The Futurist movement, which emerged in the early 20th century, was a radical and avant-garde artistic and cultural movement that celebrated the speed, dynamism, and technological advancements of the modern world. One fascinating aspect of Futurism is its connection to synaesthesia, a neurological phenomenon in which the stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to involuntary experiences in another. In this article, we explore the intersection of Futurism and synaesthesia, shedding light on how this movement embraced and embodied the multi-sensory experience of the modern age.

Synaesthesia in Art: Merging Sensory Experiences

Futurist paintings often explored the concept of simultaneity, where multiple events or objects are depicted at the same time. Synaesthesia is a neurological condition that blurs the boundaries between such sensory experiences, where one sensory input can trigger sensations in another. For example, a synesthete might perceive colours when hearing music or associate specific tastes with certain words. This blending of the senses intrigued many artists, including those associated with Futurism. However, what we encounter most often in this movement is the idea of using visual forms to evoke the rhythms and harmonies of music.

We can consider Luigi Russolo a central figure in this respect with his work Music (La Musica), 1911, where sounds are “seen” as colours.

Russolo came from a musical family and is in fact best known today as the author of the manifesto The Art of Noises (1913), which called on composers to incorporate the sounds of the industrial era into their works. In order to replicate these, he invented a series of instruments known as intonarumori (or ‘noise-intoners’), which were effectively large hurdy-gurdies fitted with megaphones that were capable of generating a range of different sound effects.

Carrà, was also fascinated by the concept of synaesthesia. In his essay ‘The Painting of Sounds, Noises and Smells’, he explored the idea of a form of painting that would engage multiple senses not only sight.

From the colour point of view: there are sounds, noises and smells which are yellow, green, dark blue, light blue, violet.
In railway stations and garages, and throughout the mechanical or sporting world, sounds noises and smells are predominantly red; in restaurants and cafes they are silver, yellow and violet. While the sounds, noises and smells of animals are yellow and blue, those of a woman are green, blue and violet. (Futurist Manifestos by Umbro Apollonio).

A Multi-Sensory Avant-Garde

The Futurist movement was a multi-sensory avant-garde that embraced the idea of synaesthesia, even if not explicitly labelled as such. Through their bold experimentation with colour, form, motion, and abstraction, Futurist artists aimed to engage viewers on multiple sensory levels. This approach allowed them to capture the essence of the modern world and transport their audience into a synesthetic experience where the boundaries between senses blurred, much like the dynamic, multi-sensory reality of the rapidly changing early 20th century. Futurism remains a testament to the power of art to transcend traditional boundaries and to immerse us in the exhilarating multi-sensory tapestry of the modern age.

Further Teachers' Resources

- The beginning of Futurism Read more
- Futurism Emerges Read more
- Capturing Motion Read more
- Giorgio Morandi Read more
- Capturing the Human Spirit Read more
- Metaphysical Marvels Read more
- Shaping Tomorrow Read more

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