10 Inspiring Art Manifestos
Modernism didn’t just bring innovations in techniques and the usage of media; moreover, it was centered on the persona of the artist and its perception of the world.
One of the prime novelties was the appearance of art movements, characterized by the publication of a manifesto, the text aimed to present the leading ideas of the movement to the public. In general, these statements were aimed to express not only the stylistic persuasions, rather they tended to underline the social and political quest for freedom of expression and emancipation (except for Futurism which served as a preface for the totalitarian regime).
Throughout the 20th century, an array of significant manifestos were published, and some of them are still influential today.
To bring you closer to the circumstances under which some of the manifestos were written, we decided to briefly describe ten outstanding art manifestos
The first significant manifesto on our list is the infamous Manifesto of Futurism (Italian: Manifesto del Futurismo) written by the Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and published in 1909. As a matter of fact, he wrote the manifesto one year before as an introduction for a volume of his poems that were published in January 1909 in Milan. After the release, it automatically brought a lot of controversy for its outrageous, revolutionary ideas that marked the inauguration of Futurism as an art movement practiced largely by the members of the Italian bourgeoisie.
The manifest expressed a passionate vision of the role of art in the society by hailing speed, machinery, violence, youth, and industry, the modernization of Italy while rejecting the past, as well as feminism and all opportunist and utilitarian cowardice. This particular discourse nurtured fascist ideology and Futurism was embraced by Mussolini, the notorious Italian Duce.
Featured image: Front page of the French newspaper “Le Figaro” of 20 February 1909 with the publication of the “Manifesto of Futurism” by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. Image creative commons.
Next up is the iconic Surrealist Manifesto. Although there were four versions of it, the first two manifestos were issued in 1924 and written by Yvan Goll and André Breton, the leaders of two rivaling Surrealist groups. Breton wrote and published his second manifesto for the Surrealists in 1929.
The two dominant figures had an open quarrel and they even physically fought over the rights to the term “Surrealism”. It was Breton who won, and Surrealism became colored by fractures, resignations, and excommunications, with each Surrealist having their own vision of the methods while accepting more or less the definitions proposed by Breton. His version of the manifesto defined the main principle behind the movement:
Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express—verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner—the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.
Featured image: Robert Delaunay illustration on cover of Yvan Goll’s Surréalisme, Manifeste du surréalisme, Volume 1, Number 1, October 1, 1924. Image creative commons.
Zenitism was a unique avant-garde movement born on the grounds of various influences such as Expressionism, Constructivism, Dadaism, as well as then-new media photography and cinema. The founder Ljubomir Micić was a Yugoslav intellectual who was very well connected with the leading avant-garde figures in Europe at the time; he published the magazine Zenit – the international Review for New Art from 1921 until 1926 (first in Zagreb, and from 1924 in Belgrade) where the leading ideas of this politically diverse movement were emphasized.
Zenitims was rooted in antimilitarism, anti-bourgeois, and anti-nationalist views and rejected traditional culture and art, and was described by Micić as “abstract metacosmic expressionism.” All of his ideas were summarized in the manifesto centered on the figure of the Balkanic/Slavic barbarogenius who defies the decadence of Western Europe.
Featured image: Left and Right: Front page of the Zenitizam magazine. Image via Flickr.
The White Manifesto was launched in 1946 by Lucio Fontana and his students in Buenos Aires. Under the title Manifesto Blanco, it proposed the merge of art and science and was practically a climax of Fontana’s ideas started with Spatialism, the movement he founded to explore color and form in real space by using techniques such as neon lighting and television.
This chapter from Manifesto Blanco summarizes the proposed ideas:
This idea of synthesis is grounded in the concept that certain scientific and philosophical developments have transformed the human psyche to such an extent that traditional “static” art forms and the differentiation of artistic disciplines have become obsolete. New, synthetic art is advocated that will involve the dynamic principle of movement through time and space.
Featured image: A retrospective/homage to the work of Lucio Fontana, reproducing in full his original Manifiesto Blanco from 1946. (Fontana, Lucio, Noci G. Le, and Ugo Mulas. Manifiesto Blanco. Milano: Galleria Apollinaire, 1966.). Image via Yale University Library.
