“We will put the spectator in the middle of the picture”

For eons of time, artists have always put the spectator in front of them. Artists seemed okay with the viewer being a participant but usually from the periphery. It was bold, fresh, and curiously acceptable for the viewer to have some form of participation within the composition but that level of engagement had copiously been restrictive and extremely selective.

Umberto Boccioni, States of Mind 111,1911

Umberto Boccioni, The Si

What are your thoughts when Umberto Boccioni proclaims that Futurist artists “Painters have always shown us things and people in front of us? We will put the spectator in the middle of the picture.” (Umberto Boccioni, Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting, 1910.)

Published by: roberttracyphd

Academic professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. I teach theory courses in Art and Architecture History. In addition, I also curate exhibitions on campus as well as in other venues nationally and internationally.

35 Comments

35 thoughts on ““We will put the spectator in the middle of the picture””

  1. I think when he says putting them in the middle opposed to the front because we are only seeing things in one view. Putting the spectator in the middle we can see from all vantage points. The age of machine was impecable! so putting you in the middle means putting you to feel your surroundings it what I would assume. I believe he wasn’t being literal in the sense of art and machinery. I believe he was just trying to tell us about how exciting it was at that time with new age technologies.

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  2. Lizbeth Ramirez | Art 473

    When Umberto Boccioni proclaims that Futurist artist “Painters have always shown us things and people in front of us? We will put the spectator in the middle of the picture.” I get a sense of what he means. When I look at futurist artists’ work I feel as If I’m a part of the scene and if I was to be there at that moment that would be my view. The paintings are done in such a way that I become a part of it, versus other styles. I feel like with other artists there’s always some sort of barrier between I as the viewer and the subject of the art itself. When the viewer is placed in front of the art our main purpose is to just view it, but when we’re placed in the middle we aren’t just viewing it but we become a part of it and to some extent we’re able to see, feel, and understand more.

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  3. This statement is very interesting for sure. I think what he says is true about the history of painting, as usually it is displaying a scene for the viewer to awe at. Paintings would commonly portray important people, important historical or Biblical scenes, or still lives. When we look at these works, we do not necessarily feel a part of the scene, we do not feel a personal connection for the most part. The subject of the piece are the figures in the painting, and the audience is to view it. However, Boccioni’s work seems to consider the viewer or audience much more. He seeks to create an experience with his work, and consider the viewer’s experience in his process. His pieces really make you, as the viewer, feel like you are ingulfed in the painting, perhaps due to his vague portrayal of the subject of the painting itself. Because of this lack of a main subject and its more abstract style, it allows us to insert ourselves into the piece. Boccioni leaves room for the audience to be a part of his paintings.

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  4. Umberto Boccioni’s statement about Futurist artists is very intriguing. It is certainly a viewpoint I had not considered before until now. Normally when artists create an artwork, it is about a certain subject such as people of importance, places, events, and so on. We as viewers of the artwork view it from the outside, through only one perspective. While we may feel some emotion from the painting, we are not really involved in the painting’s purpose. The Futurist artist approach though puts viewers in the middle of it all. We are not just an outsider looking in anymore. We have become an important piece of the artwork, which allows us to connect with it more and gain a different perspective. It is definitely an interesting approach to try and make viewers feel more involved with a work of art.

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  5. I think what Umberto Boccioni means by his quote is that Futurist artists immerses the viewer into the feeling of the artwork. There is a blurriness in his paintings, implying that the figures were captured in dynamic motion with expressive brush strokes. In his painting the States of Mind, there are curling lines and geometric shapes that seem to recede into the background the more your eyes follow them towards the right of the piece. There is an air of mystery to the States of Mind, it encourages imagination and thought about the work. In Boccioni’s other work, The Si, the figures of horses and men toil in a city. Most details in are loosely painted, the legs of the figures are painted in a hazy manner but are slanted and moving, in contrast with the architecture behind them which was painted with tight lines and a sense of stillness. Viewers can easily imagine what it is like to be in the middle of this bustling scene. This style is vastly different from traditional art that focuses on a photo-like, static, and stately approach to painting. Details are usually well defined and painted in a naturalistic style.

