Futurism was an artistic and social movement that originated in Italy in the early 20th century. It emphasized and glorified themes associated with contemporary concepts of the future, including speed, technology, youth and violence, and objects such as the car, the airplane and the industrial city.
Often ignored in Anglo-American scholarship, Futurism both exemplifies and defies current definitions of the avant-garde. With its demand for new and transgressive approaches to making art, its critique of the social institutions that control the production and display of art, and its desire to integrate art and life, Futurism provides a template for the "historical avant-garde." No other movement of the early twentieth century so clearly attacked art for art's sake aestheticism, or so aggressively addressed mass audiences through a variety of popular cultural media.
Marinetti declared that Futurist art in all its manifestations was the result of the enthusiastic emulation of electricity and machines; an essential conciseness and compactness; the sweet precision of machinery and of well-oiled thought; the harmony of energies converging in one victorious path. Key Futurist principles such as dynamism, interpenetration and simultaneity were directly derived from scientific discoveries.
Futurism revolutionized art by converting it into a field of action. Painting a picture was placed on a par with winning a race or organizing a mass meeting. Futurism also had a program before it had paintings and sculptures; in this respect, its works can be seen as illustrations of Futurist doctrine.
Futurist art was inextricably linked with a radical transformation of the political and social spheres. It was a means for bridging the gap between art and life, aesthetic innovation and progress in the real world. Life was to be changed through art, and art to become a form of life.
Marinetti launched Futurism in 1909 with the publication his “Futurist manifesto” on the front page of the French newspaper Le Figaro. The manifesto set a fiery tone. In it Marinetti lashed out against cultural tradition (passatismo, in Italian) and called for the destruction of museums, libraries, and feminism. Futurism quickly grew into an international movement and its participants issued additional manifestos for nearly every type of art: painting, sculpture, architecture, music, photography, cinema—even clothing.
The first major exhibition of Futurist painting was held in Milan, opening 30 April 1911. Beginning with an exhibition at the gallery of Bernheim Jeune in Paris in February 1912, a group of Futurist works circulated through major European centers causing much comment and exerting considerable influence on public and artists alike. Exhibitions were held in England, Germany, and Holland, and illustrated reports of the exhibitions were widespread, appearing also in the American press.
Futurism was a modernist movement based in Italy celebrating the technological era. It was largely inspired by the development of Cubism, and the core preoccupations of Futurist thought and art were machines and motion. Futurism was founded in 1909 by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, along with painters Umberto Boccioni, Giacomo Balla, Carlo Carrà, and Gino Severini.
Futurism arose as part of the general artistic ferment that characterised the intellectual life of Europe, and particularly France, in the period before 1914. This was a period of spectacular advance of capitalism, which was developing the productive forces at a dizzying pace. Industry was advancing at the expense of agriculture, the proletariat at the expense of the peasantry, and old ideas were crumbling.
This close relationship between Fascism and Futurism has led many scholars to claim great political influence for Marinetti's movement. In his controversial The Fascist Persuasion in Radical Politics, the political scientist A. James Gregor went even so far as to attribute much of Mussolini's success in seizing power to his adoption of 'Futurist political style' and Futurist 'histrionics and choreography of the streets', which served as a 'fundamental organizing and mobilizing instrument in the Fascist armarium'. With the assistance of the Futurists' 'intuitive appreciation of the psychology of displaced and restive masses', the Fascist movement was able to mobilize great numbers of people for revolutionary action, something the Italian Socialist party failed to accomplish.
The Futurists strongly rejected the self-awareness behind the overextended lyricism of symbolism—the dominant school of the time. In contrast, it showed a preference for the visual arts that discussed conservative social elements and challenged them in order to provoke a violent negative response.