ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel
  • »
  • Education and Science»
  • Art History

Futurism: Illuminating New Perspectives in the Visual Arts

Updated on August 2, 2012


Futurism: Illuminating New Perceptions in the Visual Arts

The Futurist’s vision was as clear as the light emitted from a fluorescent bulb. Penetrating and far reaching in its luminescence, the Futurists had a vision that would inundate the world with artificial light. A light that would outshine anything that Mother Nature could produce. The artist Giacomo Balla summed up this philosophy quite eloquently with his painting, The Street Light: Study of Light (fig. 1). In this painting the moon is subsumed by artificial light. Tiny vectors of red, blue and yellow spring forth from the radiating source of electrical illumination. At the center, the source shines with the ferocity of an exploding star with limitless energetic potential. Electricity feeds this artificial wonder. Electrical current pulses through the filament, ignites it and imparts it with a dynamic power which can turn night into the most lucid of days. The energy spreads outward like flood waves crashing on a parched beach. In the wake of these crashing waves of electrified color, the moon struggles to compete. In a display of dominance the incandescent bulb ultimately causes the moon to fade into the background. The mere suggestion of yellow and white is of no comparison to the dazzling array of primary colors exploding from the electrified-artificial source. The Futurists believed that with an unabashed embracement of technology anything was possible. Nature could be subsumed and corrected in all of its imperfections. Man had harnessed a power that he seemed destined to possess all along. Night no longer existed. Daylight could sweep across the night one light bulb at a time. This illumination was possible on the darkest of evenings and work could flourish under the droning luminosity of a flickering early Twentieth Century light bulb. The power of electricity was great. It created a spark and then ignited a fire that was far reaching in its scope and potential for aiding human activity. The Futurists embraced this ever growing fire with unbridled enthusiasm. They did not fear the heat and potential for destruction that it represented. Much like the performer who swallows a flaming torch, these artists believed that when harnessed the technological innovations of the early twentieth century had the ability to create a utopian society inundated with the iridescent glow of the light bulb. In this paper I will discuss the principles of the Futurism as dictated in two of the early manifestos.[1] The movement will be examined and analyzed based on the ideas put forth by the artists themselves.[2] Furthermore, I will discuss the painting Farewells(fig. 2)from Umberto Boccioni's States of Mind series. These subjects will be related to a change in perception experienced by the Futurists which was sparked by their unyielding love of modern technology.