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  6. Boccioni’s claim on how these painters put the viewer in the middle of the action/subject is very fascinating. I think the artist means that when the viewer views the work of these artists, they become fully immersed in multiple perspectives compared to traditional art, whether it was a single perspective portrait or landscape. In my opinion, it is similar to when you have a neurotic experience and visualize a shutter-shot like experience. You capture different times to a sequence and visually encapsulate that experience into a picture. It puts the viewer in the middle and makes the viewer critically analyze it through its jagged forms and transparent subtleties. In the powerpoints, learning about some of the points made on futurism, dada, and WWI, really made me think that the people in these societies that pushed the boundaries of perceived art, developed very fast in a short amount of time concluding in a war, which is unbelievable and astounding.

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  7. I find Umberto Boccioni’s quote to be incredibly interesting because it can be applied both literally and figuratively depending on if a piece is 3-dimensional or not. I think that Boccioni’s work reflects this statement because even though his paintings have the viewer looking at what is literally in front of them, the work invokes a deeper thought due to the way it can be interpreted differently. His paintings look as though they are interactive or 3-dimensional and almost make the viewer feel as if they can step in and look around. I believe this kind of involvement and capability to provoke different thoughts is what Boccioni was referring to, although this quote could also be applied to 3-dimensional pieces during the time that viewers could quite literally walk around and change their perspective.

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  8. I believe that Umberto Boccioni has a very good point. Futurism is definitely in its own category, although I could see how someone who does not study art could get them confused. Cubism, however, is more about changing the meaning behind shape and lines. The fragmented forms that broke up societal definitions of art. Futurism is all about raw emotion; what the artist feels, you can see the darkness, violence, load, explosive energy in their use of color. As the PowerPoint put it, Cubsium allowed for futurism to find dynamism, its characteristics of loud, busy activity, but they are not the same. Because it is less about the line technique and more about displaying something, that is why I believe Boccioni’s comment made sense. It portrays things to people, stuff that may be happening in everyday life or things people may unconsciously feel coming, and because of that, they can feel it more than just see it.

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  9. I believe there is more content and depth hidden in a futurist painting. I think what Umberto Boccioni meant by putting the spectator in the middle is that futurists depicted scenes in different forms and different points of view instead of portraying a scene simply through one naturalistic perspective. Looking at futurist paintings I see that linear perspective is still used but the line work and subject matter is stylized and cut into shapes. The dynamics of the line work and shapes create motion and emotions all in one. The subject matter itself is cut and sliced into shapes and gradients that it captures the uniqueness of the objects. Futurist paintings also show forms in constant motion instead of still images. I think that could be another point to Boccioni’s statement. There is a sense of motion in the subject matter that makes one think they are in the middle of a painting. It’s like looking at an angular mechanical version of reality.

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  10. In regards to Umberto Boccioni statement,e he states that “we will put the spectator in the middle of the picture.” This statement, to me, feels like there are multiple layers. As others have mentioned, when it comes to the perspective of a viewer to a painting, so often we see these one perspective paintings where the viewer is look at either a self portrait or a specific time in history.

    The artists normally ask the viewer to try to understand and see the emotion that is evoked while looking at their painting, but if we understand the expression that Boccioni was stating, we can be able to have an entirely new perspective when looking at a painting. Being able to immerse yourself into a story evokes the emotion of the story that is taking place. Self portraits can create their own sense of emotion, but imagine immersing yourself in the midsts of war or a battle field and then you may be able to understand the vision that the painter was trying to convey.

    Not only does this continue on with the transition of futurism, but this new style of perspective helps to immerse the viewer in a way that evokes emotions that we wouldn’t see if we weren’t immersed into “the middle of the picture.”

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  11. Umberto Boccioni always included a viewer as part of his paintings. His paintings always used vibrant palads and described energetic scenes of wars and how artists had the freedom to compose their visions and dreams. His paintings also represent social-political statements about the way he perceived a chaotic and artistic world that overlap.

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  12. I think it is an interesting concept to claim to put the audience in the middle of their art. It’s like stating they are taking a step forward towards the inclusion of the viewers into the paintings, to truly make them part of them. I’ve seen paintings that effectively give this more accurate sense of being “in the middle” since these paintings look like being caught in the middle of the action by unfocused camera eye. That what part of the Futurist movement was about, to give a sense of dynamism into the painting, portraying the new technology and emphasizing on the restlessness of modern life. Maybe it was a way to reinforce their idea that the audience will also be part of the inevitable catastrophe to come, and the one Futurists believe in.

