Futurism: Historical And Social Context, And Characteristics

The  Futurism was mainly Italian avant – garde art movement considered by some critics as a forerunner of what was later modernism. Futurism was born as a result of the discontent that reigned in the European continent, so its precepts were full of criticism and radicalization.

Its own creator, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, defined the movement as the “aesthetics of violence and blood”. This trend began in 1909 and sought to break with tradition, as well as with the conventionalities of art history. It was an irreverent movement that advocated the sensual, the warlike and the national.


Futurism was notoriously influenced by Cubism, to later focus on other themes such as machines and movement. Unlike most aesthetic positions, this artistic and philosophical current defended the existence of the machine and new technologies, since it considered them an essential part of its time and its episteme.

Futurism praised contemporary life, seeking to break away from traditional aesthetics. In addition, this movement established something that had never been done before in the history of art: a manifesto in which ideas were organized and objectives were raised. Subsequently, this feat was performed by the Surrealists and other artists.

The treaty of this current was called Futurist Manifesto , and in this the movement was recognized and defined. The premise of Futurism was scandal, but they also focused on technology and speed, defending the modern world over the obsolete past; According to these artists, nothing from the past was worth preserving.

Therefore, the authors belonging to that current condemned the museums, which they defined as cemeteries; Futurism valued originality above all other aspects. However, critics point out that there are certain incongruities, as Futurism was nourished not only by Cubism, but also by Divisionism.

Futurist works were characterized by the use of strong and vivid colors, used to enhance geometric figures. They sought to represent movement through the successive representation of objects, placing them in different positions or blurring them. This technique became so popular that it is now used in comics and animations.

Historical and social context

Futurism, as an artistic and literary movement, emerged in Milan, Italy, during the first decade of the 20th century. Its precepts were spread rapidly by several European countries, mainly in Paris, where one of the nuclei of futurist production was established.

During this period, Futurism was largely linked to Cubism; a movement was even created that sought to unite both currents, called “cubofuturism”. Although this form was very successful in some European regions, the Futurists criticized Cubism as “excessively static.”

Futurists and their clean sheet

In 1913 Futurism reached its greatest splendor. The artists of this movement founded a magazine called Lacerba , in which they made bold statements and caused controversy.

Sensing the arrival of the First World War , the Futurists decided to celebrate it, since they considered that this was the ideal opportunity for Western civilization to be destroyed and start over from scratch to build a new world. In other words, the Futurists defended a radical clean slate position.

Manifests and Treaties

On February 20, 1909, Marinetti published the Futurist Manifesto in a Parisian newspaper known as Le Figaro. In this text the author expressed his radical rejection towards the past and towards tradition, arguing that art should be anti-classic, since new works should be oriented towards the future.

Therefore, art had to respond to its historical context through expressive forms that defended the dynamic spirit of the moment, always using a modern technique. In addition, this art had to be linked to a society that had become overcrowded in large cities; For this reason, Futurism defended urbanism and the cosmopolitan.

On April 11, 1910, a group of Futurist artists — the painters Carrá, Boccioni, and Russolo, together with the architect Sant ‘Elia, the filmmaker Cinna, and the musician Pratella — signed the manifesto of Futurism painting. In this treatise a break with traditional beauty archetypes such as good taste and harmony was proposed.

From that moment on, Marinetti began to lead the group of artists with futuristic inclinations, made up of Russolo, Boccioni, Balla and Carrá.

During this period, a current similar to Futurism was born in England, which was known by the name of Vorticism. For his art, in Spain the poetry of the futurist author Salvat-Papasseit was widely read.

Post-WWI era

After the First World War, the excesses of the Futurist school were diminished. Only the founder, Marinetti, tried to keep the art movement alive by adapting the futurist precepts to the growing anti – values of Italian fascism.

In 1929 the last artists who remained in force carried out a third treatise entitled Manifesto of aeropainting .

This text was inspired by the sensations that flights produced, as well as aviation technique. However, this new trend could not lift the dying Futurism, but rather ended up burying it.

Decline of the movement

The name of this movement was due to the interests of its authors to break with the past and look towards the future, especially in Italy, where the aesthetic tradition encompassed all idiosyncrasies. The Futurists wanted to create a completely new art that would suit modern mindsets.

