One of my classes is Research into Practice, an in-depth look at different art movements and the philosophies behind them. It’s a kind of advanced, very theoretical art history course. It can be quite dense at times, but so far I think it’s a valuable look into art practice, particularly contemporary practice and movements. Our first assignment was to do three responses to three art or design manifestos. I did three typographical responses because I ended up writing the responses first, then figuring out a way to design them later. It ended up being a nice set, with an exaggerated drop-cap on each one and a smaller block of response text.
My first is an open letter to Futurism, an Italian art movement in the early 20th century that glorified (at the time) futuristic stuff like cars, airplanes, speed and technology. The Futurist manifeso (see here) is a very passionate, bombastic bit of writing that often conflates artistic avant garde ideas with what are considered today to be very politically incorrect social stances. It states that “beauty exists only in a struggle”, then uses this as a starting point to “glorify war” then “fight morality [and] feminism” and considers itself to be a “manifesto of ruinous and incendiary violence”. It equates museums with cemeteries where outmoded art goes to rot. Actually I think they’re on to something with that. But in reading it, one gets the impression that they were trying to come up with something so inflammatory, so politically incorrect that it would somehow allow them to avoid this fate. Indeed, they write, “When we are forty let younger and stronger men than we throw us in the waste paper basket like useless manuscripts!” That the younger generation (and here, it can be argued that they are speaking directly to me, my peers) will be “clutching the air with their predatory fingers and sniffing at the gates of the academies the good scent of our decaying spirits, already promised to the catacombs of the libraries.” And then they say, “But we will not be there.”
Ah, but they are. That’s the thing. I don’t get the impression from the text that they recognized this would be some kind of an irony 100 years in the future, when the passion faded away, and the world moved on, and now here I am, checking out a book on Futurism from the library that hasn’t been touched in several years. I can’t even be mad reading their subversive prose. I’m not angry. I’m not anything at all. And I think, for them, that’s a fate worse than death.
For as forward thinking as your name implies, you couldn’t have been more of your time. You’ve specifically said, “When we are forty let younger and stronger men than we throw us in the waste paper basket…!” Well, you’re dead, and I’m not yet 30, so I guess that means me.
The thing is, you’re expecting rabid, accusatory critique. People, “panting with anguish and disappointment, and exasperated by our proud indefatigable courage…” You might have had that at one time. The 50′s perhaps, with Senator McCarthy deriding you as Communists from the pulpit of the peoples’ representative. But in fact, I think you’ve ended up with a fate even worse than criticism. The fate of apathy.
See, an angry response is validation. It’s clearly what you want, anyway. People all fired up, pissed off, enraged, all from your little movement, so carefully crafted to be passionate. Sure, it’s nice to have a few people agree with you. Not too many. An enlightened few. But angry people means perversely interested people, means attention.
I don’t come to angry, accusing or enraged. Mostly curious. And maybe a little sad. You’re in that cemetery/museum you so hated. Maybe that’s unavoidable. It’s just how the arts work. Nobody gets angry over you these days. Today you’re a footnote in the dusty tomes of art history. Most of the world has never heard of you. Those who have pick and choose. They take the imagery because it’s “cool”, and shrug off the passion, the misogyny, the intentionally incendiary. But that’s if you’re lucky. Mostly you’re forgotten.