The City Rises: Russian Futurism as a Driving Force for Revolution

Russian Futurism was a style of art originating in Russian in the early 20th century, initially, it was poetry and literature, a group of young artists seeking to change the status quo as artists so often do. The first futurist painting, “The City Rises” by Umberto Boccioni, shows the hustle and bustle of modern urban life in the wake of the industrial revolution, and demonstrates plainly the futurist fascination with modern machines and the urban life. In a large part, the painting is driven by the chaos of the city, and in contrast to previous forms of Russian art, is much more dynamic, and less focused on detail, with a higher emphasis on the themes of modernization and change. These themes in Futurism can be seen as a window in to the collective cultural conscience of a nation that was gearing up for change, which eventually culminated in the revolution of 1917.


Futurist artists in the early 20th century found themselves in a world with no shortage of inspiration, with the coming of the industrial revolution, class lines began to blur more than ever before, and the lower classes set their eyes upon the high living standards of the upper classes. As they labored in the cities, they became more educated, and ever more discontent with their continual exploitation by the rich. The Futurists latched on to this discontent, portraying it in works of art and poetry, continually challenging the traditional way of things and further pushing the masses towards change. The factors which drove the revolution can clearly be seen in their art, the modernization of Russian industry, the chaos and danger of life within a city, and, to a lesser degree, the plight of the working classes can be seen clearly in almost all forms of futurist art, while at the same time Russian Futurists constantly spit in the face of convention and the establishment, ridiculing them and refusing to accept the system that was currently in use.


In this, the first ever futurist painting, we can clearly see the standard Futurist trademarks. The bright color of the painting works in concert with the fuzzy, chaotic lines to convey a scene of confusion and hustle. We can also see that the workers in the painting are almost blended in with the beasts of burden and the machines being used, similar lines and colors almost seeming to equate the urban workers to nothing more than animals or expendable machines. Another example of this is the anonymity of the faceless workers, in direct opposition to detailed conventional art, the workers in this piece do not have faces, and are thereby further de-humanized, reducing them further to the level of tools of industry. The overall grand scale of the painting completes the scene, with the massive city eclipsing all others, driving at the cultural theme that, individually the workers are nothing, but when united they can perform feats far beyond any single man.


In conclusion, this painting is a fine example of the overall attitude of the working class in Russia just prior to the revolution, and demonstrates many of the themes and tenets that eventually caused the revolution, and allowed it to succeed.


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