However, many critics have established that it is impossible to completely detach oneself from tradition and the past, even if one takes a radical stance on it. The very act of creating and designing is already a nod to the most rocky past of human beings.

However, what can be said is that the Futurists had revolutionary ideas that bet on strength, speed, speed and energy. Likewise, the aesthetics of Futurism also spread macho and provocative notions, in which a notable interest in war, danger and violence was demonstrated.

Over the years, Futurism became more and more politicized until it merged completely with the fascist ideals, in whose party the founder joined in 1919.


Exaltation of modernity

The Futurist movement exalted modernity and called on artists “to free themselves from the past.” It is interesting that precisely in Italy, where the classical influence is palpable, this movement has been forged that called for the rejection of classical art.

Renaissance art and other artistic currents were considered by the Futurists as an interpretation of classicism, which did not allow a new aesthetic to develop.

Exaltation of the original

The Futurist movement was mainly characterized by the exaltation of the original, since it sought to make a clean sweep of everything previously established.

However, Futurism had been nourished by other previous movements such as Cubism, which, according to some authors, detracted from their works originality. However, Futurism in the same way was a novelty for the time, thanks to its way of representing movement and the machine.

Ideals of movement

One of the most important characteristics of Futurism was its ability to give movement to artistic works through pictorial, architectural or literary techniques.

Other novel concepts such as speed, force, energy and time were also introduced. These elements were highlighted through strong colors and violent lines.

Relationship with the modern world

Futurism remained closely related to modernity, which is why it appealed to large cities, automobiles, dynamism and the bustle typical of new cosmopolitan cities. He also kept an inclination towards other aspects of the 20th century, such as sports and warfare.

Use of color

As stated in previous paragraphs, the Futurists used a wide range of strong colors to give the impression of movement, as well as to illustrate or represent different rhythms.

Likewise, through colors these authors generated all kinds of sensations, such as those generated by transparencies.

Use of lines

Just as they used colors to generate movement, the Futurists also used many details and lines, which also contributed to the dynamic representation of the modern age.

The lines of these authors resembled those of kaleidoscopes and even those of some films, as a result of their search for dynamism.

It is a symbolist movement

Force, movement, violence and aggressiveness were the main values ​​of Futurism and the most important thing was to represent them in his works.  In that sense, it can be said that the theme of the works did not have great importance as long as these values ​​were reflected.

In relation to these values, Futurism can be defined as symbolist, in the sense that it used the image of a “heavy hand” to represent force or aggressiveness. The Futurists are considered to have been heavily influenced by French symbolism.

Apology for urbanism

Futurist art was an apology for urbanism, for the “concrete jungle”, the city. The main characteristic of futuristic urbanism was rationalism.

The buildings had to be practical. For example, the Florence Santa Maria Novella Station, built by a group of architects including Giovanni Michelucci.

Interest in the occult

Futurists sought to present to the public a more primary and hidden reality of things. Influenced by Henri Bergson’s philosophy of intuition, they sought with the help of forms to represent the hidden. It should be remembered that Bergson developed the philosophy of movement, thought and what moves, time and space.

Admiration for machines

Futurists loved machines. Futurism tried to eliminate bourgeois culture and its destructive force expressed the aggressive aesthetics of urban life. The idea of ​​destruction of reality was professed by the Futurists.

Futurism in architecture


Responding to its original precepts, futuristic architecture stood out for its anti-historicalism, so traditional forms were avoided. Futurist architects used long horizontal lines to suggest speed, urgency, and movement.

The architecture of Futurism is described by connoisseurs as the architecture of calculation, simplicity and architectural daring. The elements used were iron, glass, concrete, cardboard, substitutes for wood, textile fiber and substitutes for brick, in order to give the work lightness and elasticity.

Oblique lines and inspiration in mechanical figures

Despite its search for practicality and utility, futurist architecture remained faithful to the artistic sense, since it also preserved expression and synthesis.

For their part, the lines were oblique and elliptical, in order to appeal to dynamism. These types of lines contain greater expressive potential compared to the typical perpendicular lines.

Unlike traditional architecture – which was inspired by the forms of nature – futuristic architecture sought inspiration from new modern forms, thus absorbing some knowledge of mechanics and technology.

