Today's futurist artists are inspired by similar themes as the originators of the futurist movement, started before the World War I. Artists like Giacomo Balla, Umberto Boccioni, and Gino Severini fused elements of cubism and neo-impressionism to explore ideas of speed, noise, machinery, and modern life. Then, our contemporary take on futurism was instituted in the 60s, anticipating where the future might take us while maintaining a certain modern optimism.
As different as the two types of "futurism" may be, they present a telling contrast in the how artists of both ages explored the fears and hopes of their rapidly changing worlds.
"It's about creating images of the future," says Glen Hiemstra, founder of Futurist.com. He adds that virtual reality is a medium he expects futurist artists to embrace—and in striving to understand where their world is heading, today's futurists share elements of the original art movement of the same name.
"All of the early futurist thought that was labeled as such happened in the 20th or 19th century when people were projecting new forms of travel, new forms of energy, and new platforms for communication," says Steven Heller, co-chair of the MFA Design/Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. A key difference is that while early futurism was predominantly about art, today's futurist disciplines proliferate industries like business, public policy, and technology.
"We look at things such as trends or weak signals and look for indicators of all the possible and plausible futures that could be out there," says Terry Grim, a professor in the Studies of the Future program at the University of Houston.
A major part of this is looking at "preferable futures"—considering what outcomes would be better for individuals, communities, companies, or the world at large. This sort of "strategic foresight" draws on methodologies established over decades, in foresight study programs in graduate and undergraduate programs, to examine what Grim sums up as the "Three Ps": what's plausible, probable, and preferable. The United Nations University just announced a new graduate program in Future Studies.
Dystopian visions in films like Ex Machina are works of creativity that could be considered "futurist art." Grim says these types of films tackle complicated questions around technology and identity, such as the continued development of artificial intelligence.
For Heller, the closest thing to "futurist art" being produced today is as much about the medium an artist uses as it is about his or her message. "The next evolutionary stage is a shift in the definition of art," he says. "The idea that painting is kind of a dead art form, and in its stead is video and digital and biological and scientific—taking all these things that were part of the future and bringing them into art and seeing how they co-mix to make other things that are going to change our ideas of what art is or what living is."