Futurism: The Avant-Garde Art Movement Obsessed With Speed and Technology (2024)

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By Jessica Stewart on February 25, 2022

Futurism: The Avant-Garde Art Movement Obsessed With Speed and Technology (1)

“Unique Forms of Continuity in Space” by Umberto Boccioni. 1913. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Fascinated by new industry and thrilled by what lay ahead, the early 20th-century Futurists carved out a place in history. Growing out of Italy, these artists worked as painters, sculptors, graphic designers, musicians, architects, and industrial designers. Together, they helped shape a new, modern style of art that still has staying power today.

The Futurists were revolutionaries, members of an avant-garde movement that sought to free itself from the artistic norms of the past. Through frequent, well-laid-out manifestos, they were able to spread their ideas widely and enjoyed great success prior to World War I. This group firmly looked forward and couldn’t get enough of what they saw. For the Futurists, the past was something to look down on. Airplanes and automobiles symbolized the speed they craved and the dynamism with which they saw the world.

Today, the Futurist movement is known for its embracing of speed, violence, and youth culture in an attempt to move culture forward. Though the movement is probably most widely associated with Umberto Boccioni’s sculpture Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, there’s a lot more to explore.

Table of Contents hide

1 The Origins of Futurism

2 Characteristics of Futurist Art

3 Female Futurist Artists

4 Decline and Legacy of Futurism

The Origins of Futurism

Futurism: The Avant-Garde Art Movement Obsessed With Speed and Technology (2)

Italian futurists Luigi Russolo, Carlo Carrà, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Umberto Boccioni and Gino Severini in front of “Le Figaro,” Paris, February 9, 1912 (Photo: Wikipedia)

Futurism was founded in Milan by the Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. He published his Manifesto of Futurism in 1909, first in the La gazzetta dell’Emilia and then in France’s daily newspaper Le Figaro.

This initial manifesto laid out the Futurist’s disdain for the past, stating “We want no part of it, the past, we the young and strong Futurists!” In the text, it’s also clear that Marinetti wishes to reestablish Italy as a new cultural center. Italy, which was only unified in 1870, was still basking in the glory of the ancient Roman Empire and the Italian Renaissance. For the Futurists, this wasn’t enough.

In fact, Marinetti was through with the past, writing, “We will free Italy from her innumerable museums which cover her like countless cemeteries.” Futurists saw much more beauty in the great industrial discoveries of the 20th century than classical painting and sculpture. In the manifesto, they outright state that modern industrial inventions are much more appealing: “We declare…a new beauty, the beauty of speed. A racing motor car…is more beautiful than theVictory of Samothrace.”

The manifesto also promoted violence and the necessity of war, but interestingly did not discuss or outline any rules for the visual arts. That would come later, with the 1914 Technical Manifesto for Futurist Painting. It was just one of many manifestos that they would produce, as the Futurists wrote about all sorts of topics, from architecture and religion to clothing.

Futurism: The Avant-Garde Art Movement Obsessed With Speed and Technology (3)

“Dynamism of a Cyclist” by Umberto Boccioni. 1913. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Characteristics of Futurist Art

As the early manifesto did not directly address the artistic output of Futurism, it took some time before there was a cohesive visual. A hallmark of Futurist art is the depiction of speed and movement.

In particular, they adhered to principles of “universal dynamism,” which meant that no single object is separate from its background or another object. “The sixteen people around you in a rolling motor bus are in turn and at the same time one, ten four three; they are motionless and they change places. … The motor bus rushes into the houses which it passes, and in their turn the houses throw themselves upon the motor bus and are blended with it.”

This is best exemplified in Giacomo Balla’s Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash, where the motion of walking the dog is shown through the multiplying of the dog’s feet, leash, and owner’s legs. Urban scenes such as this were typical subject matter for the Futurists, who saw the city environment as the apex of their ideals.

Futurism: The Avant-Garde Art Movement Obsessed With Speed and Technology (4)

“Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash” by Giacomo Balla. 1912. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Umberto Boccioni explained the principles of Futurist art by distinguishing it from another avant-garde movement—Impressionism. “While the impressionists paint a picture to give one particular moment and subordinate the life of the picture to its resemblance to this moment, we synthesize every moment (time, place, form, color-tone) and thus paint the picture.”

