Whatever happened to all the manifestos?

In the first half of the 20th century, every time somebody wanted to start a new artistic movement, they would issue a “manifesto.” It was meant to be a bold challenge to the art world, to shake things up, to announce a new creative force on the scene. In other words, self-promotion. The best-known example of this was Marinetti’s 1909 Futurist Manifesto. The Futurist movement itself never amounted to much; the only thing it’s still remembered for is its Manifesto. All promise and no delivery.

Following the Futurists, the Dadaists, Surrealists, Situationists, and I don’t know what all else issued lots of “manifestos” announcing the effect they planned to have on art. Well, Dada and Surrealism actually did have lasting effects on art, but I bet for some of these movements, issuing manifestos was the art form itself. You don’t see much of this any more.

The only example from more recent years I can think of was Roxy Music’s 1979 song “Manifesto” from the album of the same name (I am for a life 'round the corner that takes you by surprise…). But in the late '70s a lot of avant-rock artists like Roxy Music, Brian Eno, David Bowie, Talking Heads were deliberately revisiting the Dada experiments of the Café Voltaire. The Roxy song “Manifesto” may have been a self-conscious return to that form inspired by their interest in early 20th-century avant garde art movements.

Whatever happened to the art world that you never hear manifestos any more? Did artists get tired of the game of always saying what you were going to do, and just get busy actually doing it?

Maybe the world got sick of pretentious posers?

Wouldn’t the whole “Dogme 95” thing be considered a manifesto of this type?

Not art, but the Humanists have a 3d coming out this year.

I dunno - that’s one kind of sick that the world has yet to get.

Even before the golden era of the art manifesto, avante garde artists couldn’t get wall space.

Later, they did find gallery space, but nobody would write reviews of the shows. So they had to write their own, with often little self-restraint. Thus appeared the manifesto.

Eventually, critics such as Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg took over the job. They still exercised abundant hyperbole and partisanship, but it was now dressed up with respectable scholarship.

People can and do still write manifestos, but they seem quaint at best or, like Ted Kazinsky’s, dangerously loony.

Have we forgotten The Cluetrain Manifesto so quickly?

I think that there are lots of manifestos these days… they’re just less organized than they used to be.

Thanks, Slithy Tove and Avalonian, for shedding some light on a mysterious process.

The Cluetrain Manifesto is kind of neat, once you get past the hype and realize they’re saying that the Internet allows people to talk to one another naturally without corporate mediation. They’re describing the Straight Dope Message Board!

(But is it art?)

Now I just wish somebody could explain what the heck the Situationists were all about. Every time I read their many manifestos (translated from opaque French, they become even more opaque), I confess I haven’t the slightest idea what they’re talking about.