Futurismwas an artistic and social movement in early 20th-century Italy that put an emphasis on themes like technology, speed, and youthfulness. Given these themes, objects like cars, planes, and industrial cities were popular. Futurism sought to cut ties with the past and move the Italian design movement intrepidly to the modern. While Futurism was a very uniquely Italian design movement, there were nonetheless strains of the same ideas that popped up simultaneously in Russia, Belgium, and the UK.
To be a Futurist meant you had wide-ranging influence and skill: members of this design movement practiced across various design and artistic scopes. These included graphic design, painting, interior design, ceramics, sculpture, textiles, film, fashion, and architecture. Due to its wide range of influence, Futurism ended up impacting many other notable design trends.
History still remembers this highly interesting period of Italian design as a radical movement that attempted to chart its own course and ended up leaving its fingerprints on many aspects of modern Western culture.
This movement can be traced back to a particular man and location. Filippo Tommaso Marinetti founded this design trend back in 1909 in Milan. An art theorist and poet, Marinetti was the author of the Futurist Manifesto (1909) as well as the Fascist Manifesto, later on.
Described for the first time in his Futurist Manifesto, Futurism was envisioned by Marinetti as a stalwart rejection of everything that made up the past. Springing forth from its pages was a philosophy that praised machines, speed, youth, industry, and violence while pushing for a cultural modernization of Italy.
Central to Marinettis viewpoint was the philosophy that humanity should triumph over nature, specifically through technology. That explains why the Futurists admired manmade concepts like machines and industry, as opposed to design movements like Art Nouveau, which put a significant emphasis on the organic beauty of nature. Interestingly, Art Deco, which appeared around the same time as Futurism, deftly combined natural and machine-based elements to create a fusion of the best of both worlds.
To the Futurists, being original was the most important design element of all, which is why they demanded complete severance with anything of the past. Originality was so important to them, that they believed it should come at all costs, even through violencewhich is why it was such a radical design movement.
Contemptuously, they derided their critics for being useless, defied the traditional notions of good taste, and put their faith in science (again, the tie-in to their obsession with technology and machines).
By 1911, Futurists broke ground in painting, utilizing the technique of Divisionism to gain attention. This was characterized by separating colors into singular groups or dots that then visually interacted. Some of the early, prominent painters who adopted the mantle of Futurism included:
There was only a relatively small and hardcore number of these artists who moved toward this new design style.
At the time, Cubism presented itself as the technique of abandoning perspective, blending the foreground into the background, and showing subjects from different and distorted angles. Severini was exposed to this visual style and brought it back with him to Italy. As a result, Futurism from then on borrowed from Cubism.
At this point, the Futurist painters started producing noteworthy works of art, such as:
By 1913, the Futurists had embraced sculpture as their new creative outlet. Boccioni especially wanted to capture the three-dimensional space to showcase his Futurist ideas. One of his more famous pieces was Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, a bronze sculpture that highlights movement and fluidity. Note, again, the tie-ins to one of the central themes of Futurism: speed (movement). Interestingly, this sculpture is immortalized today on the back of Italys 20-cent euro coin and on display in Londons Tate Modern, the famous modern art gallery.
Boccioni was joined by Balla in trying to carve out a niche for Futurism in sculpting. Balla did this by doing something very original with his sculptures: they were abstract reconstructions fashioned from different materials. Because of Futurisms obsession with speed and technology, they were allegedly moveable and able to make noise. Balla moved to sculpting to express his admiration of motion because he believed that using a two-dimensional medium (read: painting) didnt sufficiently allow him to represent the dynamic nature of speed the way he wanted.
Though Futurism was still a very young design movement, by 1914 a schism emerged between its two most influential camps: the Milan artists (that included Boccioni and Balla) and the Florence group that centered around Carra. Essentially, the conflict was about design differences and a struggle for control over the direction of Futurism. This schism would foreshadow looming troubles for this new movement, which would actually soon come to an abrupt and harsh end.
The outbreak of World War I in 1914, which Italy entered in 1915, saw a number of its principal members enlisting (and some getting killed in service). Though Futurisms philosophy had always been rooted in the rejection of the past with regard to design, and its admiration of speed, machines,and technology, its founders hadnt been overtly political until right before the start of the war.
In early 1914, many Futurists started to speak out against the Austro-Hungarian empire, one of the principal belligerents of the war against whom Italy would be fighting. Their activities included tearing up Austrian flags in protest and proudly waving Italian flags. This increasing patriotism and nationalism led to many of their members signing up for service.
At the same time, some Futurists actively abandoned this now-sputtering movement, with the Florence group centered around Carra officially withdrawing from Futurism. Severini also abandoned Futurism, turning his attention full-time to Cubism, which he originally brought back with him to Italy after a trip to Paris, years earlier.
When Boccioni was killed in action in 1916, it officially signaled the death knell of Futurism. Though Marinetti, who also saw action on the border of Italy and the Austrio-Hungarian empire, attempted to revive Futurism after the war, he had only very limited success. Futurism was eventually linked to fascism in post-World War I Italy, which helped the remaining Futurists get work and contribute to vital architecture in Italy. However, after fascisms defeat in World War II, any remaining Futurists were essentially blacklisted in their careers since few wanted to work with members associated with a discredited and ruined political ideology.