The Futurists were also highly influenced by Cubism, which was first brought to the group by Gino Severini. Severini came into contact with the style while visiting Paris in 1911 and introduced its use of broken color fields and short brushstrokes to the Futurists. The core artists used these techniques to create even more dynamic scenes of everything from cyclists to dancers to cities under construction.

Eventually, Boccioni took his work from two dimensions to three dimensions and created the acclaimed sculpture Unique Forms of Continuity in Space. Aerodynamic and fluid, it’s emblematic of the painter’s new obsession with sculpture and its ability to suggest motion. Interestingly, the sculpture was never cast in bronze during Boccioni’s lifetime. His original plaster cast is located in São Paulo’s contemporary art museum. Several bronze casts were made beginning in 1931, with one of the original casts acquired by New York’s MoMA.

Futurism: The Avant-Garde Art Movement Obsessed With Speed and Technology (5)

“Dynamic Hieroglyphic of the Bal Tabarin” by Gino Severini. 1912. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Female Futurist Artists

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F.T. Marinetti and Benedetta Cappa by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (Photo: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Although Futurism was remembered as a movement of violence, Fascism, and “disprezzo de la donna” (“scorn for women”), there were a few female Futurists that proved the contrary:

Gianni Censi was a famous Italian dancer and choreographer who moved and danced in an entirely new way. She contorted her body by dramatically arching backward and forwards in a mechanical motion.

Benedetta Cappa was an artist who worked across a range of media, from ceramics and glass to paint and metal. She was inspired by her first-hand experience flying in a plane and set out to overcome “earthbound limitations” through paint.

Bice Lazzari painted with what she called the “absolute colors”—black, white, red, and yellow. While living in Rome with her architect husband, she seemed to have found herself at the center of the Futurist artistic society.

Decline and Legacy of Futurism

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“Brooklyn Bridge” by Joseph Stella. 1919-1920. (Photo: Wikipedia)

The beginning of World War I signaled the end of the original Futurist group. Boccioni created only one painting during the war and was drafted into the Italian army. It was a huge blow for the group when he was killed in 1916 during a training exercise.

After the end of the war, Marinetti revived the movement. This period was later called Second Futurism which became associated with Fascism. Similar to many Fascists, they felt that Italy was a country divided between the industrialized north and agricultural south and wished to build a bridge to bring them together. Marinetti’s Futurist Political Party was actually absorbed into Benito Mussolini’s Fascist Party, though Marinetti would later disagree with some of their principles and withdraw from political life.

Post-World War I Futurism was dedicated to new types of expression. In particular, Aeropainting became a popular style in the 1920s. It combined the love for flight with aerial landscapes and was often used in propaganda. Not limited to landscapes, Aeropainting was actually varied in its subject matter and remained popular until 1940.

After the defeat of Mussolini and Marinetti’s death in 1944, Futurism as a formal movement was dead. However, it remained highly influential for subsequent 20th-century art movements like Dada, Surrealism, and—in terms of design—Art Deco.

Today, works by Futurist artists can be found in major collections around the world and are essential to understanding early 20th-century culture.

Futurism: The Avant-Garde Art Movement Obsessed With Speed and Technology (8)

“Speeding Motorboat” by Benedetta Cappa. 1923. (Photo: WikiArt)

This article has been edited and updated.

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Futurism: The Avant-Garde Art Movement Obsessed With Speed and Technology (2024)


What did futurism art focus on? ›

Futurist painting used elements of neo-impressionism and cubism to create compositions that expressed the idea of the dynamism, the energy and movement, of modern life. Chief artists associated with futurism were Giacomo Balla, Umberto Boccioni, Gino Severini.

What was avant-garde in futurism? ›

The Futurists were revolutionaries, members of an avant-garde movement that sought to free itself from the artistic norms of the past. Through frequent, well-laid-out manifestos, they were able to spread their ideas widely and enjoyed great success prior to World War I.