The Futurists were aggressive and sweeping in their principles. They embraced technology in all of its forms. On February 20, 1909 the figurative pilot of the Futurist movement, F. T. Marinetti, published the first Futurist Manifesto on the front page of a French paper called Le Figaro. Marinetti began his manifesto by documenting a late night session in which he and his comrades burned the midnight oil.[3] Marinetti states that, "We had been up all night, my friends and I, under the Oriental lamps with their pierced copper domes starred like our souls - for from them burst the trapped lightening of an electric heart."[4] The author began to paint a picture in which he and his fellow Futurists had been working all through the night, fueled only by their exuberance and the electrified glow of artificial lighting. Marinetti celebrated the fact that technology had allowed him to remain active and productive well past the setting of the sun. As if animated by the same electric force in which he celebrated, Marinetti and his mates worked in discourse with reckless abandon towards the dawning of the next day. "An immense pried swelled our chests because we felt ourselves alone at that hour, alert and upright like magnificent beacons and advanced guard posts confronting the army of enemy stars staring down from their heavenly encampments."[5] Marinetti embraced the night, as if it were his muse, safely tucked away in his technological fortress in which he found himself so secure. As the sun began to rise, Marinetti heard the roar of the city tram near his abode. He was so inspired by the sound that it threw him from his preoccupations and spurred him to go outdoors. With the conviction of a commanding general, Marinetti cried out, " 'Let's go, friends! Let's go out. Mythology and the Mystical Ideal are finally overcome. We are about to witness the birth of the centaur and soon we shall see the angels fly!"[6] Driven by sound of the technology that inspired him, Marinetti made his way to his vehicle. While describing the scene, Marinetti states that, "We went up to the three snorting beasts to pat lovingly their torrid breasts, I stretched out on my machine like a corpse on a bier; but I revived at once under the steering wheel, a guillotine blade that menaced my stomach."[7] In this excerpt Marinetti hints at his exhaustion but it is technology that was his savior. Much like Christ raising Lazarus from the dead, Marinetti is raised from his fatigue by the powerful machine in which he had unyieldingly placed himself. In an act of pure exuberance, Marinetti initiated a drive around the city that could certainly not be described as a leisurely ordeal. Suddenly energized and fully fueled Marinetti says that, "The furious sweep of madness took us out of ourselves and hurled us through the streets as rough and deep as stream beds, Here and there a sick lamp in a window taught us to mistrust the fallacious mathematics of our wasted eyes."[8] Marinetti goes on to describe a reckless indulgence in speed and technology in which nothing was sacred, save the glorified enjoyment of the riders and the metallic horses that drove them in their madness. Marinetti tells us that, "And we sped on, squashing bulldogs on their doorsteps who curled up under our scorching tires like starched collars under a flat iron. Death, domesticated, overtook me at every turn to graciously offer me her paw, and from time to time she would stretch out on the ground with the sound of grinding teeth to cast up soft caressing glances from every puddle.”[9] Eventually, this cascade of metal and flesh came to a crashing halt. Marinetti became confronted with a bicyclist which he refers to as nothing more than a nuisance.[10] This bicyclist caused enough of a distraction to send Marinetti and his piston pumping chariot into a drainage ditch. In the face of assured despair, Marinetti was able to find something to grasp on to. In regards to the ditch he states that, " 'Oh! Material ditch, almost to the top with muddy water! Fair factory drainage ditch! I avidly savored your nourishing muck, remembering the holy black breast of my Sudanese nurse…. When I got out from under my upturned car - torn, filthy and stinking - I felt the red hot iron of joy pass over my heart.' "[11] So, even in the face of disaster, Marinetti found joy, or more appropriately exuberance, through technology. If he sounded cocky after his crash it is because he knew that technology got him into this mess and it will in turn get him out. After noting that a crowd had already begun to appear around his self inflicted disaster, Marinetti describes the scene as follows, "With patient and meticulous care they put a high framework and enormous iron nets to fish out my automobile like a great beached shark. The machine emerged slowly, shedding at the bottom like scales its heavy body so sound, and its soft upholstery so comfortable."[12] As his joyride came to an end, Marinetti’s outlook on the world became quite transparent.

Whether or not this introduction by Marinetti was a true account, one thing is clear; the Futurists embraced technology in all of its permutations. He saw technology as an inspiration and a savior. Marinetti painted a scene in which he and his companions were over tired, kept up exceedingly late by their whole-hearted embracement of technology. After tearing through the streets of an unnamed city, over tired and fueled only by the roar of the automobile, Marinetti finds himself buried in a ditch and covered in mud. Despite the presumed severity of his situation, Marinetti is once again uplifted by the marvels of the modern machine. Like a phoenix emerging from the ashes, Marinetti's car ascended from its murky grave to drive another day. It is clear Marinetti believed that anything was possible through technology. He put his faith in technology and as a result he felt no fear.

The Futurists were very prescriptive in their ideas and the foundations of their movement. Following his description of a morning joy ride enhanced by technological advances in the first Futurist Manifesto, Marinetti goes on to lay out a series of principles that form the rudiments of the Futurist ideology. The author described a total of eleven tenants on which Futurism was founded. In what reads like a revolutionary doctrine, Marinetti divulges his electrified ideas in forceful fashion. He sets the tone by stating that, “We intend to glorify the love of danger, the custom of energy, the strength of daring.”[13] He goes on to say that, “There is no beauty except in struggle. No masterpiece without the stamp of aggressiveness. “[14] Marinetti glorified technology but he also glorified speed, aggression and an unwieldy thirst that can only be quenched through exuberant application of the aforementioned forces. The Futurists supported war in all of its permutations. In fact, war was considered to be “The only true hygiene of the world. – militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of the anarchist, the beautiful Ideas which kill, and the scorn of a woman.”[15] The Futurist did not expect the horrendous outcome of their proclamations set to action that would be embodied by the carnage of World War I. At the time the manifesto was published, theirs was an unbridled enthusiasm. The Futurist vision was full of dominance, dynamism and aggressive force that had the potential for sweeping changes across the European continent. They envisioned their goals through an energetic outpouring of thought that mirrored the outpouring of street lamp charged by the electrical energy of an artificial light bulb. Marinetti denounces the past and casts it as something to be reviled rather than admired. His site was fixed to the horizon and he had no time to look back while he sent himself racing forward at break-neck speed. One of his principles states that, “We declare that the splendor of the world has been enriched with a new form of beauty, the beauty of speed. A race automobile adorned with great pipes like serpents with exploding breath … a race automobile which seems to rush over exploding powder is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.”[16] Based on Marinetti’s vision for modern society, the static ideas of the past could only idly watch while the future would inevitably come racing past with explosive dynamism. The Futurist did not find beauty in classical form. They rejected classicism and anything to do with academic society. The past was seen as a crutch that could only hold the human race in a precarious position of weakness. Technology was the muse of the Futurist but more importantly, the Futurists were inspired by all of the possibilities that technology offered. The true inspiration for Marinetti arose from the possibilities in terms of speed and dynamism that arose from technological advances. Marinetti sensed the conflation of time and space that resulted from the speed and movement offered by technology. Marinetti also sensed that modern society was on the brink of a change in perception. He explained that, “We are at the extreme promontory of ages! Why look back since we must break down the mysterious doors of Impossibility? Time and space died yesterday. We already live in an Absolute for we have already created the omnipresent eternal speed.”[17] Marinetti saw himself and the other Futurists on the brink of a perceptual explosion that would find embodiment in the visual arts. This conflation of time and space was to be expressed by Futurist painter Umberto Boccioni in his States of Mind Series (fig. 2).

