An aesthetic revolution : civic unrest, militarism and artistic revolt in the work of Umberto Boccioni
Paluch-Mishur, Michelle A.
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The Italian Futurists were a group of artists assembled in Paris and Milan with similar nationalistic concerns— radical change for Italy. They strove to bring Italy into the modern, industrial age, and out of its complacent reliance on past Italian artistic achievements. Despite the formal parallels between Futurism and other previous modern movements in painting and sculpture, the Italian artists sought to utilize modern formal principles as a means for social and political change, not as ends in themselves. Futurist artists were convinced they could revolutionize society through dynamic forms which reflected the fast-paced, technological advances of the twentieth century. Nevertheless, the visual arts were not the sole channel for change that the Futurists pursued. They were also interested in political and social revolution which, they fervently believed, would bring Italian culture into the modern age. While the political context of Futurism is often overlooked in a purely formal analysis, by focusing on Umberto Boccioni, one of the leaders of the movement, this thesis will trace the development of the movement's political ideology through a period of artistic inspiration into its military culmination. Strikingly evident in the writings of the Futurists was how seriously the movement hailed war above all as an inevitable and necessary means to purge Italy of its dependency on the past. It is ironic that war, which the Futurists so desired for Italy, essentially brought their movement to a standstill and led to the death of Boccioni. Therefore, the purpose of this thesis is to question whether these artists were misguided in their revolutionary ideas. Upon close inspection, it does appear that Boccioni's most important work was developed in an effort to use art to incite social revolution, culminating in war. This is a unique case in art history—where an artist's life work is directly dedicated to a cause—war—that, in turn, becomes the cause of his own annihilation. This paper will analyze the movement, its history, and its manifestations through Boccioni's writings and works in an effort to relate the productive formal changes to the destructive political results.