Is futurism associated with speed and violence? ›

Key ideas behind Futurism

The key focus was to represent a dynamic vision of the future. As such, they often portrayed urban landscapes and new technologies including trains, cars and aeroplanes. They glorified speed, violence and the working classes, believing they would advance change.

Which art movement was focused on speed technology and a break with tradition? ›

Marinetti coined the word Futurism to reflect his goal of discarding the art of the past and celebrating change, originality, and innovation in culture and society. Marinetti's manifesto glorified the new technology of the automobile and the beauty of its speed, power, and movement.

Why were the Futurists so interested in movement? ›

Entranced by the idea of the “dynamic,” the Futurists sought to represent an object's sensations, rhythms and movements in their images, poems and manifestos. Such characteristics are beautifully expressed in Boccioni's most iconic masterpiece, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (see above).

How did futurism influence modern art? ›

Futurism emerged as a groundbreaking movement, challenging traditional artistic norms and embracing the possibilities of the future. Its emphasis on speed, technology, and the dynamism of modern life reshaped the course of modern art.

What are the avant-garde art movements? ›

Some avant-garde movements such as cubism for example have focused mainly on innovations of form, others such as futurism, De Stijl or surrealism have had strong social programmes.

What is the difference between avant-garde and futurism? ›

Avant Garde is an attempt to express the Now in a novel way. By contrast Futurism is either an attempt to project a future style based on current trends, or more commonly use of the style elements which previous generations believed the future would feature.

What is the idea of the avant-garde? ›

In the arts and in literature, the term avant-garde (advance guard and vanguard) identifies a genre of art, an experimental work of art, and the experimental artist who created the work of art, which usually is aesthetically innovative, whilst initially being ideologically unacceptable to the artistic establishment of ...

What makes Futurism unique? ›

Focus was placed on creating a unique and dynamic vision of the future and artists incorporated portrayals of urban landscapes as well as new technologies such as trains, cars, and airplanes into their depictions.

Why is Futurism controversial? ›

It represented the unstoppable force of modernity, and celebrated machines, speed, and technology. It connected artists like Luigi Russolo, Carlo Carrà, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Umberto Boccioni, and Gino Severini. Because of its ties to Italian Fascism, the movement is also quite controversial.

Did Futurism lead to fascism? ›

Philosopher and historian Benedetto Croce described Futurism as the ideological origin of Fascism, and indeed it can be seen as such as well as a vehicle through which the fascist regime sustained its popularity in mainstream media.

What is the Futurism art movement? ›

Futurism (Italian: Futurismo, Italian: [futuˈrizmo]) was an artistic and social movement that originated in Italy, and to a lesser extent in other countries, in the early 20th century. It emphasized dynamism, speed, technology, youth, violence, and objects such as the car, the airplane, and the industrial city.

How did the Futurism influence society? ›

The Futurist Movement influenced fields ranging from fashion and design to architecture and politics. Futurist ideas about embracing progress and rejecting tradition resonated with many people at the time - especially young people seeking a break from old ways of thinking.

How did Futurism influence society? ›

The Futurists created a style that was bolder and brasher in its visual impact than Cubism, and also forged a new connection between the compulsive innovation of new styles in painting and the innovative world of new machines and inventions outside the painter's studio.

What did futurism artists want to represent? ›

Dynamism. Futurist artists sought to create works that captured movement, or dynamism, as a way of representing the frenetic motion of modern life.

What are the visual characteristics of futurism art? ›

Objects captured in motion, represented with repeated parallel lines and spirals to convey dynamism. In fact, repetition, blurring and lines of force, which are used to this day as techniques to convey a sense of movement, were conceived by the Futurists.

What did futurism embrace? ›

Futurism is an early 20th-century art movement founded in Italy by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. The movement was characterized by its embrace of technology, speed, and industrialization. Marinetti envisioned a future where progress and modernization would lead to a new era of human creativity and expression.

What do Futurists believe? ›

They desire an active role in world transformation. They are hopeful for a better future as a "strange attractor". Most believe they are pragmatists in this world, even as they imagine and work for another. Futurists have a long term perspective.

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