In a subsequent manifesto entitled Futurist Painting: Technical Manifesto, the Futurist artists expounded on Marinetti’s base ideas and set out a new prescription for representation in the visual arts. Central to their manifesto is the idea of simultaneity and a new form of visual cues that could be used to describe what they refer to as “Painting states of mind.”[18] The Futurist artist did not seek to paint a representation of any particular scene. Instead these visionaries wanted to depict “the synthesis of what one remembers of what one sees.”[19] The Futurists were interested in an intellectual approach to art which embodied all of the advances set forth through technology. Central to this approach is the idea that mankind’s perception of the universe had become irrevocably changed due to advancements in science and technology. The Technical Manifesto states that, “Space no longer exists: the street pavement, soaked by rain beneath the glare of electric lamps, becomes immensely deep and gapes to the very center of the earth. Thousands of miles divide us from the sun; yet the house in front of us fits into the solar disk.”[20] The manifesto goes on to explain that, “Victorious science has nowadays disowned its past in order the better to serve the material needs of our time; we would that art, disowning its past, were able to serve at last the intellectual needs which are within us.”[21] Through modern technology and subsequent scientific discoveries, the Futurists believed that everything we consider as individual form actually melds together in a dynamic interplay of energetic material. This feeling is expressed through such statements as, “Our bodies penetrate the sofas upon which we sit, and the sofas penetrate our bodies. 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.” and “Who can still believe in the opacity of bodies, since our sharpened and multiplied sensitiveness has already penetrated the obscure manifestations of the medium. Why should we forget in our creations the doubled power of site capable of giving us results analogous to those of the X-rays?”[22] The Futurists cited technology as a breakthrough into a greater awareness and understanding of formal relationships as they exist in our perceptual vision. This conflated vision could be described with certain formal conventions. Central to this vision would be the use of line to articulate states of matter and of mind. The Futurists’ Technical Manifesto explains that, “In the pictorial description of the various states of mind of a leave-taking, perpendicular lines, undulating and as it were worn out, clinging here and there to silhouettes of empty bodies, may well express languidness and discouragement.”[23] The Futurist continued this thought process by explaining that, “Confused and trepidating lines, either straight or curved, mingled with the outlined hurried gestures of people calling one another, will express the sensation of chaotic excitement.”[24] Finally, in regards to the use of line the Technical Manifesto says that, “On the other hand, horizontal lines, fleeting, rapid and jerky, brutally cutting into half-lost profiles of faces or crumbling and rebounding fragments of landscape, will give the tumultuous feelings of persons going away.” [25] This enhanced perception and its visual reflection would give rise to works of art such as Umberto Boccioni’s States of Mind Series (fig. 2)