Another characteristic of this type of architecture consisted in its transitory character; Futurist architects established that houses should last less than humans, so each generation had a duty to build a new city.

Representatives and works

Cesar Pelli and the Petronas Towers

One of the most famous architects with a futuristic tendency was César Pelli, an Argentine architect who also had Art Deco influences.

His best known work is the acclaimed Petronas Towers located in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. These towers are considered one of the tallest buildings in the world, as they have a height of 452 meters.

The Petronas Towers were built with typical futuristic materials, such as reinforced concrete and glass. Visually many lines can be perceived, both oblique and horizontal. Although Futurism seeks to break with all of the above, Pelli decided to take inspiration from Muslim curves to give buildings dynamism.

Santiago Calatrava and the City of Arts and Sciences

This Spanish architect, although he is a contemporary artist who continues to produce works today, acquired a lot of influence from the futurist precepts. Such is the case with the use of materials and oblique shapes.

Calatrava has been awarded many times, especially for the realization of one of his most famous works: the City of Arts and Sciences.

This construction is a huge architectural complex located in the city of Valencia, Spain. It was inaugurated in 1998, causing a great sensation among connoisseurs. In this city you can see the best of futuristic and modern architecture, since both the colors used and the glass placed give a sensation of movement and elasticity.

Futurism in painting


As mentioned in previous paragraphs, futuristic painting sought to leave behind everything established to offer something completely different to the viewers. This type of painting celebrated change, innovation and urban culture, which is why the figure of the machine was taken as the main source of inspiration.

Colors used and figures

In futuristic painting, the viewer can observe a large number of geometric figures, as well as various curves.

The predominant colors are red, blue and orange, since they are the colors that characterize the modern spirit. Gray is also frequently used, as this hue is emblematic of urbanized culture.

At the same time, in these pictorial works you can see very tall buildings, which are blurred between machines, colors and curves. The representation of these buildings does not follow a realistic scheme, since the concrete constructions seem to be immersed in a kind of kaleidoscope through images and figures that are superimposed.

The human figure, as an individual entity, does not usually appear in Futurist paintings. In any case, man is presented within the community and large cities.

If there is a human figure in these works, this usually has a blurred face, offering the viewer the idea of ​​dynamism and transience.

Representatives and works

Umberto Boccioni: main futurist exponent

Umberto Boccioni was an Italian sculptor and painter, best known for being one of the pioneers of the Futurist movement.

His works were characterized by reproaching statism, so Boccioni avoided using the straight line at all costs. To give the sensation of vibration, this painter chose the secondary colors above the others.

One of his most famous works, known as Dynamism of a Cyclist (1913), demonstrates how Boccioni manufactured the sensation of movement. This can also be seen in his work Dynamism of a soccer player , where he also experimented with these characteristics; both works have in common their sports theme.

Giacomo Balla and his separation from violence

Giacomo Balla was an Italian painter with a futuristic bent. He maintained a notable interest in anarchist ideas, and was linked in a way with Pointillism.

Initially his painting was impressionistic, so this author maintained a notorious interest in chromatic analysis. Through pointillism he practiced the favorite theme of Futurism: dynamism and speed.

Unlike the other Futurist painters, Balla disagreed with violence, so he can be properly defined as a lyrical painter. His most famous work is entitled Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash (1912).

Futurism in literature


As in previous disciplines, literary futurism sought to break with tradition and give readers a sense of dynamism, transience, movement, and speed.

In 1913 a literary futurist manifesto was published called Destruction of syntax-wireless imagination-words in freedom , which explained how the writer should proceed.

In summary, this text establishes that the language should be free of adjectives and adverbs, mainly using infinitive verbs.

Representatives and works

As for the literary representatives of Futurism, many critics mention the founder Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, thanks to his artistic manifestos. However, you can find different poets and notable writers who had futuristic leanings, such as Guillaume Apollinaire.

Apollinaire’s dynamic poetry

This author, of Italian-French nationality, was a fundamental poet for the development of not only futuristic, but modern writing. In general, he is considered one of the most important exponents of the literary avant-garde.

Apollinaire shared with Futurism his penchant for controversy and repudiation of traditions. He also maintained notable connections with the artistic precepts of Surrealism.

