Italian Futurism—the Campaign for a Clean Sweep

During the years immediately leading up to the First World War, a group of artists in Italy began to extol the “cleansing” aspect of war and entered into a campaign or crusade to sweep the art world free of its age-old traditions, conventions  and rituals.  It was anticipated by these Italian artists that this effort to “clean house” would be met with fierce resistance.  As such, these avant-garde artists were willing to meet resistance with force.  One of the leading Italian Futurist painters, who also happened to be a gifted writer, was Umberto Boccioni.  In his Manifesto of the Futurist Painters, published in 1910, Boccioni exclaimed:  “A clean sweep should be made of all stale and threadbare subject matter in order to express the vortex of modern life—a life of steel, fever, pride and headlong speed…The accusation ‘madmen’, which has been employed to gag innovators, should be considered a noble and honourable title…Sincerity and virginity, more than any other qualities, are necessary to the interpretation of nature…Motion and light destroy the materiality of bodies.”  What are your thoughts on the Italian Futurists in general and Boccioni’s manifesto thoughts in particular?

Umberto-Boccioni self port 1905


Umberto Boccioni, Self Portrait, 1905

800px-Umberto_Boccioni_-_Charge_of_the_Lancers. 1915jpg


Umberto Boccioni, Charge of the Lancers, 1915


28 thoughts on “Italian Futurism—the Campaign for a Clean Sweep

  1. I agree with what he is saying. its pretty much “out with the old; in with the new.” Obviously that premise doesn’t apply just to art.

    It might be considered ‘traditional’, but I feel that light is necessary for the materiality of nature. Without light, we would not be able to see anything–only complete blackness. As far as abstractness goes, I think taking out light would be an interesting approach–taking your senses out of it.

  2. As we have seen, change is usually met with resistance and criticism. While the makings for the first World War were already being set in action, it could be said that the Italian futurists were already waging a war on tradition and the status quo. Looking at their work, it is quite obvious that the futurists took a radically different approach to depicting the world through whatever medium they selected. Although, in comparison to what we have seen in the last week, the Italian Futurists seem to be moving in a slightly different direction than Picasso and Braque. While Picasso was looking to the primitive past (i.e. – the African masks), the Futurists were looking ahead to completely wipe their art free of any hints of past tradition. Nevertheless, these artists are tied together by their embracing of modern life and progressive artistic styling, a well as their rejection of tradition.

  3. At a certain extent I agree with Umberto Boccioni’s statement, yes there are times when it is needed to wipe a clean slate to create a new art movement. Especially if the movement is a lot different from before and showing new forms and ideas would be used and appreciated. When he was explaining how “motion and light destroy the materiality of bodies”, in which physically, yes, it can destroy it but it only depends on how fast this motion and light hits the body. But in which motion and light “destroy” the body of work that is created from many art forms is something I have to disagree. Sometimes the will of the person can withstand whatever the movement is coming in a generation and doesn’t have to follow the ideals and principals that is a part of the new art movement. If someone stands true to what they believe in and what they think is right, nothing can “destroy’ them.

  4. Futurism has always been a pretty cool art “genre” to me. Although it’s pretty abstract (something I don’t usually prefer), they are attempting to draw what they see, and it is also something I have tried to draw before and it is HARD! Trying to draw everything you see in your peripheral vision while moving is intense and stressful, because, really, all you can amount it to is a blur of colors and you have to separate yourself from what is actually there. In this case, they are extremely successful in interpreting what they do. This art movement also always reminds me of my brothers. My brothers are also obsessed with cars and speed and racing and industrialism, whereas my older brother is a welder and my oldest brother is a mechanic and both drag race in their free time. As for Boccioni’s manifesto thoughts, of course they are extreme. You can’t force everyone to adopt your way of thinking. Industrialism was a new and ever-evolving thing, and, sometimes, it is slow for humans to adapt. You just have to let people adjust in their own way. However, I feel like these manifesto thoughts highlight the Fascism that was felt in Italy at the time, and, perhaps, they fell into that trap.

