The route of the manifesto as an art form is Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ The Communist Manifesto (1848). Loud, clear and confrontational, this form was later adopted by F.T.Marinetti in The Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism (1909), and from this innumerable creatives have played with the form (Danchev, 2011). This first artistic manifesto was a call to revolt that succeeded in attracting attention for the small band of Futurists who associated with Marinetti in the years leading up to the first world war. The Futurists were young, male, arrogant, bombastic and fascistic. They saw the new world differently, being frustrated by atavistic entrenchment, wherever they found it. Leaving their fascist tendencies to one side, it is the clarity of their analysis and their declarative form that has always intrigued me and the many others who have played with rhetoric and hyperbole to disrupt the inevitability of social and artistic trajectories.
Stylistically the manifesto was a proto-punk form. A gob in the face of civility. It received attention at the time making the front page of Le Figaro because it challenged the status quo at a time of exponential technical and social change when the rest of the world was, momentarily, like a rabbit caught in the fiery headlights of the machine age.
In this post , I first present the third Futurist manifesto, from 1910. I then analyse several of the points it makes, and its style. Finally, I draw parallels with the world of higher education today and ask whether there are lessons we can draw from the form and the content.
The rapid change and dark horizons of the early twentieth century are not so dissimilar to today. In the introduction to the manifesto, Boccione et al. observe “the eye must be freed from its veil of atavism and culture, so that it may at last look upon Nature and not upon the museum as the one and only standard.” They ask, how can we claim to be innovative practitioners if our only measure is what we already know? If we are blind to our complacency?
Futurist Painting: Technical Manifesto (1910)
Umberto Boccione and others
- That all forms of imitation must be despised, all forms of originality glorified.
- That it is essential to rebel against the tyranny of the terms ‘harmony’ and ‘good taste’ as being too elastic expressions, by the help of which it is easy to demolish the works of Rembrandt, of Goya and of Rodin.
- That the art critics are useless or harmful.
- That all subjects previously used must be swept aside in order to express our whirling life of steel, of pride, of fever and of speed.
- That the name of ‘madman’ with which it is attempted to gag all innovators should be looked upon as a title of honour.
- That innate complementariness is an absolute necessity in painting, just as free metre in poetry or polyphony in music.
- That universal dynamism must be rendered in painting as a dynamic sensation.
- That in the manner of rendering Nature the first essential is sincerity and purity.
- That movement and light destroy the materiality of bodies.
- Against the bituminous tints by which it is attempted to obtain the patina of time upon modern pictures.
- Against the superficial and elementary archaism founded upon flat tints, and which, by imitating the linear technique of the Egyptians, reduces painting to a powerless synthesis, both childish and grotesque.
- Against the false claims to belong to the future put forward by the secessionists and the independents, who have installed new academies no less trite and attached to routine than the preceding ones.
- Against the nude in painting, as nauseous and as tedious as adultery in literature*.”
*nb: This is not a nod to feminism. The Futurists were very male. This is a challenge to the obsolete habits and salacious mentality of the academy.
The form is typical of manifestos. The list of declarations is assertive and intentionally confrontational – the reader is left no option but to decide whether they agree or disagree. The reader, must debate each point on their own or with others, given that manifestos were distributed by leaflets or newspapers that were usually read in libraries, coffee houses, places of work or other social places. I have attempted to apply the form below, albeit in a less confrontational way.
Applying these ideas and attitudes to higher education teaching and learning in 2017 is an interesting exercise. My relatively mild interpretation is as follows. I take what I believe are the essential ideas and re-present them.
A Teaching & Learning Manifesto (2017)
- It is not enough to imitate what has gone before as a good enough attempt at teaching. Excellent teaching comes from seeking to be original in order to deeply engage the learner.
- If occasionally we upset one or two people along the way, at least we should do so with integrity in the pursuit of the best we can do.
- Know and trust your own good intent.
- Understand your practice and your discipline in the context of today and the future and you see it.
- Praise the maverick innovator, the true innovator; one who should not be confused with the destructive rebel.
- Understand the value of learning ecologies to the learning network.
- Knowledge is dynamic and its assessment must be authentic.
- Essential truths are discovered, not given.
- Don’t be beguiled by certainty for the sake of expedience. Know that knowledge is uncertain.
(I have had to add some ‘blesses’. It is not enough to condemn.)
- Fight academic waffle – bless, plain English.
- Fight teaching and learning as a process where it inhibits generative thinking – bless, learning through co-production.
- Fight machismo and intellectual snobbery – bless, the challenge of inclusive co-operation.
- Fight complacency – bless, curiosity and fascination with the new and critical appraisal of what innovation means for the values we seek to uphold.
The manifesto is a useful form, one that can be generated to support the thinking of small groups and stand as a charter to steer future attitudes, behaviours and thinking. I have used manifesto writing with student groups in the past and advocate it as a tool for course groups to use for aligning their thinking about the course and its delivery.
Bruin, R., [translator] (2011). ‘’Futurist Painting: Technical Manifesto’ by Boccioni and others’. In: A. Danchev, ed., “100 artists’ manifestos: From the Futurists to the Stuckists.” Penguin Modern Classics.
Danchev, A.,ed. (2011). “100 artists’ manifestos: From the Futurists to the Stuckists.” Penguin Modern Classics.