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

Updated on December 20, 2020

Futurism: Escapism for the Tumultuous Time

Like those who create them, movements can fade away. Futurism appears to be an art movement that has long since been forgotten, with 1944 being the last year for significant futurism works attaining prominence. To call the movement a dead genre might be a misleading statement. The influence of futurism finds its way into 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. Anything reflecting a vision of the future can never really die because it represents what is yet to happen. Futurism may be a dormant movement that awaits rediscovery.

Regrettably, the creative talents involved with the art movement suffer fleeting fame and limited careers. Maybe they will experience a rediscovery and renewed appreciation soon, as well. Rediscovery remains a possibility in the future. After all, once the work finds its way to a canvas, it may live on forever.

Ironically, traveling back in time to Italy's cultural and political upheaval in the early 1900s gives us a glimpse of a utopian future yet to occur.

Science-Fiction Gains an Art Movement

Science-fiction begrudgingly abides by the perception it serves as entertainment found mostly in television, film, books, and graphic novels. Few think of "sci-fi" as the subject matter of an art movement, especially one from the 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 emerged in the Italy of the early 20th century. While mild futurist-influenced movements appeared in other nations, futurism was mostly an Italian phenomenon. Not solely relegated to paintings, futurism appears in sculpture, performance art, and other mediums. At the core of the futurism movement existed a love of technology and the embrace of a technologically advanced future. The automobile is commonly visible as subject matter, along with vast depictions of advanced futuristic societies. The automobile garnered much attention since vehicles maintained an association with the theme that the "future is now."

Not Entirely Science-Fiction, If At All

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

No one really can put futurism in a particular box, but it can be said the works found in futurism celebrate escapism. Cultural, social, and political instability can lead to a desire to escape, and, indeed, 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. After a decade or so, the pop art movement becomes a reaction to abstract expressionism.

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

20th-century art movements often followed that convention: critiquing antiquity's concept of art. And some movements borrowed elements of antiquity's work but modernized things. Reactions to classical art that produce work that integrate the classics' components became another "angle" in some 20th-century art circles.

Pop art suggested there were new gods and kings in the form of entertainment medium icons. Neoclassical artists revisited the era of antiquity in a specialized way. With futurism, elements of both exist. 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. The :classics" were contemporary works of art. Greece and Rome had their present-day at one time. During this present-now-past, the two cultures' classical works came into creation. In a similar vein, the future is not always the future. The present progresses until it becomes the future, making it the present once again until it is over, and then it is the past. This is an 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.

The past can be the future, and the present and the present can be the future and the past.

In essence, there is always a perennial existence of time as long as there is a future. Hence, there contends the perennial propagation of society and humanity, ensuring the future exists. 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 futurism promoted peace and harmony was quite stunning compared to other art movements that were sympathetic to totalitarian views. Unlike purely socialist movements, this one did have to promote the free market to 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, embracing its Libertarian economics.

To call the political-economic leanings of futurism neo-libertarianism isn't a stretch. Many libertarians today speak of decreased military actions and increased free trade. Futurism visually combines these beliefs with technocratic components and merges them with the creative side of science-fiction themed visuals.

The More Anarchistic Side of Futurism

Anarchism and related political movements thrived in Italy around the time futurism arrived. The anger associated with anarchistic movements finds its way into individual works of futurism. Often, these works sought to use the spawn of the Industrial Revolution to spread even more revolution.

Not all works of futurism promoted peace. The destructive power of advanced machinery can perform received celebration in some artist's works. There were subtle and even overt hints at the glory of war.

Chaos and anger in art is a running theme, thanks to the alienation of the artist. Like abstract art (which would not emerge until after the futurism movement), some futurism elements enjoy chaos. Whereas abstract art reflects the chaos of the mind, "futurism chaos" embodies the chaos of energy. The line between humans and machines proves hazy in the realm of futurism, drawing parallels to notions 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. Such was the case in the past, remains 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 appears in the art, the depictions come from the artist's vision. For those artists in the futurism movement, the external may look purely futuristic. Still, there is certainly quite a bit of the past and present visible, visible yesterday, today, and tomorrow.


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