The Futurists

The early 20th Century
Before we look at those avantgardeist movements of the early 20th century that are particularly relevant to contemporary Graphic Design we should look at the overall definition of modernism in art: For some critics, the most important characteristic of modern art is its attempt to make painting and sculpture ends in themselves, thus distinguishing modernism from earlier forms of art that had conveyed the ideas of powerful religious or political institutions. Because modern artists were no longer funded primarily by these institutions, they were freer to suggest more personal meanings. This attitude is often expressed as art for art's sake, a point of view that is often interpreted as meaning art without political or religious motives.

Another theory claims that modern art is by nature rebellious and that this rebellion is most evident in a quest for originality and a continual desire to shock. The term avant-garde, which is often applied to modern art, comes from a French military term meaning “advance guard,” and suggests that what is modern is what is new, original, or cutting-edge. To be sure, many artists in the 20th century tried to redefine what art means, or attempted to expand the definition of art to include concepts, materials, or techniques that were never before associated with art. In 1917, for example, French artist Marcel Duchamp exhibited everyday, mass-produced, utilitarian objects—including a bicycle wheel and a urinal—as works of art. Another key characteristic of modern art is its fascination with modern technology and its embrace of mechanical methods of reproduction, such as photography and the printing press. In the early 1910s Italian artist Umberto Boccioni sought to glorify the precision and speed of the industrial age in his paintings and sculptures.

Cultural historians have related the fragmentation of form in late-19th- and early-20th-century art to the fragmentation of society at the time. The increasing technological aspirations of the industrial revolution widened the rift between the middle and the working classes. Women demanded the vote and equal rights. And the view of the mind presented by the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, stipulated that the human psyche, far from being unified, was fraught with emotional conflicts and contradictions. The discovery of X rays, physicist Albert Einstein's theory of relativity, and other technological innovations suggested that our visual experience no longer corresponded with science's view of the world.

Not surprisingly, various forms of artistic creativity reflected these tensions and developments. In literature, James Joyce, T. S. Eliot, and Virginia Woolf experimented with narrative structure, grammar, syntax, and spelling. In dance, Sergei Diaghilev, Isadora Duncan, and Loie Fuller experimented with unconventional choreography and costume. And in music, Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky composed pieces that did not depend on traditional tonal structure.

Music not only took its place among the most experimental of the arts, but it also became a great inspiration for visual artists. Many art critics in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were influenced by German philosophers Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche, who had proclaimed that music was the most powerful of all the arts because it managed to suggest emotions directly, not by copying the world. Many painters of the late-19th-century symbolist movement, including Odilon Redon and Gustave Moreau, tried to emulate music’s power of direct suggestion. By including abstract forms and depicting an imaginary, rather than an observable, reality in their paintings, Redon and the symbolists paved the way for abstract art.

"Modernism". http://encarta.msn.com. Retrieved 02/06/2005.

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The futurists, a group of Italian artists working between 1909 and 1916, shared Léger's enthusiasm for technology, but pushed it even further. As their name suggests, the futurists embraced all that glorified new technology and mechanization and decried anything that had to do with tradition. They declared a speeding automobile to be more beautiful than an ancient Greek statue.

In combining Picasso's fragmentation of form with Seurat's pointillist painting technique, Dynamism of a Soccer Player (1913, Museum of Modern Art, New York City) by Umberto Boccioni is typical of futurism. But the most noticeable feature of Boccioni’s many-legged soccer player is its depiction of motion. To achieve this sense of motion, the futurists drew upon sequential photographs of human movement by photographer Eadweard Muybridge and scientist Etienne-Jules Marey. "A galloping horse," the futurists proclaimed, "has not four legs but twenty." Like Léger, the futurists believed that a new society could be built only if citizens sacrificed their individuality for the good of the larger group. The new ideal human being suggested in Boccioni's painting would be more machine than man: strong, energetic, impersonal, even violent. Other futurist painters are Giacomo Balla, Carlo Carrà, and Gino Severini.