LI - Lettrist Manifesto
After arriving in Paris in the mid-1940s, the Romanian immigrant Isidore Isou founded Lettrism in Paris. This avant-garde movement was very much politically charged and was expressed mostly through poetry, film, painting and political theory. The movement was inspired by Dada and Surrealism, and Isou perceived Tristan Tzara as the greatest creator of the Dada movement, and the others as plagiarists and falsifiers.
The movement is called Lettrism after the French word for letter and the fact that numerous early works are centered on letters and other visual symbols. Although they experimented with other media and produced works without using letters the Lettrists kept this term to describe other activities.
In 1952 The Letterist International was formed by Guy Debord, Gil J. Wolman, Jean-Louis Brau, and Serge Berna, while in 1953 these and several other artists wrote LI manifesto that was published in 1953 in Internationale lettriste #2.
Featured image: Book cover of Off-Screen Cinema: Isidore Isou and the Lettrist Avant-Garde. Image via Amazon.
In 1956 the previously mentioned member of the Lettrist International, Guy Debord, and Asger Jorn of the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus, invited a group of artistic collectives for the First World Congress of Free Artists in Alba, Italy where they founded the Situationist International; it was officially formed one year later at a meeting in another Italian town Cosio di Arroscia. That is when Debord wrote the Situationist manifesto under the title Report on the Construction of Situations.
In general, it was a revolutionary movement that was influenced by Marxism and the avant-garde art movements of the early 20th century (especially Dada and Surrealism), and had an important role in the Student’ protests of 1968.
Featured image: Internationale situationniste publication. Image creative commons.
The Fluxus Manifesto written in 1963 by George Maciunas was in large infused by Piero Manzoni’s critique of the commercial art market and bourgeois culture consisting of three parts of collaged dictionary entries and handwritten notes related to the word flux. The Fluxus movement nurtured radical ideas inspired by the ready-made objects of Marcel Duchamp, the sounds of John Cage, and the actions of George Brecht and Ben Vautier. The following excerpt from the manifesto indicates the radicalism of the movement:
Fluxus is definitely against [the] art-object as [a] non-functional commodity—to be sold and to make [a] livelihood for an artist.
Featured image: Fluxus manifesto. Image creative commons.
In 1967, radical feminist Valerie Solanas published the controversial SCUM Manifesto.
The starting point was the argument that men ruined the world, and that it is up to women to fix it. The only way to change that is the formation of SCUM, an organization dedicated to eliminating the male sex. S.C.U.M. stands for Society for Cutting Up Men, and the manifest itself was reprinted at least one hundred times in English, translated into 13 languages, and excerpted several times. Solanas used to organize recruitment meetings for the organization at the Grand Chelsea Hotel where she lived off and on. Interestingly so, the SCUM Manifesto was practically unknown until Solanas attempted to kill Andy Warhol in 1968.
Featured image: Cover of SCUM Manifesto by Valerie Solanas, via Amazon.
Women's Art: A Manifesto
Women’s Art: A Manifesto was written by the renowned Viennese performance artist Valie Export who was affiliated with the Actionists. She developed her version of body art on the grounds of the philosophy of Feminist Actionism, in turn based on bodily interaction with the people in the public space.
Under the title Women’s Art, Export fought for the politically charged agendas by stating: “I knew that if I did it naked, I would really change how the (mostly male) audience would look at me.”
Featured image: Valie Export at the Austrian Film Awards 2013 (Vienna). Image creative commons.
A Cyborg Manifesto
Last but not least, A Cyborg Manifesto was written by one of the most important feminist thinkers, Donna Haraway. This relevant text was published in 1985 in the Socialist Review, and at the core of it was a proposal that the concept of the cyborg is a rejection of rigid boundaries, the ones separating human from animal and human from machine. Haraway wrote:
The cyborg does not dream of community on the model of the organic family, this time without the oedipal project. The cyborg would not recognize the Garden of Eden; it is not made of mud and cannot dream of returning to dust.
A Cyborg Manifesto critically articulated the traditional notion of feminism, especially feminist take on identity politics, where the figure of the cyborg was used to empower feminists to think outside of gender, feminist, and political boxes and to construct an entirely new discourse.
Featured image: Cover of Dona Haraway’s A Cyborg Manifesto. Image creative commons.