Futurism was a twentieth-century artistic movement. Although a nascent futurism can be seen surfacing throughout the very early years of the last century, the 1907 essay Entwurf einer neuen Ästhetik der Tonkunst (“Sketch of a New Aesthetic of Music”) by the Italian composer Ferruccio Busoni is sometimes claimed as its true beginning point for the movement. Futurism was a largely Italian and Russian movement, although it also had adherents in other countries.
The futurists explored every medium of art, including painting, sculpture, poetry, theater, music, architecture and even gastronomy. The Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti was the first among them to produce a manifesto declaming a new artistic philosophy in his Manifesto of Futurism (1909), first released in Milan and later published in the French paper Le Figaro (February 20). Marinetti summed up the major principles of the futurists, including a passionate loathing of ideas from the past, especially political and artistic traditions. He and others also espoused a love of speed, technology and violence. The car, the plane, the industrial town were legendary artistic subjects for the futurists, because they represented the technological triumph of man over nature.
Marinetti's impassioned polemic immediately attracted the support of the young Milanese painters—Umberto Boccioni, Carrà, and Russolo — who wanted to extend Marinetti's ideas to the visual arts (Russolo was also a composer, introducing futurist ideas into his compositions). The painters Balla and Severini met Marinetti in 1910 and their artistic creations represented futurism's first phase.
The Italian painter and sculptor Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916) wrote a Manifesto of Futurist Painters in 1910 in which he vowed:
We will fight with all our might the fanatical, senseless and snobbish religion of the past, a religion encouraged by the vicious existence of museums. We rebel against that spineless worshipping of old canvases, old statues and old bric-a-brac, against everything which is filthy and worm-ridden and corroded by time. We consider the habitual contempt for everything which is young, new and burning with life to be unjust and even criminal.
Russian futurism may be said to have been born in December 1912, when the Saint Petersburg-based group Hylaea (Velimir Khlebnikov, Aleksey Kruchenykh, Vladimir Mayakovsky, David Burlyuk) issued a manifesto entitled A Slap in the Face of Public Taste. Although the Hylaea is generally held to be the most influential group of Russian futurism, other centers were formed in Saint Petersburg (Igor Severyanin's "Ego-Futurists"), Moscow (Tsentrifuga with Boris Pasternak among its members), Kiev, Kharkov, and Odessa.
Like their Italian counterparts, the Russian futurists were fascinated with dynamism, speed, and restlessness of modern urban life. They purposely sought to arouse controversy and to attract publicity by repudiating static art of the past. The likes of Alexander Pushkin and Fyodor Dostoevsky, according to them, should have been "heaved overboard from the steamship of modernity." They acknowledged no authorities whatsoever; even Filippo Tommaso Marinetti—when he arrived to Russia on a proselytizing visit in 1914—was obstructed by most Russian futurists who did not profess to owe him anything.
In contrast to Marinetti's circle, Russian futurism was a literary rather than plastic movement. Although many leading poets (Mayakovsky, Burlyuk) dabbled in painting, their interests were primarily literary. On the other hand, such well-established artists as Mikhail Larionov, Natalia Goncharova, and Kazimir Malevich found inspiration in the refreshing imagery of futurist poems and experimented with versification themselves. The poets and painters attempted to collaborate on such innovative productions as the Futurist opera Victory Over the Sun, with texts by Kruchenykh and sets contributed by Malevich.
Members of the Hylaea elaborated the doctrine of cubo-futurism and assumed the name of budetlyane (from the Russian word for "future"). They found significance in the shape of letters, in the arrangement of text around the page, in the details of typography. They held that there is no substantial difference between words and material things, hence the poet should arrange words in his poems like the sculptor arranges colors and lines on his canvas. Grammar, syntax and logic were discarded; many neologisms and profane words were introduced; onomatopoeia was declared a universal texture of the verse. Khlebnikov, in particular, developed "an incoherent and anarchic blend of words stripped of their meaning and used for their sound alone,"  known as zaum.
With all this focus on formal experimentation, some futurists were not indifferent to politics. In particular, Mayakovsky's poems, with their exuberant outbursts of lyrical sensibility and bravado, appealed to a broad range of readers. He vehemently opposed the meaningless slaughter of the Great War and hailed the Russian Revolution as a debacle of that traditional mode of life which other futurists ridiculed so zealously.
After the Bolsheviks came to power, Mayakovsky's circle—patronized by Anatoly Lunacharsky, Vladimir Lenin's minister of education—aspired to dominate Soviet cultural life. Their influence was paramount in the first years after the revolution, until their program—or rather lack thereof—was subjected to scathing criticism of the authorities. By the time the Oberiu movement attempted to revive some of the futurist tenets in the late 1920s, the futurist movement in Russia had already died away. The most militant futurist poets either died (Khlebnikov, Mayakovsky) or preferred to adjust their highly individual style to more conventional requirements and trends (Aseyev, Pasternak).
Many Italian futurists instinctively supported the rise of fascism in Italy in the hope of modernizing the society and the economy of a country that was still torn between unfulfilled industrial revolution in the North and the rural, archaic South. Marinetti founded the Partito Politico Futurista (Futurist Political Party) in early 1918, which only a year later was absorbed into Benito Mussolini's Fasci di combattimento, making Marinetti one of the first supporters and members of the National Fascist Party. However, he opposed Fascism's later canonical exultation of existing institutions, calling them "reactionary." Nevertheless, he stayed a notable force in developing the party thought throughout the regime. Some Futurists' aestheticization of violence and glorification of modern warfare as the ultimate artistic expression and their intense nationalism also induced them to embrace fascism. Many futurists became associated with the regime over the 1920s, which gave them both official recognition and the ability to carry out important works, especially in architecture.
However, some leftists that came to futurism in the earlier years continued to oppose Marinetti's domination of the artistic and political direction of futurism.
Futurism expanded to encompass other artistic domains. In architecture, it was characterized by a distinctive thrust towards rationalism and modernism through the use of advanced building materials. In Italy, futurist architects were often at odds with the fascist state's tendency towards Roman imperial/classical aesthetic patterns. However several interesting futurist buildings were built in the years 1920-1940, including many public buildings—train stations, maritime resorts, post offices—including, for example, Trento's railway station, built by Angiolo Mazzoni.
Futurism influenced many other twentieth century art movements, including Art Deco, Vorticism, constructivism, surrealism and Dada. Futurism as a coherent and organized artistic movement is now regarded as extinct, having died out in the 1944 with the death of its leader, Marinetti, and futurism was, like science fiction, in part overtaken by the future.
Nonetheless the ideals of futurism remain as significant components of modern Western culture; the emphasis on youth, speed, power and technology finding expression in much of modern commercial cinema and culture. Ridley Scott consciously evoked the designs of Antonio Sant'Elia in his popular film, Blade Runner. Echoes of Marinetti's thought, especially his "dreamt-of metallization of the human body," are still strongly prevalent in Japanese culture, and surface in manga/anime of the works of artists such as Shinya Tsukamoto, director of the Tetsuo (literally "Ironman") films.
A revival of sorts of the futurist movement began in 1988 with the creation of the neo-futurist style of theater in Chicago, which utilizes futurism's focus on speed and brevity to create a new form of immediate theater. Currently, there are active neo-futurist troupes in Chicago and New York City.
All links retrieved November 23, 2013.
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