From Richard Wagner’s verbose and lengthy treatise on opera through to the Stuckists’ polemical statement in 1999 that “artists who don’t paint aren’t artists”, artists opening up their beliefs has always been a contentious issue. Often seen as a mere exercise for their egos, a new collection of 100 years of art manifestos raises the question; how influential have these often pretentious, often highly-politicized ramblings been?
Despite early statements of belief, such as by Aristotle or Shelley, manifestos have became far more popular and frequent in the twentieth century, and as the name suggests, artistic and political beliefs begun to be almost co-dependent.
The seminal years of the early twentieth century were those in which the avant-garde seemed truly modern, accelerated by rapid social changes. The likes of Surrealist Andre Breton and Jean Cocteau were forerunners in a scene when artists tried to instigate genuine artistic development through the medium of rhetoric and printed ink.
But from the close of World War II, and then again advanced further in the 1960s, art manifestos took on increasingly extreme political views. The Refus Global of 1948 held wholly anti-religious and anti-establishment sentiments, while the Maintenance Art Manifesto (1969) and AfroCobra Manifesto (1970) tried to advocate the rise of black and feminine power respectively.
“Though offering engaging discourse on current issues, such pieces are frequently egotistical and ostentatious
The importance of substantiated artistic beliefs subsided, in the majority of cases, over the century. However, the Stuckist Manifesto spread via the internet in 1999 has held an important place in contemporary art debates, taking a strong anti-conceptualism stance that “art that has to be in a gallery to be art isn’t art”, and claiming that painting is the only true art form.
Alongside politicized statements, such manifestos were often concerned with refuting the beliefs of artistic rivals, such as Mark Miremont trying to disclaim almost a century of Dadaist conceptualism in his “The Resurrection of Beauty – a manifesto for the future of art 2002-10”. Though offering engaging discourse on current issues, such pieces are frequently egotistical and ostentatious.
The internet has a huge impact on the ‘manifesto market’, but with two sixteen-year-olds writing their own Stuckist manifesto on MySpace, it can be hard to prevent oneself becoming cynical: Aristotle to teenagers on MySpace in two millennia. The benefits of having such a global medium through which artistic debates can be engaged in are indisputable, but it does inevitably lead to swathes of ignorant criticism.
But as the edition of collected manifestos suggests, through their will or not, artists setting down their own beliefs has helped precipitate a new art form. Though the lyrical criticism of the likes of Walter Pater and John Ruskin has long-since been spoken of, the way in which artists have critiqued each other and society in the last century have in fact hold more longevity than they, or anyone else, had originally anticipated.