Saturday, January 12, 2013

Futurism 1876: The Machine Gun

Believe it or not, FUTURISM began in Philadelphia on April 20, 1876, when the Reverend William Henry Furness gave the dedication speech for the opening of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, designed by his son Frank. The Unitarian Reverend Furness was an intellectual of great repute among figures like Emerson and Whitman. What is amazing about his speech is the notion of TERRIBLE BEAUTY emerging from the mechanical killing of the Civil War and articulated for the first time in his son's architecture. Michael J. Lewis discusses this important passage in, Frank Furness: Architecture and the Violent Mind (New York, 2001) p. 123. It was first published in the Philadelphia Inquirer (April 20, 1876).

"In popular speech we distinguish the beautiful arts from the useful. It is a distinction in hardly anything more than a name. What mortal thing is so useful as beauty? It is eternal joy. It feeds as instinctive insatiable hunger. And, on the other hand, how beautiful is use! Fitness is beauty. I was shown the other day, at Fortress Monroe, a Gatling gun, an instrument of death, discharging two hundred bullets a minute, and yet what a terrible beauty there was in the exquisite contrivance by which a man could sit at his ease, and by turning a crank, sweep away files of men."

1 comment:

Richard M. Rothaus, PhD said...

Interesting. I have been having this discussion, usually to no avail, in the oil fields of ND (as you know). If one detaches his or her feelings, I think there is something else to see out there. The scale of change, the steel rising up in numbers so large a horizontal landscape becomes vertical, there is an industrial beauty in that. A lesser beauty perhaps,but beauty.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States