Sarah Szabo


The movement of futurism was founded by poet, critic, and journalist, Marinetti in 1909. Marinetti paid to have a “manifesto” of his ideas published on the front page of a popular Paris newspaper. Marinetti’s vision of futurism embraced cultural modernization, particularly in reference to his own country, Italy, through technological progress and rebellion against tradition. He presented an ultimate utopia through industrialization and war, which he deemed a “necessity for the health of the human spirit.”  


Marinetti paid to publish his “Futurist Manifesto” on front page of Paris newspaper in 1909.  In the same tone of his writings, Marinetti sought to propagate his ideas through all possible methods of communication. Shock and spectacle were also employed. It was particularly sneaky of him to begin as a patron to artists. Marinetti’s manifesto provided an appealing sense of freedom, empowerment, and excitement.  Futurism spread from a newspaper publication, to stand up “futurist evenings,” in which people would present their personal manifestos, to most every form of art—including literature, music, visual arts, architecture, drama, photography, film, dance, fashion, advertising, and cooking. Evidently, Marinetti was successful in spreading his ideas—between 1909 and 1914, over 500 articles were written across Europe in debate of the subject.


The art created in this time period reflected its ideals through subject matter, formal qualities, and even text. I will speak mainly of the paintings and ideas of Umberto Boccioni, a founding futurist painter, who set the standard for those to follow. Boccioni focused on the blending of mammal and material, envisioning all matter as one and the same in its properties. Popular subjects included objects of war, infrastructure, transportation, animals of power, and broken pastoral landscape.  Boccioni utilized repetition and intersection of forms, sharp angles, and bold colors to convey speed, energy, movement, and power throughout the composition.


Other than war and nationalism, technological phenomenon and scientific discoveries, particularly in physics, appear to be a strong influence to futurist art. Firstly, the fusion of foreground and background gives the sense of energy emanating from forms, which, technically, does occur through radiation. Light, sound, and even the decay of carbon, are all forms of radiation, although we understand this much more deeply today. The idea that light is radiating and reflected can be seen in the Futurist art in Russia, appropriately called “Rayonism.”


Boccioni also expressed an interest in the relationship between absolute and relative motion in his forms. This has a striking relationship to work of Einstein. An experiential influence related to physics might have been that of linear vection—which, for example, occurs when it seems that one’s train is moving, or moving backwards, when, in fact, and a different train has actually begun actually moving. Of technological significance is also the invention of chromaphotography, a technique which recorded motion through a progression of frames. This imagery influenced a Giacomo Balla, a later futurist artist.  


On treatment of the figure and space, Boccioni also expressed that the figure should be “broken open and enclosed in an environment.” I interpret this, too, to be an influence of the times.  The development of industry and urban life allowed for new possibilities, especially in one’s ability to transport, communicate, and create more quickly.  Simultaneously, however, the increase in population density, infrastructure, noise, and varied visual stimulus can overwhelm one to the point of feeling closed in due to lack of physical and mental space. The increase in awareness through scientific discovery could lead to a similar sensation, because it leads one to break down what is seen and understood, inside and out. I believe this certainly was an influence to the stylistic choices of cubism, and even that of Impressionism, from which Futurism borrowed. This shift may cause one interpret the world as being opened up to them, or closing upon them because “reality” is being “broken down.” One could choose to wonder more, or cease to wonder.