The painter and sculptor Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916) wrote the Manifesto of Futurist Painters in 1910 in which he vowed:

"We will fight with all our might the fanatical, senseless and snobbish religion of the past, a religion encouraged by the vicious existence of museums. We rebel against that spineless worshipping of old canvases, old statues and old bric-a-brac, against everything which is filthy and worm-ridden and corroded by time. We consider the habitual contempt for everything which is young, new and burning with life to be unjust and even criminal."

The printed word was extremely important to Futurism; the movement's beginnings were based in poetry and literature produced in magazines, pamphlets and books. Also, the reliance on the large number of widely circulated manifestos for the dissemination of the polemic doctrines and artistic theories of Futurism almost made it the product of an advertising machine.

The Italian millionaire poet, writer and originator of Futurism, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, founded the international magazine Poesia (Poetry) in 1905. Marinetti was on a personal crusade to liberate poetry and literature from the constraints of traditional punctuation and syntax and, from the very beginning, he used Poesia to launch the idea of verso libero (free verse). In 1909, in his Founding Manifesto of Futurism, he stated "Up to now, literature has exalted a pensive immobility, ecstasy, and sleep. We intend to exalt aggressive action, a feverish insomnia, the racer's stride, the mortal leap, the punch and the slap." Poesia ran from 1905 until 1909 by which time the style and layout had become outmoded. The last issue carried Marinetti's Futurist Political Manifesto. The cover was designed by Alberto Martini and each issue was produced with a different cover colour. In 1912 Marinetti published his Technical Manifesto of Futurist Literature in which he urged writers to "banish punctuation, as well as adjectives, adverbs, and conjunctions." Verso libero gradually evolved into parole in libertà (words-in-freedom) the purpose of which Marinetti outlined in his manifesto Destruction of Syntax - Imagination without Strings - Words-in-Freedom of 1913.

"I initiate a typographical revolution aimed at the bestial, nauseating idea of the book of passéist and D'Annunzian verse, on Seventeenth Century handmade paper bordered with helmets, Minervas, Apollos, elaborate red initials, vegetables, mythological missal ribbons, epigraphs, and roman numerals. The book must be the Futurist expression of our Futurist thought. My revolution is aimed at the so-called typographical harmony of the page, which is contrary to the flux and reflux, the leaps and bursts of style that run through the page. On the same page, therefore, we will use three or four colours of ink, or even twenty different typefaces if necessary. For example: italics for a series of similar or swift sensations, boldface for violent onomatopoeias, and so on. With this typographical revolution and this multicoloured variety in the letters I mean to redouble the expressive force of words."

The mass production and distribution of the manifesto ensured an influence on typography internationally with, for example, the Russian El Lissitzky quoting Marinetti in his writings on new typography. Marinetti's own book, Zang Tumb Tumb (1914) typifies the style and feeling of words-in-freedom and is a milestone in typographic design. The book is an account of the Turkish Battle of Adrianopolis of 1912 in which Marinetti volunteered. Words-in-freedom are used onomatopoeically to graphically illustrate the explosions of weapons and grenades and the noise of battle.

With its dynamic formats and striking use of colour and typography, Marinetti's words-in-freedom concept was seized upon by the Futurists resulting in many books in a similar style while Francesco Cangiullo's book Caffè-Concerto - Alfabeto a sorpresa (Café-Chantant - Surprising Alphabet), of 1916 (printed in 1919) took words-in-freedom to the extreme and used letters of differing heights, weights and typefaces to form all the pictures. Since the Futurist movement was born of the machine age, to the Futurists the design and production of a book was symbolic of that age. Modern materials and methods were employed - for example Fortunato Depero's famous 1927 Depero Futurista (also known as The Nailed Book) employed two aluminium bolts as a fastening method.
Even if the method of bookbinding was new and innovative, the inside of the book was just as inspired (click here). Printed on different colours and weights of paper, the text in words-in-freedom style, was a stimulating typographical experience. There was no right or wrong way to hold the book and the layout necessitated turning the book around in order to read it. Some five years after Depero's mechanical bookbinding was produced, Marinetti produced Parole in libertà: olfattive, tattili, termiche (Words-in-freedom: olfactory, tactile, thermal) in 1932 using metal sheets for pages in the ultimate mechanical book.