In Umberto Boccioni's painting from his States of Mind Series titled, Farewells, he presents the viewer with a direct view of the Futurist's representational vision. His image is striking even to the post-modern viewer. At first the swirling array of line and color creates a disorienting effect that is accentuated by the undulating ripples that seemingly caress the canvas rather than become a part of it. A verdant-churning stew emerges from the right side of the paintings and meanders its way across the painted surface. This green river of paint creates a whirlpool that ensnares all of the chromatic fluid contained in the work and initiates it along the canvas in a liquid fashion. Areas of red, yellow and blue enhance the green with a complimentary accent but these colors also provide increased areas of movement that keep that paint flowing in dynamic fashion. Once the eye has settled into this ocean of color certain representational figures begin to emerge. At first the numbers 6943 stabilize the viewer's attention on something relatively concrete. After this grounding effect, the eye is able to associate certain forms with real objects. A train emerges from the background, billowing steam as it races towards the viewer. An object resembling an electric tower stands firm in the illusionistic background flanked by the semicircular precipices of two distant hills. At the right an architectural structure becomes recognizable and alludes to a train station. After these associations take place the viewer becomes complacent and starts to feel comfortable in this distorted yet dynamically balanced pictorial space. It is at this point where the true nature of the painting becomes evident. Once again the viewer is thrown into a streaming vortex of form and color. Umberto Boccioni is not depicting a concrete place in a dynamic or painterly fashion. He is depicting multiple places, multiple times and multiple viewpoints. To top it all off, Boccioni has thrown in an emotive element, which is expressed through his deliberate use of color. The verdant mass that flows across the painting begins to take the shape of numerous human forms. What initially resembles a procession beginning at the right quickly evolves into a dynamic representation of human bodies in a conflated perception of the subject. These figures intertwine and embrace one another and their shapes bleed into time and space to create a wholly unified presentation. Now the viewer can see the movement of the train towards the front of the picture plain. This careening embodiment of early Twentieth Century technological mastery is depicted at multiple times in space. Boccioni articulates the emotional climate of the scene through his use of color. Highly emotive hues of green represent the melancholic joy of those watching their loved ones depart. Conversely, the primary colors of red and yellow express the jubilation of those that await the next great adventure that is signified by the arrival of the locomotive. Boccioni also uses line to accentuate the emotional content.[26] As the layers are removed one by one the viewer is able to delve into the ultra sensory universe created by Boccioni. The artist immerses his audience in a conflated world in which time, space and emotion have melded together and created a unified representation of reality.

The Futurist vision was clear and radiant. Marinetti, Boccioni and the rest of the group embraced technology with an unbridled enthusiasm. As a result, the Futurists began to rethink the traditional perception of the universe. Embodied by a dynamic conflation of elements brought on by progressive climate of the early Twentieth Century, the Futurist program was dynamic and aggressive. Their ideas were illuminated by technological advances and these advances electrified their efforts in a super-charged fashion. Technology was the current and Futurism was the conduit in which this powerful current could flow. The artists involved in the Futurist movement spread their ideas like flashing waves of electrons that could bask the entire world in vibrant light and dynamic energy. They wanted to inundate the human race with their ideas. With technology at their disposal, the Futurists envisioned a world in which anything was possible. Theirs was a philosophy full of passion, charged with the very same electrical energy that they admired so much.


[1] These manifestos are titled The Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism by F. T. Marinetti and Futurist Painting; a Technical Manifesto, which was authored by a number of the Futurist artists.

[2] I decided to use a limited number of sources. Of these limited sources, I chose only to use source documents, translated, in order to get the clearest possible representation of the Futurist belief system that I could obtain. In doing so, I have a chosen a limited bibliography but I feel that what it lacks in number, it makes up for in quality.

[3] Figuratively, of course, as the Futurists were fans of modern technology.

[4] F.T. Marinetti, “The Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism.” In Theories of Modern Art: a Source Book by Artists and Critics, edited by Herschel B. Chipp, Peter Selz and Joshua Charles Taylor (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968), 284.

[5] F.T. Marinetti, “The Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism.” In Theories of Modern Art: a Source Book by Artists and Critics, edited by Herschel B. Chipp, Peter Selz and Joshua Charles Taylor (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968), 284.

[6] F.T. Marinetti, “The Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism.” In Theories of Modern Art: a Source Book by Artists and Critics, edited by Herschel B. Chipp, Peter Selz and Joshua Charles Taylor (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968), 284.

[7] F.T. Marinetti, “The Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism.” In Theories of Modern Art: a Source Book by Artists and Critics, edited by Herschel B. Chipp, Peter Selz and Joshua Charles Taylor (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968), 284.

[8] F.T. Marinetti, “The Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism.” In Theories of Modern Art: a Source Book by Artists and Critics, edited by Herschel B. Chipp, Peter Selz and Joshua Charles Taylor (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968), 284.

[9] F.T. Marinetti, “The Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism.” In Theories of Modern Art: a Source Book by Artists and Critics, edited by Herschel B. Chipp, Peter Selz and Joshua Charles Taylor (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968), 285.

