The Holstee Manifesto, as featured on the Brooklyn-based design group’s website
When the Futurists issued the first artistic manifesto of the 20th century in 1909, they were paving the way for more than a creative revolution. They were giving artists and creative thinkers a solution to a problem that’s left people tongue-tied for centuries.
Very few artists like talking about their work. It’s almost as if the reasons for doing it don’t seem good enough when you’re put on the spot. However, learning how to explain your creative motives can be a useful skill when promoting yourself and working out why you make art in the first place. That’s where a manifesto can really help.
Dynamism of a Human Body, by Umberto Boccioni, 1913
What is an Artistic Manifesto?
Written by Italian poet, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, The Futurist manifesto was to provide the blueprint for many subsequent art movements, including the Dadaists, Surrealists and Situationists.
The document, published first in Italian newspaper Gazzetta dell’Emilia before being translated and appearing in French tabloid, Le Figaro, outlined the aims of this emerging art and social movement in dynamic, bold, revolutionary and often incendiary language.
Upon reading it, no-one was left in any doubt as to Futurism’s rejection of the past and its celebration of industry, precision, speed, youth and violence. As part of its vision for a better future, the manifesto advocated the modernization and complete cultural rejuvenation of Italy.
Since then, the artistic manifesto has lived on, even though other ways of broadcasting ideas began to become more prominent.
Fast forward to the 21st century, and the manifesto is enjoying something of a renaissance among artists, thanks in no small part to the advent of the internet and the opportunity of reaching large numbers of people more easily than ever before.
Possibly the best-known recent example of an artistic manifesto in the digital age is that of The Stuckists – an art movement established in the UK 14 years ago, which has now grown to at least 233 groups in 52 countries.
Best in Show, by Michael Dickinson, © Michael Dickinson
Its founding members, Billy Childish and Charles Thomson, rejected conceptual art, instead advocating a return to figurative paintings with ‘spiritual value’.
The success of this movement (members of which continue to demonstrate against The Turner Prize at London’s Tate Britain every year), has spurred other contemporary artists into creating their own manifestos.For example, The Resurrection Of Beauty, written by philosopher and photographer, Mark Miremont, calls for a rejection of what he describes as “The sarcastic relativism of dada”.
Perhaps one of the most popular current manifestos is the one created by Holstee – a Brookly-based design studio which hopes to inspire people to live creatively and mindfully.
You can watch their inspiring manifesto for creativity here:
Why Should You Write An Artistic Manifesto?
Why should you write your own artistic manifesto? Because not only can it help you define who you are as an artist, it can also help you develop a different creative mindset.
Finding yourself in an artistic rut is all too easy, but writing down your thoughts can help you understand what makes you an artist, and, more importantly, what you need to do to fulfil your ambitions.
1. See Yourself As An Organization, Not An Individual
Being an artist means treading an often lonely path. It’s you and you alone who can produce your work, often spending hours, days, months or even years on projects without any input from the outside world.
With this in mind, it’s not surprising artists can sometimes feel isolated and vulnerable in the face of criticism and acceptance from others.
Learning to see yourself as an organization (ie. You, The Artist, Inc.) rather than an individual, can help you overcome that feeling.
It can help you make the distinction between being an artist and the work that needs to be done. It encourages you to step back from your work and assess what you need to do in order to improve.
You can even write a project plan at the beginning of each week to help you prioritize tasks.
For example, you need to get the thumbnails for your composition all worked out by Tuesday in order to start work on your finished sketch on Wednesday.
When writing your artistic manifesto, think of it as coming from your imaginary corporation rather than from you as an individual.
It might sound crazy, but this can help give you the confidence you need to assert your thoughts and define your creativity more clearly.
2. Think About Why You Make Art
At some point, most of us have been encouraged to write down our thoughts – even if it’s amounted to nothing more than a ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ list about whether to do something or not.
It’s often only when we write things down that we clarify things in our minds – before we do this, our heads are full of any given number of theories and possibilities.
The same is true of your art. When writing your own artistic manifesto, think about what motivates you to make art, what you believe, what you’re looking for when you apply pencil to paper or start painting in Photoshop.
Do you, like Mike Miremont, feel conceptual art is removed from beauty? If so, write down why you feel this way. Doing this might even take your brain down different avenues you haven’t explored before.
3. What’s Your Artistic Vision?
Whenever we start making art, we work towards a particular vision of how we feel the end result should look.
In doing so, we find our work takes different twists and turns and can often develop into something completely different to what we first imagined. This isn’t a bad thing. It just means your initial vision has mutated into a different version of what you perceived.
Perhaps you want to make fantasy art that makes you believe you’ve actually entered this make-believe world? If so, write it down. Or, perhaps you want to create comic action scenes that draw the viewer in and make them think about the world differently?
Write that down too. You might not always achieve your vision, but writing it down will give you a constant reminder of where you were headed in the first place.
4. Facing the Negatives With Words
There are almost as many things preventing us from making art as encouraging us. What are the negatives you face in your work?
Just as the artistic manifestos of the 20th and 21st centuries haverailed against a particular philosophy or dismissed popular opinion, so too can yours.
Perhaps all the distractions of modern life, such as social media, TV, fashion etc are what’s getting in the way of your work? If so, write down why you aim to avoid them and how doing this will make you a better artist.
You may not always stick to this (we’re only human, after all), but at least it’s a constant reminder of what can get in the way of your work.
5. Turn Your Artistic Manifesto Into Art
If you look at the Holsteen Manifesto, you’ll see it’s exactly what you’d expect a leading design studio to produce. The words are laid out beautifully and the end result is as attractive as the philosophies contained within it.
Don’t just type your artistic manifesto out in plain old Arial 9pt. Give it some thought. Embellish your text with colors if you wish, think about its layout and make your thoughts stand out for all the world to see.
Once you’ve done all that, print it out nice and big and hang it prominently in your workspace. It represents you and everything your art stands for. And that’s an achievement to really be proud of.