by Ben Marcus

A  Seminar

“A manifesto is a communication made to the whole world, whose only pretension is to the discovery of an instant cure for political, astronomical, artistic, parliamentary, agronomical and literary syphilis. It may be pleasant, and good-natured, it’s always right, it’s strong, vigorous and logical.”

–Tristan Tzara

Course Description:

Shrill, ambitious, mocking, deranged, and delirious with possibility, the art manifesto is an incendiary text that comes out swinging.  From the audacious declarations of the futurists to the enigmas of the surrealists, early art manifestos were shocking documents that taunted the status quo and tested the resolve and vision of artists.  As the twentieth century unfolded, there was hardly an art movement that didn’t have a manifesto behind it, and these documents have frequently voiced intense and passionate aspirations, sketching a radical future for art while challenging the cultural and commercial norm.  This seminar, open to all students in the School of the Arts, will survey a diverse range of art manifestos: Vorticist, Fluxus, Dada, Situationist International, Dogma 95, the Angry Young Men, the Stuckists, L.A.N.G.U.A.G.E Poetry, Dirty Realism, Minimalism, and the New Puritans, among many others.  Our aim will be to examine the philosophical and often anxious underpinnings behind these diverse movements in the arts.  We will not only question the conditions (social, political, and historical) that lead to the creation of a manifesto, but we’ll wonder just how faithful each movement has been to its defining credo.  As the class progresses and we familiarize ourselves with the strategies and aftermath of art manifestos—the peculiar way they have served to inspire and frustrate in equal measure—we’ll pursue further open questions that might relate directly to the practice of artists today.  For instance, does a manifesto liberate artistic activity?  If a manifesto is more renowned than the art it prescribes, is it a hidden and overlooked genre of art in and of itself?  What was wrong in specific cases that gave rise to the manifesto; in other words, what problem does each manifesto try to address?  What is it about the last one hundred years that has generated such a surge in polemical statements about art?  And how do we synthesize some of these questions into in examination of the current state of the art, whether in film, literature, visual art, theater, and beyond?  Everywhere in our current cultural landscape, missions, rules, edicts and principles for art are broadcast without much examination, a moralism toward art making that pulses just under the radar.  This course will attempt to surface and address even the most unconscious notions and mottos—at large in the cultural conversation—of what our art should be, the manifestoing impulse at the heart of much critical activity.  In so doing, students might move closer toward clarifying their own artistic positions, however slippery.  By the end of the term, students will write, construct, or otherwise create their own manifestos and submit them to the class for discussion.


Week 1: Introduction.

Manipulation, propaganda, desire: the language of the manifesto.  The shape of the vacuum: historical and social context.  Models and Forms: The Communist Manifesto, The United States Declaration of Independence, The Cannibal Manifesto, The Cluetrain Manifesto, The Hacker’s Manifesto.

Week 2: Foundational Manifestos I: Enabling or Censoring?

The Futurist Manifesto.  The Vorticist Manifesto.

Week 3: Foundational Manifestos II: The Realm of the Senseless.

The Dada Manifesto.  The Surrealist Manifesto.

Week 4: A Walk in the Park.

The Situationist International.  Fluxus.  Artaud’s Theater of Cruelty.

Week 5: The Counter-Culture.

S.C.U.M.  Body Art Manifesto.  Maintenance Art Manifesto.  AfriCobra.

Week 6: An Arm Behind Our Backs: Fantasies of Restriction.

Dogma 95, pluginmanifesto, Oulipo.

Week 7: The End of the Story.

L.A.N.G.U.A.G.E Poetry.  The New Puritans.  Tom Wolfe, Jonathan Franzen, B.R. Meyers and the Status / Contract Question.

Week 8: Against Design.

Crude Art Manifesto.  The Stuckists.  Group Hangman.  Angry Young Men. The Yes Men.

Week 9: The Internet and the Death of the Object.

A Cyborg Manifesto.  Hypertext and the End of the Book.  Cyberfeminist Manifesto.

Week 10: Edict, Motto, Creed: The Unspoken State of the Art.

Less is more.  Show don’t tell.  Make it New.  Unexamined rules of contemporary art making.  The New York Times, The New Republic, Artforum, Etc.

Week 11: The Future: How to Write an Avant-Garde Manifesto.

Deducing manifestos behind the reigning works of art, literature, theater, film, and mixed-media.

Week 12: Student Manifestos.  Presentations and discussion.

Week 13: Student Manifestos.  Presentations and discussion.  Conclusion.