Marinetti Issues the Futurist Manifesto

Futurism established itself as the most aggressive artistic movement of its age, and its initial manifesto provoked international attention.

Summary of Event

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti was a well-known literary figure in France and Italy among avant-garde poets and artists when his “Manifeste de Futurisme” (futurist manifesto) was published on February 20, 1909, on the front page of Le Figaro, the newspaper that served as the battleground of artistic theories and allegiances in Paris. “Manifeste de Futurisme” is a prose poem describing an intellectual journey that is separated into three parts, each symbolic of a different stage of artistic development in modern Italy. The first part is designated as the pseudoscientific, from which the artist escapes at dawn in an automobile; the second represents the immediate future and announces the Futurist program; and the third looks forward to the more distant future, when a new generation of artists will repeat the ruthless emancipatory process of the present Futurists. Literature;Futurism
“Manifeste de Futurisme” (Marinetti)[Manifeste de Futurisme]
Art movements;Futurism
[kw]Marinetti Issues the Futurist Manifesto (Feb. 20, 1909)
[kw]Futurist Manifesto, Marinetti Issues the (Feb. 20, 1909)
“Manifeste de Futurisme” (Marinetti)[Manifeste de Futurisme]
Art movements;Futurism
[g]France;Feb. 20, 1909: Marinetti Issues the Futurist Manifesto[02370]
[c]Arts;Feb. 20, 1909: Marinetti Issues the Futurist Manifesto[02370]
[c]Literature;Feb. 20, 1909: Marinetti Issues the Futurist Manifesto[02370]
Marinetti, Filippo Tommaso
Balla, Giacomo
Boccioni, Umberto
Carrà, Carlo
Pratella, Francesco Balilla
Russolo, Luigi
Severini, Gino

Marinetti’s manifesto established the general terms for the theory and practice of the entire Futurist movement and became a rallying cry for artistic revolutions among artists of the younger generations. Although “Manifeste de Futurisme” had a bombshell effect, it was based on traditional aspects of artistic rebellions as well. In its appeal to the young artists of the day, Futurism followed many of the precepts of Romanticism, particularly in its challenge to the artist to seek inspiration in contemporary life. The manifesto demanded emancipation from the crushing weight of tradition, the so-called graveyard of culture, and exhorted the artist to reject existing academies, museums, libraries, and all similar institutions devoted to maintaining traditional values in art. Marinetti’s disdain for the status quo was apparent not only in his rejection of tradition but also in his incitement of the artist to show contempt for prevailing middle-class values and standards of taste.

Although the manifesto’s call for young artists to shake the foundations of tradition-based cultural institutions was itself revolutionary, the most significant contribution on the part of the Futurist agenda lay in its articulation of the concept of dynamism, which, according to Futurist dogma, was to be the basis for the arts. In fact, initially Marinetti wavered between “Dynamism” and “Futurism” as potential names for the new movement. As a concept, dynamism represented a rejection of static, changeless reality. Futurism urged artists to abandon the life of passive contemplation and to take a place in the center of the universe’s ceaseless activity. Movement, activity, and change were to supplant the static representation of realism and Impressionism in order to project the dynamic movement and rapid locomotion of the new age of the automobile and the airplane.

Not only did Futurism address itself to the physical realm, but it also glorified intellectual exertion and agitation. Conflict, violence, misogyny, anarchism, and, ultimately, even war were viewed as positive examples of universal dynamism. At the same time, the strong language, harangues, changes of images, exaggerations, and insults of Marinetti’s manifesto gave it a vitality related to the spirit of dynamism. In Marinetti’s vision, the artist was to become an agitator who would not only overthrow the cultural institutions of society but also participate in agitation for political change. Thus in choosing a manifesto as the form in which he called for an artistic revolution, Marinetti used the methodology of propaganda to politicize the arts.

Although “Manifeste de Futurisme” addressed itself to all aspects of creative endeavor, it concentrated primarily on the effect of Futurism in literature. Consequently, Marinetti extended the range of the Futurist program by publishing more specific statements, such as a 1910 manifesto of Futurist painters signed by the Italian artists Giacomo Balla, Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carrà, Luigi Russolo, and Gino Severini. Painting;Futurism The painters’ manifesto appealed to artists to adopt a more honest and aggressive approach to art and focused on the rejection of representation. It encouraged artists to provide fresh angles of perception in their work to break down the traditional psychological distance between the aesthetic object and the spectator. The Futurists drew much of their inspiration from psychophysics and the psychophysiology of visual perception, which provided analogues that were to represent the dynamism of movement and change.