This poet is known especially for his Calligrams (1918), which consisted of a series of writings that were superimposed in such a way that they created figures, such as buildings, streets or other objects.

The futuristic theater

It is mostly a variety theater in which several short numbers are presented. Vaudeville stood out, which was a kind of light comedy with few characters.

Futuristic theater used to have only one act. He also highlighted the music hall, which was a famous type of vaudeville in England, which brought together acting, dance and music.

The variety theater featured many acts, where they were not related to each other. These included musical numbers, illusionism, poetry, stand up, circus, shows of biological oddities, juggling, athletes and starlets.

Futuristic cinema

It was characterized by the use of optical illusions. It was the oldest movement in European avant-garde cinema. Its cultural significance was very broad and influenced all subsequent avant-garde movements.

His legacy can be seen in the works of Alfred Hitchcock. Production on the avant-garde film was quite limited.

The first experimental films of the Corradini brothers, nicknamed Ginna and Corra, were not preserved, but it is known that they used the technique of cinepitture (hand-colored films) with scattered and confusing pops of color. Futuristic cinema was continued by German expressionist cinema.

The only significant futuristic film is Thaïs , filmed in 1917 and directed by Anton Giulio Bragaglia. A copy is kept in the Cinematheque of France. The story is conventional for the time, but the effects made by the painter Enrico Prampolini created a whimsical and oppressive world of spirals and chessboards.

The influence of futuristic architecture in cinema can be highlighted. For example, architect Virgilio Marchi designed the set for more than 50 films, including Condottieri (1937) and Lost in the Dark (1947).

Futuristic gastronomy

The Futurists, who sought to influence all aspects of everyday life, also launched a gastronomic manifesto. Filippo Tommaso Marinetti also published the Futurist Kitchen Manifesto  on January 20, 1931, though French chef Jules Maincave is considered to be the forerunner of the ideas Marinetti explains in his manifesto.

Marinetti stated that traditional cooking methods are boring and stupid. He also considered that Italians should eliminate pasta from their diet.

This thinker called on chemists to experiment with the flavors and consistency of food, he considered that it was necessary to create new mixtures and abolish the fork, knife, traditional seasonings, the weight and volume of food. Marinetti believed that it was necessary to create changeable snacks.

After the launch of the manifesto, futuristic conferences and banquets were organized in Italy and France and the restaurant “Santopalato” was opened. Marinetti would later publish The Futurist Kitchen of Marinetti and Fillia .

Futuristic music

He used city noises as musical notes. For example, the click of a typewriter or the noise of the market in the city. These sounds had to be harmoniously integrated with the musical notes.

In 1910 the Futurist Music Manifesto was published which, instead of debunking “the aesthetics” of Futurist music, rather described the attitude of “Futurist musicians.” They had to leave the classical music teaching centers and dedicate themselves to creating their works freely and outside the influence of academic music.

This manifesto called on musicians to substitute musical notes and scores for free music and also declared singing to be of equal value to music, since previously singers were the central figures in any orchestra.

The greatest representative of Futurist music is Luigi Russolo, author of the Art of Noises . Luigi built a set of experimental instruments called Intonarumori, with which he composed works such as The Awakening of the City . Other famous Futurist musicians were Arthur-Vincent Lourié and Alexander Goedick.

Futuristic fashion

It developed from the Manifesto, although its rise was related to the Space Age. In this era fashion designers experimented with new materials and their suits looked like space suits.

Andre Courrèges, Pierre Cardin and Paco Rabanne were the greatest exponents of futuristic fashion. This fashion stood out for the development of many unisex garments.

The couturiers preferred circular shapes, the comfort and practicality of suits and often ignored femininity, for which they were highly criticized.

Futuristic graphic design

It was characterized by the transformation of the traditional typography and the presentation of the texts. The texts were turned into dynamic composition designs with drawings that evoked futuristic values.

The texts were placed diagonally with a contrast of sizes. Sometimes a text was made up of figures made, which gave it a varied and expressive character.

In 1910, the “Manifesto of Futurist Painters” was signed by Carrá, Balla, Severini and Luigi Russolo, who applied the Futurist theory to the decorative arts. For example, the Lacerba revits.


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