  5. In general, the Italian Futurists are a bit too extreme for my tastes. Their vehement rejection of traditional art is rather harsh. I find traditional art to be just as essential as modern art. It is important not to dwell in the past and move forward, but it is also important to recognize that there are valuable lessons to learn from the past. That being said, I do agree with part of the Futurist Manifesto. Boccioni was correct when he declared that innovators are dubbed “madmen.” Those that go against society and establish new ideas are usually seen as mad when they are actually just unique. Although I find the Italian Futurists’ approach to art a little severe, I do not believe they were madmen. They were simply a group of artists that fiercely supported change; an action that is normally met with opposition rather than understanding.

  6. My thoughts on the Italian Futurists in general are that they had really big ego’s and they got too carried away with technology. The fact that they considered the machine as their god made them seem like ‘madmen’ because it was only the start in technological advances. I’m not in favor of what they were trying to do because they were attempting to create the image of Italy that did not exist. It seems to me like they were trying to take over and make their art the only art. I also don’t agree with Boccioni’s manifesto because you can’t say that one form of art destroys all the others. Art is limitless to interpretation and I feel like the Futurist believed their insight to art was superior to everyone else’s.

  7. I do not completely agree with Boccioni’s views about the cleansing of old ways of art. I believe that he has a definite point about moving forward and being innovative in new approaches to painting. I don’t agree with the Futurist’s stance in using force so that everyone can comply with their views. I think that everyone should be able to express art in their manner and if “classical” art evokes beauty for them then so be it. There’s something about conformity that scares me specially when it comes to government and art. Innovation comes from the differences in opinion from everyone. Conformity halts innovation; artists should always be able to experiment and pursue what speaks to them. In respect to what the Futurist artists have produced, I believe that they have created magnificent images that evoked that era. The quote “…motion and light destroy the materiality of bodies” reflects on the artists using machines as their new muse. The use of different tones of brighter paints and diagonal lines actives their paintings. Innovation had to happen in order for others artists at that time to move forward and express their new found love of machinery, motion and light.

  8. I agree to a certain extend that with a complete blank slate art could be fresh and exciting, however I think the Futurists are a little too radical with their ideas of cleansing art they considered stale. I think traditional art is still valuable asset to have to study and not make the same mistakes that past generation may have made. Modern art viewed through fresh or as Boccioni would say “virgin” eyes definitely has it’s merits but everyone’s tastes in art is different and it would be too difficult to establish what is becoming stale.

  9. I think historical context and continuity are important for progress. The idea of something new, generated in a vacuum of an artist’s mind seems wrought with problems. It is somehow frightening because it encourages a kind of tribalism and popularity, that somehow we must all get on board with the new way of doing things and stand against the old way. It seems like it could lead to violence and mindlessness. Looking at futurist paintings now, it is easy to place them in their historical moment. It is also easy to imagine the fervor for progress, envisioned as a machine-made utopia, yet we have seen how the imperative for progress and efficiency led to one of the world’s worst atrocities.

  10. My first thoughts are that they were a little naive. As far as I could learn, the Italians had not been involved in any major conflicts since the Futurists were born. But on the other hand; American history has shown that things have improved after major wars. After WWII, each state grew, building and roads grew and everyone had a job. During and after the Vietnam conflict, people had jobs. There was no major crime by young people during that time. Most of the “crime” involved organized crime. You either went into the Army or you went to school. People became more educated. I use to change jobs every fall because I quit after school was out so I could be with my kids; and immediately took another job as soon as they were back in school. If you could type, spell, and speak, you could get a job either with the government or big companies. Plus, war evened out the population too. That’s sad, but true. All the technology we have now was invented (innovated) in the years since WWII and rapidly increased since Vietnam. So I can see what they were thinking even in their naiveté.

  11. I somewhat agree with Boccioni’s statement about expressing modern life with “steel, fever, pride and headlong speed” as I feel that these descriptions fit perfectly with his time and ours, although I do not agree with completely cleansing the world of age-old traditions. Art is both limitless and timeless, and so there really is no need to eradicate any form of art. Instead it is better to continue creating new forms of interpreting art rather than exterminating art forms with generations of knowledge.

