Futurism – Concept, characteristics, works and authors

We explain what futurism is, the historical and social context and its characteristics. Poems, painting and futuristic architecture.

Futurism was offered as a current, fierce and aggressive movement.

What is Futurism?

Futurism was known as one of the many artistic currents that made up the European avant-gardes of the 20th century, emerged in Italy in 1909, when the Italian poet, playwright and editor Filippo Tommaso Marinetti published his Futurist Manifesto in the Le Figaro newspaper in Paris.

It was about a movement eager to break with tradition, the past and what was considered until then as the main features of art and poetry, postulating instead the exaltation of the sensual, the national and irreverence.

Futurism offered as a current, fierce and aggressive move, as it can be read in the Futurist Manifesto:

“… We affirm that the magnificence of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing car, with its radiator adorned with thick tubes like snakes of explosive breath… a roaring car, which seems to run on shrapnel, is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace ”

And even though its main axis had to do with literature, also had an important impact on painting, something that becomes evident with the signing of the Manifesto of Futurist Painters the year after the publication of Marinetti’s text.

Futurism and its manifesto set an important precedent for later artistic movements, like Surrealism, and it is considered as a naturally involuntary antecedent of the fascist thought that was to emerge in Mussolini’s Italy almost thirty years later.

Historical and social context of Futurism

Futurism was born in Milan, Italy, and it is considered a fundamentally Italian movement, given its nationalistic, misogynistic and warmongering temperament, which led its greatest exponents to enlist when the first trumpets of the First World War sounded.

Few returned from the front lines, and those who did did not necessarily continue the movement, so the operational center of Futurism shifted from Milan to Rome. Thus, when Marinetti died in 1944, already Futurism had become a much more submissive movement, delivered to the academy, betraying his rebellious spirit.

Characteristics of Futurism

Futurism exalted the view of life as a constant struggle.

Futurism defined himself from his obsession with speed, which he considered a virtue of the times to come. He appreciated technology, energy, strength, and this he tried to capture in his pictorial or poetic works, using forms, rhythms and transparencies, as well as successions of images as in a kaleidoscope.

On the other hand, it exalted originality, nationalism, bustle and the consideration of life as a constant struggle, so beauty, according to them, was necessarily involved in the confrontation. His songs to the Revolution, boldness, objectivity and the rejection of traditional aesthetics were frequent, embracing instead contemporary life, the machine and the movement. In that sense, he could resort to any expressive method (plastic arts, architecture, urban planning, fashion, cinema, advertising, music, etc.) in order to create an “art in action”.

Futuristic poems

Futuristic poetry was sparsely cultivated in futuristic Italy, and much more in its Russian variant, which emerged in the years before the First World War. Great Russian poets such as Mayakovski and Burliuk, who also practiced painting, were enthusiastic Futurist poets, so devoted to scandal and their own perspectives that they came to boo Marinetti himself on his visit to Russia in 1914.

In these poems it is common to find revolutionary enthusiasm, perhaps an admonition of what would happen in the October Revolution of 1917, when communist militants would overthrow Tsarism and establish a Soviet regime. The song of modernity, the machine, progress and the speed of change are felt in his verses. Here is a clear example of this:

  • “Poet and worker” by Vladimir Mayakovski. We are even. Comrades, within the working mass. Proletarians of body and soul. Only together will we beautify the world. And we will propel it with hymns.
  • “Song of the car” by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (fragment). Vehement God of a race of steel, an automobile drunk with space, that paws with anguish, with the brake in its strident teeth! Oh formidable Japanese monster with forge eyes, nourished by flames and mineral oils, hungry for horizons and sidereal prey, your heart expands with its diabolical taf-taf (…) “

Futuristic painting

Futurist paintings used pure color and geometric shapes.

Futurist painting was a direct heir to Cubism, to such an extent that the first Italian paintings ascribed to Futurism they could very well have been exposed as cubists. However, they quickly created their own style, based on their desire to represent reality in their lines and shapes.

They used pure color and geometric shapes, painting objects in succession, such as in motion, or blurring them, as is done today in comics. Many of its cultivators will reach abstractionism, through their foray into rayonism.

Futuristic architecture

Embracing antihistoricism, futuristic architecture also pursued the representation of speed, through long horizontal lines that aspired to convey urgency, movement, concern.

It was a dynamic architectural trend, which appreciated calculation, audacity and simplicity, aiming at materials that provide agility and lightness, such as reinforced concrete, iron, glass, cardboard and textile fiber, to replace wood, brick and stone.

Futuristic architecture he wanted to find his inspiration in the modern world, just as the ancients found it in the natural world around them, and therefore desired an architectural art that would accept its own expiration, its transience, allowing each generation to build its own city, burying the previous ones.

Authors and representatives

Some of the main representatives of Futurism in its various artistic disciplines were:

  • Futuristic poetry. Filippo T. Marinetti, Giovanni Papini, Giuseppe Ungaretti, Carlos Felipe Porfirio, and the Russians Vladimir Mayakovski, David Burliuk, Aleksei Kruchónyj, Velimir Khlébnikov,
  • Futuristic painting. Giacomo Balla, Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carrà, Luigi Russolo, Gino Severini, Antonio Sant’Elia, or the Argentine Emilio Pettoruti.
  • Futuristic architecture. Angiolo Mazzoni, Antonio Sant’Elia, Nikolay Diulgheroff.