Futurists dubbed the love of the past "pastism", and its proponents "pastists" (cf. Stuckism). They would sometimes even physically attack alleged pastists, in other words, those who were apparently not enjoying Futurist exhibitions or performances. The Futurists' glorification of modern warfare as the ultimate artistic expression and their intense nationalism allowed those of them who survived World War I to embrace Italian fascism. Futurism influenced many other 20th century art movements, including Art Deco, Vorticism, Constructivism and Surrealism. Futurism as a coherent artistic movement is now regarded as extinct, having died out in the 1920s; many of the Futurists were killed in two world wars, and Futurism was, like science fiction, in part overtaken by 'the future'. Nonetheless the ideals of futurism remain as significant components of modern Western culture; the emphasis on youth, speed, power and technology finding expression in much of modern commercial cinema and culture. Powerful echoes of Marinetti's thought, especially his "dreamt-of metallization of the human body", also remain in Japanese culture, and surface in manga/anime and the works of artists such as Shinya Tsukamoto, director of the "Tetsuo" (lit. "Ironman") films. Futurism has produced several reactions, including the literary genre of cyberpunk - in which technology was often treated with ambivalence - whilst artists who came to prominence during the first flush of the internet, such as Stelarc and Mariko Mori, produce work which comments on futurist ideals.

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Futurist typography and book design

Fortunato Depero

Tommasso Marinetti

Francesco Cangiullo

Ardengo Soffici

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The slaughter of World War I affected artists in different ways. Some felt, as Mondrian did, that human betterment lay in the creation of an impersonal, mechanistic way of life, whereas others agreed with Dix that it lay in drawing attention to political problems. Still others concluded that the very idea of human betterment was a pointless illusion. For this group, the main lesson of the war, if anything, was the bankruptcy of reason, politics, technology, and even art itself. On this premise, several artists and poets founded a movement whose name, dada, was purposely meaningless, and whose members ridiculed anything having to do with culture, politics, or aesthetics. Centered at first in Zürich, Switzerland, dada later spread to Berlin, Paris, and New York City. Among its members were German poet Hugo Ball, German artist Kurt Schwitters, Romanian poet Tristan Tzara, German artists John Heartfield, Raul Haussmann, American artist Man Ray, and French artists Jean Arp, Marcel Duchamp, and Francis Picabia. The dadaists attacked the idea of art or poetry by creating collage constructions from discarded junk, such as Kurt Schwitters’s Painting with Light Center (1919, Museum of Modern Art, New York City). They also would write satirical poems by picking words out of a hat. Chance and accident were among the dadaists’ most common creative devices.

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Dada Typography

Dada Poster

The Dada Manifesto

John Heartfield

Raul Haussmann

Kurt Schwitters

Dada Collages

Marcel Duchamp

Raul Haussmann

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In art and architecture, constructivism was an artistic movement in Russia from 1914 onward in favour of "pure" art with no social function which used designs influenced by, and materials used in, industry. It was founded by Vladimir Tatlin, with later prominent constructivists including Alexander Rodchenko, Antoine Pevsner and Naum Gabo. Kasimir Malevich also made pieces that could be called constructivist, though he is better known for his earlier suprematism. The movement was an important influence on new graphic design techniques championed by El Lissitzky.

The suprematists, like Kandinsky, believed that abstraction could convey a religious connotation. In 1915 Malevich painted a black square on a white background and exhibited it in the corner of a room—the traditional location for a Russian icon (religious image). According to Malevich, the term suprematism was meant to evoke the “supremacy of pure feeling.” The square symbolized sensation; the field or background, nothingness. What Malevich wanted to depict was the pure essence of sensation itself, not a sensation connected to a specific experience such as hunger, sadness, or happiness.