Marinetti and the other Futurists extended their efforts to revitalize the other arts as well by issuing additional manifestos. In a 1913 manifesto, Marinetti urged dramatists to abandon traditional aspects of theatrical representation, such as logical plot development and believable characters, and instead foreground the illogical and absurd. Theater;Futurism The plays written by the Futurists were concerned with speed and motion, and the proper work of the playwright was seen as the synthesizing of facts and ideas in the least number of words. Brevity, distillation, and condensation were encouraged; Marinetti approved the staging of Richard Wagner’s opera Parsifal (1882) in forty minutes. He also suggested the presentation of all the Greek, French, and Italian tragedies in a single evening as fragments and the reduction of the whole of William Shakespeare’s work to a single act.

Similarly, the Futurists attempted to alter structure in music. Music;Futurism A 1911 manifesto issued by Francesco Balilla Pratella promoted music that exploited small changes in pitch and complicated, changing, and subtle rhythms in order to crush the domination of dance rhythm. In a 1913 manifesto discussing the “art of noise,” Russolo took Pratella’s demands for nonharmonic music as a point of departure and extended the limits of traditional music to include all of the sounds of everyday life. In order to realize the new music, Russolo invented new instruments and a new kind of musical notation.

Ultimately, the Futurists also extended their demands for dynamism, condensation, and simultaneity into experiments in the cinema and radio. As a result, the Futurists’ all-encompassing program for dynamic change in the arts had an incalculable impact on international artistic movements.


Once the Futurists issued their manifestos, they attempted to put the new aesthetics into practice, and their experiments culminated in the 1912 Exhibition of Futurist Painters Exhibition of Futurist Painters in Paris. Widespread publicity accompanied the exhibition, and many of the paintings were reproduced in newspapers and art journals as examples of Futurist notions of movement and simultaneity. The exhibition was supplemented by a range of other events, including discussions, press conferences, concerts, and encounters with rival art movements. In addition, the publicity events were accompanied by “Futurist Evenings” Futurist Evenings during which Marinetti incited audiences by hurling insults at them. These evenings usually ended in riots as spectators attempted to attack the Futurists, and the rioting and brawling frequently spread out into the surrounding streets and bars.

Because of the notoriety the Futurists attained in Paris, they were met with even more provocations when the exhibition toured Brussels, London, and Berlin. The media coverage these events generated gave a sense of urgency to the concepts of the Futurists, and the speed of the publicity surrounding the Futurists’ escapades brought their ideas to the attention of people all around the world almost simultaneously.

The concepts of universal dynamism and simultaneity emphasized in the 1912 Futurist exhibition were also explored in the early works of the cubist painters Georges Braque Braque, Georges and Pablo Picasso, Picasso, Pablo whose work would in time modify some of the wildly exaggerated claims of the Futurists. At the same time, the Futurists’ focus on movement affected the work of Marcel Duchamp Duchamp, Marcel and Robert Delaunay, Delaunay, Robert who went on to synthesize Futurist aesthetics in their work. The Futurists thus influenced a variety of approaches in art by calling attention to the disjointed feelings and chaotic sensations inherent in rapidly changing twentieth century society.

Although Marinetti did not visit Russia until 1914, the ideas of the Futurists stimulated such Russian artists as David Burliuk Burliuk, David and Kazimir Malevich Malevich, Kazimir and the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, Mayakovsky, Vladimir who responded by generating their own Futurist-inspired programs. Malevich ultimately passed beyond Futurism to the absolute abstraction of Suprematism, but his awareness of Futurist images of movement and flight contributed to his explorations of nonobjective space. Burliuk and Mayakovsky presented Futurist-inspired recitals intended to provoke spectators. In particular, the Russian constructivists decorated public squares, trains, and theaters with agitprop decorations using dynamic forms similar to those in the paintings of Boccioni, Balla, and Russolo. Ultimately, the spectacle of the Russian Revolution seemed to the Futurists to be the culmination of their agitation for the total destruction of tradition and order, a realization of their dreams.

