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Art and Music

Back To The Futurism

Celebrating Back to the Future Day with a look at the Futurist movement.

We've made it to the future, everyone! Today is the day that Marty McFly travels forward to in Back to the Future: Part II, where there are aerial lanes of flying cars, commercially-available hoverboards, and a Chicago Cubs team that won the World Series (which could still happen)!

Obviously there are some things in 2015's Hill Valley that we don't quite have: cars are still earthbound, our shoes do not tie themselves, and I have yet to cruise around on a rocket-propelled Pit Bull hoverboard. Still, looking forward in time and imagining the possibilities the future holds has been part of the cultural consciousness for over a century at least: from the late nineteenth-century stories of wondrous technologies by Jules Verne and H.G. Wells to the twentieth-century bleak, dystopian predictions of Aldous Huxley and George Orwell.

In the early twentieth century, there was an entire artistic movement centered on the idea of the future, aptly called "Futurism." Futurism began in Italy with the 1909 publication of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti's Futurist Manifesto, a discourse on the positives of industry, technology, youth, and all around progress and modernization. Anything from the past was to be rejected in favor of the new, and Marinetti's manifesto quickly garnered a strong following from other Italian artists. Needless to say, they'd probably find a great ally in Dr. Emmett Brown and his inventions!

Umberto Boccioni was a painter and sculptor who befriended Marinetti and shared his philosophy, who contributed his own writings on the subject as well as many Futurist paintings and sculptures. La città sale (The City Rises) was his first in this vein in 1910. Notice the dynamic figures and vivid color palette, as well as the subject matter depicting working men and a city under construction:

Futurist painting of working men and horses in a city under construction.
Public domain.
The City Rises, oil on canvas by Umberto Boccioni, 1910.

These components are then taken even further with his later works, such as Dinamismo di un Ciclista (Dynamism of a Cyclist), which looks entirely abstract at first, but if you compare it to his original sketch you can see what his intent is:

Abstract sketch of a person riding a bicycle
Public domain.
Sketch of Dynamism of a Cyclist by Umberto Boccioni, 1913.
Colorful abstract painting of a person riding a bicycle
Public domain.
Dynamism of a Cyclist, oil on canvas by Umberto Boccioni, 1913.

Some other Futurist works of art are Boccioni's sculpture Forme uniche della continuità nello spazio (Unique Forms of Continuity in Space):

Abstract bronze sculpture of a vaguely humanoid form
Public domain.
Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, bronze sculpture by Umberto Boccioni, 1913.

Giacomo Balla's Velocità astratta + rumore (Abstract Speed + Sound):

Abstract painting with shapes and lines in blue, green, white, and red.
Public domain.
Abstract Speed + Sound, oil on unvarnished millboard by Giacomo Balla, 1913-14.

And Joseph Stella's Battle of Lights, Coney Island:

Abstract painting meant to evoke Coney Island.
Public domain.
Battle of Lights, Coney Island, oil on canvas by Joseph Stella, 1913.

As mentioned previously, visual art was not the only product of the Futurist movement. Antonio Sant'Elia was an architect who followed the movement and designed several buildings that never saw the light of day, though his influence can readily be seen in science-fiction classics like Metropolis and Blade Runner. Here are some of his sketches:

Concept drawing of a power plant with a Futurist aesthetic.
Public domain.
The power station, ink and pencil on paper by Antonio Sant’Elia, 1914.
Concept drawing of a residence with a Futurist aesthetic.
Public domain.