Why Was Futurism Important?

Updated on August 12, 2017
Umberto Boccioni's "Unique Forms of Continuity in Space"
Umberto Boccioni's "Unique Forms of Continuity in Space"
"Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2" by Marcel Duchamp
"Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2" by Marcel Duchamp

Futurism Comprised the Avant-Garde in Early Twentieth Century Art

Futurism is an artistic movement that originated in the early 1900s, particularly in Italy, as well as England and Russia. The movement emphasized the importance of the future, mainly as it relates to the advancement of the machine age and the importance of the urban environment propelling people forward into a progressive state of mind. Futurism also championed speed, technology, science, youth and violence. Its mantra was that the answers to humankind’s problems lay in the future – certainly not the past!

Futurism was also a social movement encompassing numerous other disciplines such as theatre, film, fashion, literature, philosophy, architecture and music. The major literary work of the movement was Filippo Tommaso Marinetti’s Futurist Manifesto, published in February 1909, and generally considered the beginning of Futurism.

This article highlights the artistic aspect of Futurism and how it influenced styles of art such as Dada, Art Deco, Art Nouveau, Constructivism, Cubism, Surrealism, and others. It would be hard to know twentieth-century art without studying Futurism.

"Abstract Speed + Sound" by Giacomo Balla
"Abstract Speed + Sound" by Giacomo Balla

History of Futurism

Filippo Marinetti launched Futurism because of his loathing of everything old, especially the foundations of artistic convention, which certainly carried great weight in Italy, where the artistic traditions of the Roman Empire sprang forth some 2,000 years earlier and still had great influence in society. In his Futurist Manifesto, Marinetti wrote, “We want no part of it, the past, we the young and strong Futurists!”

Marinetti also supported violence and military action - even as it related to art. He wrote, “Art can be nothing but violence, cruelty and injustice.” Violence became Marinetti’s new aesthetic. Espousing these ideas, for better or worse, Marinetti aligned himself with anarchists and the Fascism of Benito Mussolini.

At the outset, Futurism had no artistic style of subject matter, except perhaps a penchant for dynamism. But it soon gravitated to Cubism, particularly its quest to show many perspectives of a subject at the same time.

But the styles drifted apart, as Cubism remained quiet with its still lifes and static human figures, Futurism explored city life and the motion of motorized vehicles speeding through it, as exemplified in Luigi Russolo’s Automobile at Speed (1913).

Filippo Marinetti
Filippo Marinetti

Umberto Boccioni

Perhaps the greatest artist of Futurism was Umberto Boccioni, whose canvas The City Rises (1910) shows a police attack and riot that Boccioni himself had experienced. The elements of this painting – dynamism, violence, as well as the unity of people and events in an urban setting – seemed to express the spirit of the movement. Boccioni rendered the painting, in short, separate brushstrokes, expressing what was called Divisionism (a.k.a. Pointillism).

Of great importance in the history of modern art, Boccioni’s bronze sculpture, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913), may be the most iconic work of Futurism, its striding figure’s physicality blurred by its motion through space, exemplifying Boccioni’s theory of dynamism.

Umberto Boccioni
Umberto Boccioni

Marcel Duchamp

One artist who was heavily influenced by Futurism was Marcel Duchamp, who created a painting entitled Nude Descending a Staircase. Produced in 1912, Nude, a seminal and controversial work that eventually became a modernist classic, depicts a nude woman walking down the stairs, her progress shown as descending images superimposed one upon the other, thus exemplifying the persistence of vision which makes movies possible. This expression of both technology and dynamism comprised the essence of Futurism.

Boccioni's "The City Rises"
Boccioni's "The City Rises"

World War One

Division in Futurism began in 1914. A faction in Florence, Italy resented the hold that the Milan group, led by Marinetti and Boccioni, had over the artistic philosophy of Futurism. Each group considered the other passé. Along the way, threats of war inflamed Futurism’s zeal for violence in patriotism, and many Futurists fanned hatred for the Austro-Hungarian Empire and eventually enlisted when hostilities erupted. At this point, Florence withdrew from Futurism, weakening it considerably.

