the Olympus of European culture they had occupied during Renaissance and Baroque.
Nationalism and chauvinism, rebellious and exalted tone of the manifest together with apology of the newest scientific and industrial achievements and total rejection of spiritual values occurred to be beneficial. A group of young talented artists from Milano and other Italian cities took up the call with their works and manifestary aesthetics.
Other documents, “Manifest of Futurist Painters” and “The Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting” (signed Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carra, Luigi Russolo, Giacomo Balla and Gino Severini) were published on February, 11 and April 11, 1910 respectively. Marinetti himself had written not less 85 manifests of futuristic orientation by 1943. They covered various kinds of art and aspects of human life in general, formulating philosophical aspect of the movement. Futurism initiated tendency of gradual expanding of art’s borders. Some of ideas of Nietzsche, intuitivism of Bergson, anarchistic mottos had a great influence on the futurists’ minds.
Intoxicated by technical revolution they tried to get rid of conservative traditional culture with machinery, urbanism and science. “A roaring motor car, which looks as though running on shrapnel” for them was more beautiful than the Nike of Samothrace. Automobiles, trains, electricity were glorified in the paintings. In social aspect, futurists saw wars as “the world’s only hygiene”. They hailed World War I, many of them volunteered for the army and died on the battlefields. Futurism as a certain integral aesthetical movement came to the end with the beginning of this war. Those futurists, who survived, after returning each chosed his own way. Some joined fascist party of Mussolini, supporting his idea of forcible change of the world.
Marinetti despite living just at the dawn of technocratic era felt these innovations changed human psychology and psychophysiology of perception. That required shifts in the whole structure of art. Senses of modern human, as Severini wrote, was orientated on “machines”, so we concentrate our attention on movement. Futurists were captivated with new types of transports and explosive political situation, seditious spirit of masses and their uncontrollability, so they tried to express it all with the language of their art.
Futurist art absorbed coloristic achievements of fauvism and cubusutc methods of forms’ modeling and organization of space. Static forms of Cubism futurists filled with dynamism and psychological energy. Familiarity with some theories of vision, conceptions of fixations of an image on the eye’s retina prompted some painters to try capturing these processes on canvas.
They attempted to make viewer a center of their works and recreate movement in their imagination. Discoveries in the spheres of physics and psychology popularly explained encouraged artists to show not the objects themselves but various electric, magnetic field and “lines of force”, developing some painting attaints of Vincent van Gogh. A viewer, as futurists believed, got involved into the active participation in painted scenes by those “lines of force”.
The main artistic credo of futurism is movement, energy, power, speed, simultaneity, continuity of all facts and events, penetration of everything and through everything. They felt the Universe was soaked with rhythm and tried to show it with simple (if not primitive) means. Movement often was rendered by superimposing images of its sequential phases, so it looked as several film shots were put together. As a result, blurry “shots” of a horse or a dog with 20 legs, or a car or a bicycle with many wheels appeared. Invisible fields or emotional states were expressed with radiant, twisting in space colorforms (or plastic volumes in sculpture – as Boccioni did). Russolo in his “Revolt” (1911) depicted rebellious crowd as aggressive vermilion wedges that burst through a violet haze.
Futurists saw time as an essential fourth dimension of artistic space and realized using painting simultaneously of actions taking place at different times. And simultaneity in their interpretation referred not only to joining of external forms and occurrences: masters strived to unite various aspects of a person’s inner life into wholeness – memories, emotions, associations etc. Consequently, futurists managed to create an extremely tense and dynamic artistic space with pure painting means, no other artist before or after them could compare (except for Kandinsky in his dramatic period). Best pieces of futurism (especially by Severini, Boccioni, Balla) became a part of the world cultural heritage, though there were a lot of samples of middle or low quality made in solely experimental intentions. Nevertheless, they played an important part in history of art, having prepared ground for other movements.
Another crucial feature of futuristic aesthetics was tendency towards displaying of sounds with exclusively visual means. Noise, which had flooded the world with the appearance of new technics, charmed artists and they tried to represent it (at least constantly declared that) in their works. “We are making them sing and shout in our canvases which blast out deafening and triumphal fanfares”, as “Technical Manifest of Futurist painting” proclaimed.
So, there’s no surprise a lot of words, connected with sound were introduced into the paintings’ titles, like in “Speed of Car+Light+Noise” (1913), “The form screams: Viva l’Italia!” (1915) by Giacomo Balla. In the Russolo’s manifesto “The art of Noises”, published in 1913, the author proposed an idea of a music, composed exceptionally of natural noises – the conception that forestalled legacy of Stockhausen and Cage.
Carlo Carra in his “The Painting of Sounds, Noises, and Smells” brought the principle of synesthesia to the logical extreme, proclaiming that experience of all this unvisual phenomenons could be visualized with abstract ensembles of colors and forms. He wanted to create “plastic equivalent of the sounds, noises and smells we come across in theaters, music halls and cinema, brothels, railways station, ports […] This kind of bubbling over requires a great emotive effort, almost a delirium, on the part of the artist, who in order to render a vortex, must be a vortex of sensation himself, a pictorial force and nota cold, logical intellect”.
Desiring to unite plastic forms, tints, movement and sound in his futuristic sculptural constructions, Balla became precursor of Kinetism and other later forms of synthetic kinds of art. Boccioni, convinced that greater number of various materials (glass, wood, carton, metal, skin, horsehair, textile, mirrors, electric bulbs etc.) could amplify the emotional expressiveness of sculpture, was a harbinger of Pop-art and such types of contemporary art-objects as assemblages, installations, abstract sculpture.
Finally, it’s important to point out the strongly pronounced comsogonic character of some futuristic compositions, where painted spiral “flows ” confront radiant figures and evoke association with magnetic storms and other cataclysms in the Universe. Kandinsky was also attracted by this subject at the same time.
First major exhibition of futurism took place in Paris in 1912 and then journeyed across all main artistic centers of Europe – London, Berlin, Brussels, Hamburg, Amsterdam, Hague, Frankfurt, Dresden, Zurich, Munich, Vienne. Everywhere it had the scandalous success, yet, futurists didn’t find any serious followers anywhere, except Russia. Russian artists used to visit Europe quite regularly at that time and were largely impressed by ideas and manifests of Italians, so concordant with their own pursuits. The first futuristic manifest of Marinetti was translated into Russian and published in Petersburg on March, 8 – just in a few days after its appearance in “Le Figaro”. It immediately attracted attention of painters and writers. A new movement of cubo-futurism and rayonism (or rayonnism) emerged in Russia, represented by such outstanding artists as Mikhail Larionov, Natalia Goncharova and others.
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