In all, Futurisms heyday lasted scarcely a decade or so, from Marinettis official founding of it in his 1909 manifesto to its eventual end, brought about by World War I, less than a decade later.
So far, weve talked about the main themes of this short-lived design movement, which were:
The Futurists came up with various techniques and philosophies to showcase their important themes to their audience.
For example, thanks to what they called universal dynamism, Futurist art and design was based on the idea that objects werent considered distinct or separate from other objects around them or their environment. In their struggle to carve a unique path for their movement, they also borrowed from the principles of Divisionism. Divisionism was defined by:
Other traits found in Futurist art and design include:
To learn more about this styles characteristics and take inspiration from them, see our selection of Futurism-inspired digital assets:
Though short-lived, Futurism contributed interesting approaches to graphic design that are still captivating to look at today.
The place to start is the Futurists ownFuturist Manifesto, which was published in 1909 in both Bolognas Gazzetta dellEmilia and Paris Le Figaro newspapers.
When we look at the papers design in the early 20th century, we see:
A few years after the founding manifesto, the Futurists again released another manifesto, this time, it was to communicate their belief system when it came to painting. It was titled the Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting and published in 1914. Looking at its layout, we see other Futurist touches of graphic design, like:
Another noteworthy contribution is French poet Guillaume Apollinaires posthumous 1918 book, Calligrammes: Poems of Peace and War: 1913 1916. It displays a graphic design based on the unique art form of a calligram, or a visually arranged text that creates an image related to the meaning of said text. For example, a calligram relating to Moby Dick could be visually represented as a sperm whalewith the text forming the outline of the whale.
Apollinaires book featured visual poetry that showcased how arranging typeface can produce just as much meaning in the work as the texts individual characters and words.
Marinetti, Futurisms founder, managed a poetry journal from 1905 to 1909. One of its last issues was solely dedicated to Futurism, which featured glowing reviews from the press and the inclusion of the Futurist manifesto.
Marinetti also wrote a tome titled Zang Tumb Tumb. Adrianopoli, Ottobre 1912, published in 1914. This book features his report of Turkish city Adrianoples (currently Edirne) siege, when he was a war correspondent. The books title is an allusion to the sounds of battle: bombs, shelling,and explosions. Note how the book covers design is heavily stylized with elliptical, crooked, and diagonal type layouts.
Fortunato Depero, a graphic designer, sculptor and painter, experienced notable success in designing covers for big American magazines during the 1920s and 1930s. His designs appeared on covers for Vogue, Vanity Fair, and The New Yorker, to name just a few.
He also designed posters for the subway.
Overall, looking at his designs, youll notice:
If you want to recreate some of these design details, check out these unique Futurism-inspired fonts in the marketplace:
No look at Futurist graphic design would be complete without mentioning Antonio SantElia, a Futurist architect who is an anomaly because he left behind practically no finished architectural works. However, his big contribution to graphic design turned out to be the volume of design sketches and illustrations of his plans that he left behind.
Another Futurist who was killed in World War I, SantElia was inspired by American industrial cities, which led to his many sketches and drawings for a Futurist New City that was machine-and technology-heavy. These sketches are today on display in Como, his hometown.
When we look at his visionary illustrations, we see the following qualities:
Then, theres Fortunato Depero, a Futurist graphic designer and painter.
Aeropittura was a highly interesting style of art because it was produced by the Futurists when their movement was already well in decline, from about 1929 to the 1940s. In spite of its production in the dying days of Futurism design, aeropittura is still a gripping and visually striking approach to painting.
Here, the subject matter was airplanes and aerial landscapes, mainly coming from the remaining Futurists own experiences with flight. The way Futurists approached aeropainting was diverse, as they incorporated the following themes in their creations:
Aeropittura generally included the following characteristics:
Our look at Futurism design wouldnt be complete without covering the styles contributions to architecture, which was also a major focal point for the short-lived movement. Futurist architecture was characterized by the following traits:
Over its short life, Futurist architecture produced three manifestos, but relatively few works. Its first recognized building was the Lingotto factory, designed by architect Giacomo Matte-Trucco. Once housing an automobile factor for Fiat and opened in 1923, the structure was the biggest car factory in the world at the time. What was extremely unusual about it was the way cars were built: raw materials were brought in on the ground floor, and the vehicles built on a line that gradually went up the buildings five floors. The finished cars came out on the rooftop level.
Since then, Futurist architecture eventually morphed into neo-futurism, starting in the 1960s and 1970s. This neo-futurism is defined as an adjunct to technology, building previously impossible shapes and forms thanks to new materials and computer technology.
Futurism design is almost a paradox of sorts. Its still remembered today for its influence on western culture, yet it lasted a very short time and was then increasingly ostracized by the world because of its association with fascism.
Undoubtedly, the Futurist revolutionaries had radical ideas that turned the design world on its head, but the movements fascination with violence and war proved to be its undoing, as many of its prominent members were killed in World War I.
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