  12. The Futurists saw their manifesto has having validity for how they chose to express themselves through their art based on what they placed their hope in . . . technology. They were a forward thinking group that frankly startles me with no thought of consequences, accountability or responsibility as to their influence on the present or future. I agree with Boccioni with regards to “a clean sweep,” “sincerity and virginity . . . are necessary to the interpretation of nature,” as a starting point for fresh interpretations of reality. I think, however our past experiences/perceptions are part of our subconscious regardless of whether we verbally/mentally say we will purge ourselves of the past.

  13. I agree with Boccioni, without starting new and turning away from traditions, there would be no evolving of art. Without starting a new style in art, art would become boring and repetitive. To keep the attention of a viewer, like any materialistic thing, it needs to change. Humans in nature, to me, has a tendency to become easily tired of things. Anything that needs to keep our attention has to be the newest and innovating. Starting new with futurism to me was a way to keep art interesting and appealing to its viewers. Even 100 years later, futurism is still appealing to me and was a stepping stone to modern art.

  14. I will say that I agree with Boccioni supporting and voicing what these artists were doing with this “art cleansing” movement. It is only natural when something has become stagnant it will be replaced and ridded of by something that is the progression of that which came before. “Sincerity and virginity, more than any other qualities, are necessary to the interpretation of nature” this quote is the embodiment of this clean sweep, because it talks about the importance of something pure, fresh, and new.

  15. While I love the art produced by the futurists — the sense of movement that could be created on a static, flat surface was/is brilliant, I find there enthusiasm for war and to extol the “cleansing” aspect of war a bit disturbing. It shows how the rise of fascism and Nazism took place over the next couple of decades. I do agree with the comment about madmen and how it should be considered a compliment, not an insult. Ayn Rand wrote an essay about selfishness and why it was not the negative denigrating label that most people associate with the word. Madmen is similar in that it can connote someone who is fabulous, single minded and willing to go against the tide rather than just insane.

  16. A world of mass production of steel, new inventions, speeding vehicles, and changing values; had to reflect art in one form of another. Art in many forms reflect the aspects of life, as the times change, art changes too. Because people are now exposed to new sounds and materials brought upon by technologies, their vision changes. Boccioni mentions that a “clean sweep” should be made in order to express the “vortex of modern life.” Futurist artists wanted to look away from the past and start fresh on their art making. Instead of looking at the past, they observed what was there and then. They wanted to capture the essence of life during an energetic period of time. I can see why they wanted to turn away from traditional forms of art, the machine opened up new possibilities for them, it was both their art and inspiration.

  17. Although I am not that familiar with Boccioni’s futurist manifestos, a while back I read Marinetti’s manifesto. Two things which stuck out in my mind: the glorification of war and the call for the destruction of libraries and museums. In Marinetti’s writings at least, acts of agression and violence are held in high regard. Although I have no problem with the Futurists’ vehement rejection of past forms, their stance often appears to be anti-humanist. I certainly appreciate some of the work that came out of this movement (Boccioni’s sculptures in particular), but many of the founding principles as well as the general worldview associated with this movement are not ideas that work for me.

  18. To a certain degree I would agree with Boccioni that art cannot be allowed to stagnate and that fresh ideas sometimes must violently be thrust into the equation however he may have been too extreme proposing a complete abandonment of “traditional” technique. Modern art could not exist without hundreds of years of foundation of other arts. Futurist artists wanted to boldly strike forward but without the old forms they would have no where to start from. They were inspired by the modern world around them but society and technology are an evolutional process as is art.

  19. I think the Italian Futurist movement holds some very innovative and striking artistic interpretations based on new technologies of that period such as the depiction of movement and motion in 2 and 3 dimensional formats. In terms of a “clean sweep”, can any artist or movement ever completely divorce it self from the artistic legacy of previous ages. How can one “un-know” something, especially an idea? While I side with Boccioni positing the cause of the innovator as an unfairly labeled madman, it is difficult to overlook the egoism, misogyny, and war-mongoring that underlies the Futurists’ manifestos. This leads me to wonder if the very things they extolled (literally or metaphorically) like war, nationalism and violence ultimately turned upon and destroyed its creators.