The constructivists sought an art that would be abstract, yet easily understood. Their sculptures celebrated the material properties of objects, such as texture and shape. Influenced by Picasso's techniques of collage and construction, Tatlin created sculptures without using the traditional techniques of carving or modeling. Whereas carving requires removing materials to reveal a sculpted form, construction is an additive process by which the artist combines ordinary materials such as metal and wood to build a sculpture. Unlike Picasso, Tatlin never painted or altered his materials, preferring instead to have their untouched surfaces relay their true nature. In his proposal for a Monument to the Third International (1919-1920, wooden model in the Russian State Museums, Saint Petersburg), Tatlin designed a huge metal structure that would celebrate the foundation of the new Soviet state. He intended it to be taller than the Eiffel Tower in Paris and to have internal rotating elements that would house government offices, some rotating once a day, some once a month, some once a year. This highly impractical monument was never built, but it exemplifies several tendencies of modern art: its tendency to express utopian ideals, to experiment with new materials and techniques, and to blur the boundaries between fine art and engineering.

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Constructivist Typography
Possibly one of the most important graphic designers who ever lived, constructivist artist and architect El Lissitsky's book design work is unsurpassed even today. El Lissitsky worked in Western Europe as well as Russia, collaborating with De Stijl architect Theo Van Doesburg.

View "Tale of 2 quadrants"
>>> by El Lissitsky.
View "Proun" series >>> by El Lissitsky.

El Lissitsky. Self portrait, collage and photography

Book of poems for Mayakovsky

El Lissitsky

Yet another giant of early 20th century graphic design Alexander Rodchenko is representative of the mainstream of
Russian constructivist typography:

Alexander Rodchenko

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Is the name of the famous German school of design that had inestimable influence on modern architecture, the industrial and graphic arts, and theater design. It was founded in 1919 by the architect Walter Gropius in Weimar as a merger of an art academy and an arts and crafts school. The Bauhaus was based on the principles of the 19th-century English designer William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement that art should meet the needs of society and that no distinction should be made between fine arts and practical crafts. It also depended on the more forward-looking principles that modern art and architecture must be responsive to the needs and influences of the modern industrial world and that good designs must pass the test of both aesthetic standards and sound engineering. Thus, classes were offered in crafts, typography, and commercial and industrial design, as well as in sculpture, painting, and architecture. The Bauhaus style, later also known as the International Style, was marked by the absence of ornament and ostentatious facades and by harmony between function and the artistic and technical means employed.

In 1925 the Bauhaus was moved into a group of starkly rectangular glass and concrete buildings in Dessau especially designed for it by Gropius. In Dessau the Bauhaus style became more strictly functional with greater emphasis on showing the beauty and suitability of basic, unadorned materials. Other outstanding architects and artists on the staff of the Bauhaus included the Swiss painter Paul Klee, the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky, the Hungarian painter and designer László Moholy-Nagy (who founded the Chicago Institute of Design on the principles of the Bauhaus), the American painter Lyonel Feininger, and the German painter Oskar Schlemmer. Herbert Bayer and Joost Schmidt were the prominent graphic designers affiliated with the Bauhaus school.

In 1930 the Bauhaus came under the direction of the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who moved it to Berlin in 1932. By 1933, when the school was closed by the Nazis, its principles and work were known worldwide. Many of its faculty immigrated to the United States, where the Bauhaus teachings came to dominate art and architecture for decades.

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Bauhaus Typography
Stark in its simplicity and usage of sans-serif typefaces (a Bauhaus school innovation in itself), the graphic designers have been a lasting major influence in all graphic design schools that have followed them.

Joost Schmidt

Herbert Bayer's "Bauhaus" typeface

Assorted posters and brochures from the Bauhaus school.

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy

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