Reflecting this ardor for bloodletting, in the Futurist Manifesto, Marinetti declared, “We will glorify war – the world’s only hygiene - militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for and scorn for woman.”

Futurists produced some war-inspired works, but soon Cubism became the impetus of the avant-garde. Tragically, Boccioni died in the war during 1916. Ironically, the War to End All Wars ended Futurism.

Well, not entirely, it turned out.

Boccioni's "Soccer Player"
Boccioni's "Soccer Player"

The Future Ends Futurism?

Marinetti kept Futurism going in some form or another until his death in 1944, though perhaps the future itself ended Futurism. Like old science fiction, the ideas therein can become hackneyed or at least uninspiring for new generations.

Nonetheless, Futurism hasn’t died completely, for the current Zeitgeist emphasizes youth, speed, power and technology, relegating the past to programs on the History Channel, while components of Futurism can be seen in movies such as Blade Runner and the various conceits of Cyberpunk. Depictions of cybernetic possibilities – joining humankind with machine - certainly owe a lot to Futurism. Continuing in this credo, neo-Futurist groups have sprung up in Chicago, New York and Montreal.

Example of Russian Futurism
Example of Russian Futurism

Questions & Answers

    © 2011 Kelley

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      • Kosmo profile image
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        Kelley 3 years ago from California

        I couldn't say that Futurism influenced Concrete Art any more than other art movements. They all influence each other in some ways, don't they? At any rate, thanks for the reference. Now I know something about Concrete Art. Later!

      • profile image

        Ana Amelia 3 years ago

        Hi Kosmo,

        would you say that futurism (at least its literary principles) influenced the Concrete Movement that took place in Germany, Sweden and Brazil?

      • profile image

        katie Harris 6 years ago

        its cool

      • Kosmo profile image
        Author

        Kelley 6 years ago from California

        Thanks for the comment, AwesomeRob. I also like the various works of Futurism, particularly "The City Rises." Later!

      • AwesomeRob profile image

        AwesomeRob 6 years ago

        Good article. I love the dynamism of Futurist paintings, especially "The Funeral of the Anarchist Galli".

      • Kosmo profile image
        Author

        Kelley 6 years ago from California

        Hey, rwelton, be sure to check out that exhibition of Futurism. I'd love to see some of their paintings or sculptures up close. Later!

      • rwelton profile image

        rwelton 6 years ago from Sacramento CA

        Thanks for the read. We are fortunate to have a great museum nearby...I think I heard a small traveling exhibit of Futurism pieces may be coming soon.

        rlw

      • Kosmo profile image
        Author

        Kelley 6 years ago from California

        Thanks for the comment, Cardisa. I also find Futurism very interesting. Later!

      • Cardisa profile image

        Carolee Samuda 6 years ago from Jamaica

        Very nice piece of art history. I don't know much about art but futurism seems interesting to me.

      • Kosmo profile image
        Author

        Kelley 6 years ago from California

        Thanks for the comment, Lynda. I like all kinds of art, though I suppose I prefer the abstract variety, and "Nude Descending a Staircase" may be my favorite. Later!

      • lmmartin profile image

        lmmartin 6 years ago from Alberta and Florida

        Very interesting. I know very little about art and my tastes are somewhat pedestrian, preferring realism to abstract of any kind. Thanks for widening my horizons.

      • Kosmo profile image
        Author

        Kelley 6 years ago from California

        Thanks for the compliment, ThemanWithNoPants! I wish you luck on your quest for better oil painting. Don't feel bad; I would have trouble painting a fence. Later!

      • TheManWithNoPants profile image

        TheManWithNoPants 6 years ago from Tucson, Az.

        I know very little about this art. (I know very little about art period.) I DO have some talent in water colors, but I love oil .. where I have NO talent unfortunatly. Enough about me .. This was very informative and well put together. I appreciate the work!

        jim

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