  20. I feel that the Italian Futurists way of thinking/motivation should have been directed into a different way. I do understand that they felt that we should turn our gaze from the artwork of old, but I feel that they could have taken these artworks formed an idea and from that idea come up with something new. Not just based on the old artworks but to make something or come up with a new form that was different, something that would show the world that we need not to keep our gaze to works of old but need to find new ways to express ourselves and our current time and move forward.

  21. My thoughts of the Italian Futurists is that they are letting traditions and rituals of historical art die out and they are making it seem that it has no importance to us anymore because they have made art become more modern within futurist paintings; I think that this shouldn’t have taken place because no matter what time you’re in any type of historical art is still considered alive and to have meaning towards any culture. Even if there was change being done during World War one, change in art shouldn’t have been done by sweeping away old art forms, but instead let those old traditions help artists form new moderations in their works of art. I do somewhat agree with Boccioni’s manifesto that “sincerity and virginity” interoperates the form of nature into a new and fresh state, but the only way for that to happen is by letting old forms and traditions have there way to show what can be done to help futurist artist make a statement. So what I am saying is that old rituals and traditions shouldn’t have been swept away and vanished but used to help express why modern life is becoming such a success.

  22. Intuitively, I can’t help but feel compelled to say that the Italian Futurists were “on to something”– the sentiment of ravaging away that which is no longer germane or conducive to the progression and development of newer, modernistic aesthetics is one that I hope to apply to my own life with such a fervor. However, they lose me at the nihilism and polarization. Italian Futurists not only set out to fulfill their mission statement in the world of art, but also in the realms of religion, economic development, and political affairs. The Italian Futurists (to put it lightly), were very polarizing– in that you were either with them, seeing beauty in what they found beautiful, or you were excessive, indulgent, and in need of purging. Also, while the evolution of our artistic disciplines relies heavily on the overturn of techniques, theory, and artists– it should be said that the best of work is done with “a nod to the past, and a wink to the future”.

  23. I half heartedly agree with Boccioni’s statement about the ability to express the modern world with “steel, fever, pride and headlong speed” because this fits perfect with his time during the industrial revolution and even our society today. Then there is the part about cleansing the world of age old traditions that I do not agree with because art from the past is important for the future and trying to eradicate old age art is completely ridiculous. It is time to innovate after each big art phase because that is how we advance as artists.

  24. I disagree with the idea that the old art ways need to be cleaned away. Afterall, I believe every new artistic movement is completely dependent on those before it. Though such an idea would explain how extreme the Italian Futurist art was at the time. There is a time and place for every kind of art, and the Italian Futurists are no different. I can appreciate their art just as I appreciate all others, and I personally do not feel that getting rid of the old will do anything to benefit the new.

  25. I feel that the Italian Futurists movement was overall very extremist. With other such extremist movements, they cannot hold on to much life and have staying power. I commend that they are trying to do something new, but by disregarding the past entirely is not how to do it. I am an avid believer in the belief that those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. By forgetting what has already been done, one runs the risk of repetition. Where can growth occur if there is stagnation in progression because of ignorance?

  26. Where I take issue with both sides of this argument is that both camps were posed on ether extreme of the discourse. As artist we must be willing to push boundaries and explore new frontiers we must still have a foundation on which to base our visual discourse.I very this argument has similarity to a forest fire as the fire burns away the old growth to make way for the next generation of tress to grow but there is history and character lost in the purge.

  27. I think the Italian Futurists were trying to accomplish something that all art movements try to do; going past the old and looking for something new and innovative. The Italian Futurists certainly were looking toward the future and seemed to be disregarding all points of the past history to push forward a new movement. This type of thought can be really dangerous though, as some posters point out above. To throw away past can lead can breed ignorance instead of progress.

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