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Artist Manifestos
The Poetry of Statements

Artist Manifestos
  • First Manifesto of Surrealism - 1924 (by )
  • Videopoetry : a Manifesto (by )
  • Communist Manifesto (by )
  • Artists and Thinkers (by )
  • The Aesthetic Theories of French Artists... (by )
  • Paint and Prejudice (by )
  • Modern War; Paintings (by )
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On February 20, 1909, after an effusive, exclamation-riddled introduction marked by an almost delusional but utterly genuine romance for vehicles, Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti begins the first three points of the ur-artist manifesto, the Futurist Manifesto:

1. We want to sing about the love of danger, about the use of energy and recklessness as common, daily practice. 
2. Courage, boldness and rebellion will be essential elements in our poetry. 
3. Up to now, literature has extolled a contemplative stillness, rapture and reverie. We intend to glorify aggressive action, a restive wakefulness, life at the double, the slap and the punching fist. (p. 4, 100 Artists’ Manifestos by Alex Danchev)
French newspaper Le Figaro publication of the Futurist Manifesto sparked the rat race of manifestos. The following years saw manifestos from now-canonical art movements like the surrealists, dadaists, and the situationists, as well as over 50 permutations of the futurist manifestos. A 1941 version of the Futurist Manifesto for England emerged (which still yet praised motor, speed, lightning, aggression, etc.), this time co-authored by Marinetti and English painter C. R. W. Nevinson. It addressed English artists directly:

WE WANT: 
1. To have an English Art that is strong, virile and anti-sentimental. 
2. That English artists strengthen their Art by a recuperative optimism, a fearless desire of adventure, a heroic instinct of discovery, a worship of strength and a physical and moral courage, all sturdy virtues of the English race. 
3, Sport to be considered an essential element in Art. A To create a powerful advance guard, which alone can save English Art, now threatened by the traditional conservatism of Academies and the habitual indifference of the public. (p. 9, Paint and Prejudice)

Marinetti, not a painter himself, but rather a poet, editor, and art critic, decried the turn-of-the-century state of art and literature, calling for artists to abandon the corpse of traditional techniques and values for a wholly modern vision of technology, speed, and aggression.
For the futurists, art was war. The coming World War I saw that futurists, particularly the Italian futurists, were for action as well as thought. Many of them joined the war as ardent nationalists and fascists. 

While most artists did not embrace the futurists’ hard right jingoism, what rang true then, and indeed still does now, is their fire for newness, their clarity of intentions for new artwork, and for revolutionizing what many saw as a stale art world. Two world wars created a global populace disillusioned with the world. The manifesto of dada captured the nihilism in the air perfectly. In direct lineage of the futurists, dada’s founder Tristan Tzara wrote,

I write a manifesto and I don't want anything. Yet I say certain things, and I am by principle against manifestoes as I am also against principles. ... I write this manifesto to show that one can take opposite actions at the same time in one cool breath. I am against action, in favor of continual contradiction and for affirmation also. I am neither for nor against and I do not explain for I hate good sense. (p. 80, The Aesthetic Theories of French Artists)

These manifestos signalled not only a shift of the old into the modern, but the birth of an entirely new artform: the artists’ manifesto. It was a poetic declaration of intents, often a declamation of the past and those contemporaries who regurgitate it, and a flag to rally towards. For more manifestos, read First Manifesto of Surrealism by Andre Breton, and Videopoetry: A Manifesto by Tom Konyves.

By Thad Higa



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