1909 – The Future and all that…

Note: This post first featured on “The Art of…” blog, under my name: David Atkinson http://davidsartof.blogspot.com/

“We will sing of great crowds excited by work, by pleasure, and by riot; we will sing of the multicoloured polyphonic tides of revolution in the modern capitals; we will sing of the vibrant nightly fervour of arsenals and shipyards blazing with violent electric moons; greedy railway stations that devour smoke-plumed serpents; factories hung from clouds by the crooked lines of their smoke; bridges that stride the rivers like giant gymnasts, flashing in the sun with the glitter of knives; adventurous steamers that sniff the horizon; deep-chested locomotives whose wheels paw the tracks like the hooves of enormous steel horses bridled by tubing; and the sleek flight of planes whose propellers chatter in the wind like banners and seem to cheer like an enthusiastic crowd.’

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876-1944), ‘The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism’,
Le Figaro, 20 February 1909

As Caroline Tisdall and Angelo Bozzolla wrote in 1977 (Futurism: Thames and Hudson Ltd), the Italian Futurist project was a “…hectic herald of the recurrent concern in the art of our times to equate art and life, an equation which still remains unresolved.”

How apposite. We could sing the Futurist Manifesto in this current age – albeit with different images: try green industries, ethical banking, and social entrepreneurship to name just a few. The image of modern wind-power farms, their multitudinous sails, a revolution, of colossal white ghosts, marking their own time, casts just as much an evocation of industrial enterprise as deep-chested locomotives, whose wheels paw the tracks. If we look at 21st Century Art though, we might argue that the equation linking art and life has become far more obfuscated than that the Futurist’s struggled with.

We have an economic culture that drives processes for maximum efficiency; we use technology to intercede wherever we can bring it to bear, in maximising return on investment. We seek skilled labour to operate stream-lined processes. We no longer educate to think, but to do. We outsource customer service to script-driven resolution. We forget shades of grey in a drive to the black and white of a digital society. We no longer connect Art to life – there is no room for Art in the process-driven juggernaut of commerce. But, what happens when the wheel comes of that tumbling juggernaut of commerce – when we have no flexibility to adapt, since we have designed all such flexibility out of our systematised life.

If the current economic climate teaches us anything, perhaps connecting life to Art would be a good place to start. Present investment in innovation concentrates on developing new ideas. This is all well and good – new ideas develop into new businesses and new opportunity. But, we neglect investment in innovation in existing businesses – we create new dinosaurs at our economic peril. Art is about change, about envisaging a reality different to the one we are in. Where is the art in your work?