Umberto Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space

free essayThe art of the beginning of the 20th century is known for its variety of movements, innovation, and expressiveness.

The work looks completed, in a good condition with no significant damage. It is about 44 inches high placed on a podium for a good view from any side. The sculpture is made of bronze; therefore, it is possible to notice how depending on the lighting and the angle, every time a different feature is highlighted, which brings a new look to the work.

At first glance at the sculpture, you already feel its energy and present rush in it. In the composition of the sculpture, there can be recognized a figure of a man although it is rather abstract. His right leg is exposed onward as if he is moving towards something making a big step forward or even running. However, this motion looks to be difficult for him as if he is confronting a strong wind or as if there are some invisible for the spectator obstacles that slow down his pace. The figure has no arms; its chest and very symbolically depicted head with a helmet (that lets to assume that he is a soldier) are put up high showing the pride in his ability to stand out against the difficulties that he encounters on his way and the force within him to walk his way till the end.

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Although the elements of a human figure are recognizable, the form of the sculpture looks unstable and fluid; its separate parts seem to be waving in the wind as if the wind is the force that creates the figure’s shape. This must be referring to the idea that the surrounding environment makes a great impact on the man and is capable of changing him. It is a unique feature of this sculpture – the ability to show this powerful environment and indicate something that in reality is invisible, an abstract notion.

Also, the figure has no face; instead of it, you find there a cross composed of stretched to the front elements of the figure that are detached from the main body. It is best noticeable if you look at it from the front. You get the feeling that it moves towards you very fast and that everything that goes after that cross will crash into you. The absence of some specific face perhaps can be explained by the wish of the author to focus the attention of the viewers on the idea of the sculpture. Maybe, he wanted the audience to remember the effect it brings and the expression of movement incorporated in it; there was no intention to highlight the features of the face, the face was not important and was not able to deliver this idea.

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The whole composition is placed on two cubes, which are the only ones that have a correct shape with straight sides looking solid and stable. These two cubes are placed in some distance from one another, and each leg of the figure stands on a separate cube as if it is walking over them or stepping from one cube to another. Perhaps, these cubes symbolize the past or tradition from which the man is moving or running and the future or innovation towards which he is walking and which he desires to reach.

The title of the work must bring additional meaning and help to understand it. The author talks of “forms” in plural. Perhaps this means that the figure of a man we are able to see now can change at any moment. The matter is always in the movement and is always looking for a better and more appropriate shape that corresponds the time in which it is placed. Its ability to change forms lets it achieve the eternal continuity in space. The idea was perhaps that not some certain shape allows to obtain continuity, but the constant transformation of it is what does not let it come to the end; the sculpture represents the abstract idea of modification as the source of the continuity.

The influence of this piece of art cannot be underestimated. The creator of the statue is one of the founders of Futurism. Therefore, Umberto Boccioni’s works determined the direction of art development, and his creations made way for the new modern art. This sculpture is the monument breaking the traditional concepts and outdated techniques thus showing the desire of innovation. It is remarkable for the ability to deliver the author’s idea of movement and fight even to those viewers who are familiar neither with when was this sculpture made nor with the ideas of the futurist.

The expression of movement and breaking through represented in this sculpture is very clear. The goal of the artists of that period was depicting the search for relevance between the rhythm and the movement of the piece of art as well as the rhythm and the speed of life in their works. Also, they believed that the art should find a new way of its expression and move away from old styles, forms, and methods. New methods should be found through total deconstruction of everything that was before like it is said in Marinetti’s Manifesto of Futurism: “No masterpiece without the stamp of aggressiveness”, and it is possible to notice this aggressiveness and energy in the pose of Boccioni’s sculpture (Chipp and Selz 286).

The statics of the posing statues was to be replaced by the dynamical movement represented in the new art. The appearance of cinema influenced the emergence of the idea to bring the action into art, and Boccioni’s work is a good example of how movement is captured in the form of sculpture. The pose of the figure can bring the thought that it is confronting something – the world around it and its stagnation or perhaps its own inner inertness. One of the ideas of futurists was the idea of destroying everything created before as the only possible way to bring changes and make way for something new. The figure’s helmet hints that this man is a fighter or soldier. Maybe, this sculpture was a premonition of the upcoming World War I, or perhaps it was the thing that triggered the desire for war in the minds of people.

Inspired by the ideas of existentialism of Sartre and Camus, psychoanalysis of Freud and irrational voluntarism of Nietzsche and Schopenhauer that were dominating in the culture of that time, the art of the first half of 20th century represents the denial and the need of destruction of the previous culture. It shows the departure from realism and liberation of art from the laws of reality and the wish of rebellion against the established traditions of life. The most significant values of that period were the freedom to create and experiment leaving everything old and familiar behind, the revision of the ideas concerning any aspect of human life, the desire to break rules and establish new standards – all these values are perfectly transferred by this sculpture.

Probably, inspired by the concept of Superhuman developed by Nietzsche, this work embodies the man of future and all those representatives of that time who were on the front line of transformation of cultural and social life. Therefore, this sculpture must have inspired a lot of spectators to join the movement for changes. Contemplating this work awakens the desire to bring something new to life, leave the fear of changes behind, and become the one who brings them. This feeling must have been the same for the audience of that time. The message this sculpture brings is very certain and very expressive; thus, the impression it makes should be perceived equally by both the people of that time and the audience of today.

The art in this form could have appeared only at the beginning of the 20th century. Rapid technological progress, the invention of telephone which made communication faster, the acceleration of information transmission, changes in the political sphere – all these transformations and movement towards them are embodied in this sculpture with which Boccioni wanted to express the need to move even further and faster. This kind of art and these ideas were the reaction to the events that took place at that time. Futurists wanted art to be reorganized too alongside all other areas of human activity that were going through the process of reorganization.

Regardless of the power to bring the idea, there is a possibility that the creations of futurists, and this sculpture particularly, were not accepted properly by the audience of that time. Only today, the modern researchers of art can assess the beauty, value, and impact of this sculpture on the art of the next generation. Compared to impressionists, who were not accepted by their contemporaries, this piece of art must have not been understood by the majority. It is too detached from the traditional idea of art, too violent and sophisticated in its form. It is too much looking into the future so that the audience, which was perhaps strictly sticking to the old accustomed concepts of art and life, could not catch the idea of this sculpture and understand that it was the messenger of the entirely new period and a total reconstruction of minds and worldview. Only today, as the time has passed by, it is possible to estimate its meaning for the evolution of art.

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