Sara E. Thomas
Up until around 1840 the idea of what should be painted was a romantic one. People commissioned portraits, events were recorded, but everything was painted in a very romantic way -- figures were painted of the subject in the way that they wanted to be viewed and remember -- not necessarily as what they actually looked like. In the 1840s artists began to become realists. They stopped being concerned with what the viewer would think and began to paint exactly what they saw. Then in the 1870s artists began to reject line, perspective and studio lighting and began to focus on the way our eye captures an image, which is always changing and never exactly the same, in a style that became known as Impressionism. Next, in the 1900s artists lashed out against imperialism and along came Primitivism with unnatural colors and much less delineated forms. The idea was to unlearn the things you've been taught and go back to a more simple time. Then, in 1910 artists began to embrace modern technology and began to focus on forms instead of subject matter, paving the way for nonobjective art. All of these styles were happening concurrently through different groups of artists. (Lewis)
Futurism was a part of this modern push, and it began to appear right before World War I. Artists were no longer looking at the present but were now glorifying the future. They were "turning against beauty and grace toward rhythm, speed and color." (Lewis 81) Futurism took its roots in the Futurist Manifesto, written by Filippo Marinetti in 1909. The manifesto branched across all of the arts, though the original version was focused mainly on writers. It focused on three main concepts, first, "to seek inspiration in contemporary life." (Martin 38) Where artists had been looking back to Primitivism or old techniques, futurist art was to celebrate the here and now. Next, "to be emancipated from the crushing weight of tradition (existing academies, museums, libraries and all similar institutions)." (38) Artists were not to seek inspiration from what was esteemed in current schools of thought, but to push forward through that thinking. Third, to have "contempt for prevalent values of society and its corresponding conceptions of art." (38) Artists were also to ignore what society around them was claiming to be art. Futurism "rejected the idealist notion of a static, changeless reality." (41) Artists were to focus on movement, change, and advances in industrialization. Where previous artwork took a snapshot of a particular moment or scene, futurist artwork was to capture the idea that life is constantly changing and advancing. "Activity or change was equated with reality and life and was hence to be the essence of art." (41) Artists were to begin capturing movement in their artwork.
In 1910 an addendum to the original Futurist Manifesto was issued with a focus on visual artists. Artists knew that they were supposed to capture change and activity, but how? Artists were to focus on capturing speed through a cubist--like fragmentation of images. They were to capture "dynamic sensation itself made eternal." (50) Artists should show movement through gesture -- capturing the subject in mid--action. They should also show the passing of time, by juxtaposing different freeze--frames of the subject in motion together in one canvas (the nod to Cubism). (51) Artists began to paint a person or object in motion and combine a few different views of them in motion into one composition. Around the same time Eadweard Muybridge and Etienne Jules Marey were using black and white photography to capture people in successive steps of motion. These series of quick stop motion photographs were being run in magazines and called photochronographs. The cinema was also in its birth, and artists used inspiration from both of these media to begin to paint their canvases.
What is Technology?
By collecting examples of technology, I hope to begin a discussion about what technology is and how it affects our lives. I would like to do this by presenting students with a variety of photographs and objects to start them thinking about technology. Objects would include things such as: a bike wheel, photographs of old cars, photographs of satellites, manual cameras, digital cameras, CDs, jump drives, old cell phones, an old computer (if I can find one), Tupperware, etc. Students will be paired off and will choose one item to analyze. As a pair they will need to hypothesize the following:
-- When the item was first created?
-- Why it was first created?
-- What did it change, or make easier?
-- How many times a day do they use it now?
-- Are there updated versions of it?
-- What did it replace?
-- What would life be like without it?
I would like students to go through this exercise before we begin looking at futurism so that they start thinking about technology in a more specific way. As a homework assignment I would like students to interview someone who is at least fifty years old and ask them a series of questions about the most significant technological advances in his/her lifetime.