[10] F.T. Marinetti, “The Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism.” In Theories of Modern Art: a Source Book by Artists and Critics, edited by Herschel B. Chipp, Peter Selz and Joshua Charles Taylor (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968), 285.

[11] F.T. Marinetti, “The Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism.” In Theories of Modern Art: a Source Book by Artists and Critics, edited by Herschel B. Chipp, Peter Selz and Joshua Charles Taylor (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968), 285.

[12] F.T. Marinetti, “The Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism.” In Theories of Modern Art: a Source Book by Artists and Critics, edited by Herschel B. Chipp, Peter Selz and Joshua Charles Taylor (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968), 285.

[13] F.T. Marinetti, “The Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism.” In Theories of Modern Art: a Source Book by Artists and Critics, edited by Herschel B. Chipp, Peter Selz and Joshua Charles Taylor (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968), 286.

[14] F.T. Marinetti, “The Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism.” In Theories of Modern Art: a Source Book by Artists and Critics, edited by Herschel B. Chipp, Peter Selz and Joshua Charles Taylor (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968), 286.

[15] F.T. Marinetti, “The Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism.” In Theories of Modern Art: a Source Book by Artists and Critics, edited by Herschel B. Chipp, Peter Selz and Joshua Charles Taylor (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968), 286.

[16]F.T. Marinetti, “The Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism.” In Theories of Modern Art: a Source Book by Artists and Critics, edited by Herschel B. Chipp, Peter Selz and Joshua Charles Taylor (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968), 286.

[17] F.T. Marinetti, “The Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism.” In Theories of Modern Art: a Source Book by Artists and Critics, edited by Herschel B. Chipp, Peter Selz and Joshua Charles Taylor (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968), 286.

[18] Herschel B. Chipp, Peter Selz and Joshua Charles Taylor, Theories of Modern Art: a Source Book by Artists and Critics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968), 297.

[19] Herschel B. Chipp, Peter Selz and Joshua Charles Taylor, Theories of Modern Art: a Source Book by Artists and Critics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968), 297.

[20] Umberto Boccioni, Carlo D. Carra, Luigi Russolo, Giacomo Balla and Gino Severini. “Futurist Painting: A Technical Manifesto.” in Theories of Modern Art: a Source Book by Artists and Critics, ed. Herschel B. Chipp, Peter Selz and Joshua Charles Taylor (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968), 290.

[21] Umberto Boccioni, Carlo D. Carra, Luigi Russolo, Giacomo Balla and Gino Severini. “Futurist Painting: A Technical Manifesto.” in Theories of Modern Art: a Source Book by Artists and Critics, ed. Herschel B. Chipp, Peter Selz and Joshua Charles Taylor (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968), 290.

[22] Umberto Boccioni, Carlo D. Carra, Luigi Russolo, Giacomo Balla and Gino Severini. “Futurist Painting: A Technical Manifesto.” in Theories of Modern Art: a Source Book by Artists and Critics, ed. Herschel B. Chipp, Peter Selz and Joshua Charles Taylor (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968), 290.

[23] Herschel B. Chipp, Peter Selz and Joshua Charles Taylor, Theories of Modern Art: a Source Book by Artists and Critics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968), 297.

[24]Herschel B. Chipp, Peter Selz and Joshua Charles Taylor, Theories of Modern Art: a Source Book by Artists and Critics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968), 297.

[25]Herschel B. Chipp, Peter Selz and Joshua Charles Taylor, Theories of Modern Art: a Source Book by Artists and Critics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968), 297.

[26] As described in the Technical Manifesto

References

Boccioni, Umberto, Carlo D. Carra, Luigi Russolo, Giacomo Balla and Gino Severini. “Futurist Painting: A Technical Manifesto.” In Theories of Modern Art: a Source Book by Artists and Critics, edited by Herschel B. Chipp, Peter Selz and Joshua Charles Taylor, 289-293. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968.

Chipp, Herschel B., Peter Selz and Joshua Charles Taylor. Theories of Modern Art: a Source Book by Artists and Critics. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968.

Marinetti, F.T.. “The Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism.” In Theories of Modern Art: a Source Book by Artists and Critics, edited by Herschel B. Chipp, Peter Selz and Joshua Charles Taylor, 284-289. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968.

\

1. Giacomo Balla, Street Light: Study of Light

2. Umberto Boccioni, Farewells

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.