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The Past Is Soon To Be Here: Futurism and the Day Science-Fiction Received an Art Movement

Updated on November 21, 2016

Futurism: Escapism for the Tumultuous Time

Genres, like those who create them, can die. The art movement of futurism is deemed a genre of art that has long since been dead with 1944 being the last of the major futurism works being produced. To call a dead genre might be a misleading statement. The influence of futurism exists in many works of modern art and popular culture. From the haunting music of the instrumental band Tangerine Dream to the mise-en-scene of science-fiction film genre, futurism lives on. Anything that is a vision of the future can never really die because it has yet to happen. The people who are involved with the art movement can have fleeting fame and limited careers of productivity. Once the work is put to canvas, it may live on forever and, ironically, traveling back in time to the cultural and political upheaval of Italy in the early 1900s gives us a glimpse of a utopian future yet to occur.

Science-Fiction Gains an Art Movement

Science-fiction is often thought of as something in the realm of television, film, books and graphic novels. It is not commonly thought of as the subject matter of an art movement from a previous century. Once you begin to look at the works of futurism, a grander scope of science-fiction reveals itself. Or can it even be called fiction or merely an exaggerated idolization of a time yet to come?

The past is the future. Welcome to the world of futurism.

Futurism was a relatively localized movement as its origins are found in the Italy of the early 20th century. While mild futurist movements are found in other nations, futurism was mostly an Italian phenomenon. Not solely relegated to paintings, futurism could be found in the form of sculpture, performance art and other mediums. At the core of the futurism movement was a love of technology and visions of a technologically advanced future. The automobile is commonly visible as common subject matter and so would amazing futuristic societies of the future. The automobile could even be associated with themes that the future is now.

Not Entirely Science-Fiction, If At All

Granted, futurism was not science-fiction per se although that it how is can be categorized since all things futuristic are deemed science-fiction. A more accurate impression of futurism would be a painted image of a forthcoming technological utopia. The future in most science-fiction fiction works have a tendency to be dystopian as opposed to Utopian. Again, futurism is really not a form of science-fiction artwork as much as it is a form of art that, like most forms of art of the 19th and 20th century, was born out of social and philosophical movements. Futurism is not removed from this common origination point of art.

No one really can put futurism in a particular box, but it can be said the works found in futurism are escapist in nature. Cultural, social, and political instability can lead to a desire to escape and, certainly, Italy had more than enough of these problems at the beginning of the 20th century.

Future Imperfect: Futurism Evolves

Art does not live in a vacuum and various art movements will beget one another. Impressionism may spawn a similar but disconnected movement such as abstract expressionism. With a decade or more, the pop art movement becomes a reaction to abstract expressionism.

Futurism, too, is born both as a reaction to certain art movements while also simultaneously evolving from various other movements. The stylized look captured by the movement in its visuals reflects a brilliant originality. In a sense, it could be considered a paradoxical mix of pro and contra reflection on the art of classical antiquity.

Reactions to classical art that still combine components of the classics have emerged in many art movements of the 20th century.

Pop art suggested there were new gods and kings in the form of entertainment medium icons. Neoclassical artists would revisit the subject matter of the era of antiquity. With futurism, there is a bit of both. The classical era is certainly not typified in an art movement that seeks to create a presentation of a technologically advanced future. The images in works of futurism are certainly not the gods and kings of antiquity. Yet, the subject matter of antiquity only became antiquated when time progresses forward.

Many of the classics were not classics when first created. They were contemporary works of art. Greece and Rome were not antiquity when many of these cultures classic works were created. In a similar vein, the future is not always the future. The present progresses forward until it becomes the future which would then make it the present once again, until it is over and then it is the past. This is the interesting aspect of the future. The past can never be the future nor the present. The present can be the past but not the future. The future can be the future, it can be the present on a transitional level and then it can be the past. By this logic, the past can be the future and the present and the present can be the future and the past. In essence, there is always perennial existence of time as long as there is a future. Hence, there is a perennial propagation of society and humanity ensuring the future is always something that will exist. What it will look like will always be a matter of speculation. Futurism seeks to put an image on that speculation.

Futurism had a unique vision of its Utopian future. It did promote a world without war, a common theme in virtually all art movements of the day. The way in which futurism promoted peace and harmony was quite stunning when comparing it to other art movements that were sympathetic to a totalitarian views. Unlike purely socialist movements, this one did have promote the free market to at least a limited degree. Futurism frequently promoted the notion that commerce between nations would set the stage for greater benevolence among nations. Futurism truly was a symbol of the embracing of the industrial revolution and it also embraced the capitalist component of it. In a sense, one could argue that if there was a political leaning to this particular art movement, it would be libertarianism. To make such an assessment would hardly be a stretch. Many libertarians today speak of decreased military actions and increased free trade. Futurism simply combines the technocratic components of these themes and merges them with the creative side of science-fiction themed visuals.

The More Anarchistic Side of Futurism

Anarchism and related political movements thrived (and caused chaos) in Italy around the time futurism was emerging. The anger associated with anarchistic movements finds its way into certain works of futurism. Often, these works sought to use the spawn of the industrial revolution to spread even more revolution.

Needless to say, not all works of futurism promoted peace. The destructive power of the damage advanced machinery can perform was celebrated in certain works. There were subtle and even overt hints at the glory of war. It is suggested this school of thought was the dark side of the movement that would find a home as sympathizers of the forthcoming fascist movement in Italy.

Chaos and anger in art is a running theme thanks to the alienation of the artist. That abstract art (which would not emerge until after the futurism movement), futurism enjoys chaos. Where abstract art reflects the chaos of the mind, the chaos of futurism is the chaos of energy. In a way, the line between man and machine is blurred in the realm of futurism so it could be said raw energy is also a form of raw mental streams of consciousness.

The Future is the Beginning

Chaos, anger, peace, harmony, ideology, and creativity are all creatures born forth of the mind. This was the case in the past, it is the case in the present, and it will be the case in the future. Time and its passage influence these various factors and art movements. Whether the past, present, or the future is to be reflected in the work is rooted in the vision of the artist. For those artists in the futurism movement, the external may look purely futuristic, but there is certainly quite a bit of the past and present to be viewed in it and this can be seen yesterday, today, and tomorrow.


Other Works of Interest:

Andy Warhol: The Images of Classical Antiquity Just Don't Know Where They Are Going

The Future Today and Yesterday: The Strange World of the Cyberpunk Genre

The Nature Of Abstract Art Criticism and Dismissals


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