Futurism was a brief art movement that produced some of the most influential and masterful works in modern art history. Though it was short-lived, its impact on later avant-garde movements such as Cubism and Constructivism cannot be understated. The movement also inspired a range of other fields such as literature, music, architecture, and design.
Futurists embraced new technology, modernization processes and fascination with speed. They were highly critical of the past and cultural heritage, rejecting any form of nostalgia. They embraced youth and violence, praised originality, and shook the foundations of harmony and good taste. They exalted war as a way to achieve modernity and freedom, claiming that “War is the world’s hygiene.” Their manifestos were passionately bombastic to inspire anger and controversy. Futurists were a diverse group with many differing ideologies and goals. They could be found on the extremes of the radical political spectrum — from anarchists to fascists.
Although Futurism is most closely associated with painting, it encompassed many mediums and artistic styles. The movement is defined by a strong sense of speed and momentum, often expressed in geometric shapes and lines. A Futurist’s goal was to depict the power behind a moving object in order to create an effect of speed and energy. The sharp geometry of a Futurist piece was meant to jar the viewer and stimulate an emotional response. The angular forms, intersecting planes and dynamic compositions in a Futurist work also referenced the mechanical nature of machinery.
Among the most prominent Futurists were Umberto Boccioni, Giacomo Balla, Carlo Carra, Gino Severini, Natalia Goncharova, Mikhail Larionov, and Antonio Sant’Elia. While their style and subject matter varies, they are all united by a desire to express the essence of movement in their work. They also all published Futurist manifestos, a practice that was extremely important to the movement.
The manifesto format was particularly effective for the Futurists because of their fervent belief that the written word would be the main way to introduce their ideas to society. They also wanted to change the language of art to reflect the technological modern age they were striving for. In his manifesto titled The Destruction of Syntax-Wireless Imagination-Words in Freedom, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti developed the futurist concept of an art language that would be devoid of adjectives and adverbs and incorporate mathematical symbols and onomatopoeia.
The Futurists were heavily influenced by the Cubists and Post-Impressionists, especially with their use of line, space, and color. They also admired the work of the expressionists and the German Expressionists, whose theatrical style of staged action was very close to their own. Futurists believed that theater was an art form that could excite and influence the audience, especially when freed from the constraints of historical continuity. They were also fascinated with the ways in which sound can convey emotion, and they sought to use this technique in their own works. This can be heard in the dramatic and musical pieces of Fortunato Depero, such as Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913).