GIORGIO DE CHIRICO Place d'Italie. 1912
The eight years between 1906 and 1914 have already been described as a period of intense fermentation. The ferment was never to subside in our time; there has been no coherent issue from the multiform experiments that preceded the First World War. Nevertheless, two general directions of development gradually became apparent, and no doubt these correspond to the main divisions of human temperament, which we call introvert and extrovert. Romanticism and Classicism are names we use for the same tendencies in the past, but when we are witnessing the actual process of history, and cannot yet generalize from particular experiences, all these categories become confused. We can see, from the typical example of Picasso, how difficult it is to attach the diverse manifestations of one genius to the logical limitations of one historical category. The artist, as Keats said of the poet, has a chameleon nature, apt to shock the virtuous philosopher. He has no identity--he is continually informing and filling some other body. That is to say, in practice the artist tends intuitively to identify himself with the purpose and achievement of every other artist, and only by an effort confines himself to a characteristic mode of expression. This may seem like an excuse for plagiarism, and much plagiarism there has been, in every epoch of art. But it is also the explanation of all historical development in art, and an indication of the complexity, and even of the falsity, of all logical categories.
Though the constitution of the human personality will account for two general tendencies in the development of art, allowances must be made all the time for ambiguities and evasions. Lord Acton bade us 'seek no artistic unity in character', and art itself is an illustration of this aphorism. In our discussion of Cubism we have already distinguished two lines of development, one proceeding towards a fragmentation of perception and a reconstruction of form according to laws of the imagination; the other towards a 'realization' of the motif, a composition after nature. But even these two general tendencies are difficult to disentangle from one another, and each splits into subsidiary developments which superficially have little resemblance to the parent movement. 'Realization of the motif,' for example, the Cèzannian conception of realism, leads to Cubism, which is already a distortion of the motif, resulting in an independent structure; and this development was to suggest the invention of an entirely autonomous plastic reality--not a realization of a motif, but the creation of a motif. In this chapter and the next I shall deal with those movements in modern art which, taking advantage of the freedom offered by the fragmentation of the perceptual image, proceeded to evolve forms of art determined by either the imagination or the fancy.1 It has been a characteristic of these movements that poets and literary propagandists have played a large part in their formation.
Futurism, the first movement of this character, was conceived and organized as a movement by the Italian poet, Filippo Tomasso Marinetti. During the course of the year 1909 he distributed throughout the world a manifesto which in brave rhetorical phrases proclaimed the end of the art of the past ( le Passèisme) and the birth of an art of the future ( le Futurisme). He gathered round him a group of poets and painters, the most important of which were Umberto Boccioni ( 1882- 1916), Carlo Carrà (b. 1881), Luigi Russolo ( 1885- 1947), Giacomo Balla (b. 1871), and Gino Severini (b. 1883). Boccioni composed a Manifesto of Futuristic Painters which was published on 11 February and publicly proclaimed on 3 March 1910 before a large audience at the Teatro Chiarella in Turin. This was followed on 11 April of the same year by a Manifesto of the Technics of Futuristic Painting. Further demonstrations and manifestoes appeared in quick succession.2 In 1912 the group organized an exhibition of their work in Paris (later transferred to London and Berlin), and in 1914 Boccioni published a book which gave their ideals final expression--final in form and fact, for the war that broke out in the same year dispersed the group. Boccioni, who had been its dynamic force, was accidentally killed in 1916 while convalescing from wounds. The group was never reconstituted. Severini turned for a time to Cubism, Carrà fell under the influence of the metaphysical paintings of de Chirico, Balla eventually reverted to academic realism, and Russolo, who was primarily a composer of Futurist music (sometimes known as 'bruitism'), apparently lost interest in painting.
The manifesto of 1910 is a logical document. It begins by declaring that a growing need for truth can no longer be satisfied by form and colour as they have been understood in the past: all things move and run, change rapidly, and this universal dynamism is what the artist should strive to represent. Space no longer exists, or only as an atmosphere within which bodies move and interpenetrate. Colour too is iridescent, scintillating; shadows are luminous, flickering. And so these five painters were led to declare:
1. That all forms of imitation should be held in contempt and that all forms of originality should be glorified.
2. That we should rebel against the tyranny of the words harmony and good taste. With these expressions, which are too elastic, it would be an easy matter to demolish the works of Rembrandt, Goya, and Rodin.
3. That art criticisms are either useless or detrimental.
4. That a clean-sweep should be made of all stale and threadbare subject-matter in order to express the vortex4of modern life--a life of steel, fever, pride and headlong speed.
5. That the accusation "madmen", which has been employed to gag innovators, should be considered a noble and honourable title.
6. That complementarism in painting is an absolute necessity like free verse in poetry and polyphony in music.
7. That universal dynamism must be rendered in painting as a dynamic sensation.
8. That sincerity and virginity, more than any other qualities, are necessary to the interpretation of nature.
9. That motion and light destroy the materiality of bodies.'