On the surface, Futurism appeared to prosper in terms of the influence it had on other movements, but after three years of feverish activity the Italian Futurists showed signs of exhaustion from the demands of collective activity. At the same time, jealousies and conflicting interests split the group into new alignments with redefined goals. The outbreak of World War I further jeopardized the cohesiveness of the Futurist cause, particularly given that Marinetti’s manifestos became increasingly nationalistic and thereby subverted the very nature of Futurist universality. In 1920, Marinetti, despite the defection of many of the most talented Futurists, generated the Second Futurism, Second Futurism which lasted until the outbreak of World War II. This movement, despite its explorations of tactile art and radio theater, never gained the notoriety whipped up by the original Futurists. Instead, it was left to other movements to engender new ideologies in art.

Although Futurism itself expired as an international movement, Dadaism, Dadaism
Art movements;Dadaism the disruptive antiart phenomenon born in Zurich in 1916, appropriated a number of Futurist techniques. The first issue of the Dada review Cabaret Voltaire contained a free-word poem by Marinetti, but Dada did not merely reject the past, it was also uninterested in the future, and Marinetti’s violent optimism was totally negated. The influence of Futurism can be seen, however, not only in the irreverence of the Dadaists but also in their approach toward the disruption of perception by means of nonsense poetry, collage, chaotic performances, and subversive satire.

Ultimately, almost every twentieth century attempt to subvert representation in art and language from traditional conventions and restrictions can be traced back to the original manifestos of the Futurists. In particular, the attention the Futurists paid to speed, absurdity, and disruption in order to dislocate the spectator and break down traditional modes of perception had in it the germs of contemporary street theater, pop art, “happenings,” and antitheater. Literature;Futurism
“Manifeste de Futurisme” (Marinetti)[Manifeste de Futurisme]
Art movements;Futurism

Further Reading

  • Apollonio, Umbro, ed. Futurist Manifestos. Boston: MFA Publications, 2001. Translations of the manifestos, many of which have not been available widely in English for many years. Includes black-and-white illustrations.
  • Berghaus, Gunter, ed. International Futurism in Arts and Literature. New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2000. Collection of essays discusses the influence of Futurism on art and literature throughout the world. Includes a comprehensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources.
  • Clough, Rosa Trillo. Futurism: The Story of a Modern Art Movement. New York: Greenwood Press, 1961. Two-part analysis of the history of Futurism aimed at readers with some background in the subject. Traces the aims, methods, and theories of the Futurists in literature, painting, architecture, and music, and then analyzes the influence of Futurism on the arts from 1942 to 1960. Features black-and-white illustrations and an extensive bibliography.
  • Humphreys, Richard. Futurism. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Brief introduction to Futurism explains the movement’s origins and addresses its influence on twentieth century art in general. Includes bibliography and index.
  • Kirby, Michael, and Victoria Nes Kirby. Futurist Performance. New York: PAJ, 1986. Analyzes the origins of Futurist performance, with discussions on theoretical foundations as well as more practical information on scenography, acting, costumes, and Futurist cinema and radio theater. Includes an appendix with translations of manifestos and play scripts, a chronology of Futurist performances, and an extensive bibliography.
  • Kozloff, Max. Cubism/Futurism. New York: Charterhouse, 1973. Discusses cubism and Futurism as parallel movements. Provides a lengthy, well-illustrated exploration of cubism and its heritage, its relevance as an avant-garde movement, and its characteristics. The discussion of Futurism develops theory and practice, and the conclusion provides an overview of similarities and differences. Includes a brief bibliography and illustrations.
  • Markov, Vladimir. Russian Futurism: A History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968. Extensive exploration of Russian Futurism and its variants addresses the influence of the Futurist manifestos on Russian art and poetry and describes Marinetti’s visit to Russia in 1914. Traces Russian Futurism from its beginnings through its flowering and decline, noting parallels to the history of Italian Futurism. Includes extensive notes and a bibliography of sources in English and Russian.
  • Martin, Marianne W. Futurist Art and Theory: 1909-1915. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1968. Provides a historical perspective on Italian Futurism, tracing its roots from the painting and sculpture in Italy during the late nineteenth century to the decline of Futurism at the outbreak of World War I. Explores the relationship between Marinetti’s life and his launching of Futurism. Includes individual overviews of Boccioni, Carrà, Russolo, Severini, and Balla. Features excellent bibliography, index, and black-and-white reproductions.
  • Tisdall, Caroline, and Angelo Bozzolla. Futurism. 1978. Reprint. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1985. Comprehensive historical discussion of Futurism explores provocative aspects of the theory and practice of Futurism and addresses the relationship of Futurism to both women and fascism. Includes a brief bibliography and 169 plates.

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