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  13. What Umberto Boccioni had said about Futurist artists is truly though-provoking. Most artists before the 20th century primarily had a subject that they wanted viewers to focus on in their paintings, and that was really it. The focus is solely on the subject and painting and nothing else matters. Viewers only see the paintings from one point of view, and that’s from their perspective. The approach that Futurist artists used though was that they wanted to put their audience into the middle of their paintings. They wanted their audience to be able to witness their paintings not as a spectator, but as a piece of their painting as well. This gave the audience a different perspective when it came to looking at paintings, as well as evoked more emotions with the inclusion of the audience. This way, they felt more involved with what they were looking at.

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  14. At first, our society’s common entertaining way comes to my mind. Television, phone, and movie are all shown in front of as. Same as paintings, we see it as a world that is being presented to us. We are never fully engaged with what is happening inside. Or, we are less active in trying to understanding the meaning, since everything is been explained in front of us. Boccioni’s statement brought a new idea to me. By putting the spectator in the middle of the picture, the viewer becomes fully emerged to the piece. Also, I started to relate my feeling more often when I start to think if I am a part of the painting.

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  15. “We will put the spectator in the middle of the picture,” what a bold statement. I think there is definitely something within Futurist art that takes on more form… something that we can’t touch in this reality. The total control that Futurist artists have over the different geometric planes in their work is mind-blowing to me. It gives them the ability to layer these planes with color and whatnot, to almost create… more form. These forms create a sense of space, which is how the spectator is transported to “the middle of the picture.” When the spectator focuses on the form, they are transported into a world of unknown, getting lost in the strokes and gradients of 2 dimensional art that takes 3 dimensional (4 dimensional ?) form.

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  16. Boccioni was a very influential artist during his time. He helped start the Fururist Art movement and he helped introduce the visual innovations of the Futurist style. When he says this style of art puts viewers in the middle of the picture, I use my imagination to visualize how the incident in the painting was experienced first hand. You don’t really see that with other art styles. When you view art, you just expect to be pleased with the visuals and the meaning, but the Futurist style is much more exciting and it has more action and movement in all the different artworks.

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  17. Umberto Bocioni’s statement in regards to the way future artists will change how the interact with their audience is an advanced way of thinking for his time. I think looking at past works of art, there has been a strong sense of portraiture work. We’re now moving in a new direction. A direction of work that is not so much, look at this person sitting in this space, but more of, look at all these colors and mark making that interact with each other. The artist is now making the viewer look at their work and say, “how does this piece of art make you feel?” The visual experience is changing for the viewer as art changes. Artists, and Bocioni are not making art that is so straightforward anymore. They want the viewer to question, and be intrigued by the work. This idea of putting the spectator in the middle of the picture, is even more so the case in our day and age. As interactive artwork becomes a huge part of society. This is why I think Bocioni’s way of thinking at that time, was far more advanced than he could have ever thought.

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  18. Umberto Boccioni’s paintings do give the perception of giving the spectator a chance to be a participant within the painting. With the blended objects and no solid shapes and lines to follow into an object’s appearance, we find ourselves in-between worlds. Blurring the image and enhancing the idea behind the image is what allows us to fill the gaps with our imagination. Our brains automatically try to take shortcuts. We try to fill in this information while figuring out what we are looking at with clues left behind. When Boccioni says that they would put the spectator in the middle of the picture, your brain will fill that blurred space with something familiar. Surrounded by an environment that is the rest of the painting.

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  19. I think what Umberto Boccioni meant by “painters have always shown us things and people in front of us? We will put the spectator in the middle of the picture” is to help us engage more with the artwork. Like mentioned, artists would always put the spectator in front of their artwork for long years, but the form of placing the spectator in the middle connects the spectator and the art piece become one artwork. Also, it also makes the flat painting become a form of space, where the spectator can engage in the art from different perspectives and angles instead of making them look at the art in only one direction.

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    1. It’s interesting how he took this 2D space and made it almost 3D. I actually got motion sickness looking at some of his work due to how his line work so heavily implied movement. It’s such a great way to engage with a painting.

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  20. This is so fun and chaotic, the idea of Futurist paintings throwing the spectator into the middle of the fray. Many paintings have the viewer on the outside looking in, and capturing the whole scene from the outside. Being thrown in lets the audience see first-hand what is going on, and what it’d be like to actually be there. From what I can tell The Si, there are horses and humans depicted, in what appears to be a battle. I feel like most paintings involving a war or battle look rather organized, but when depicted in a Futurist style, it shows the true chaos of being in the fray of war. Any scene has almost an infinite number of perspectives, and I think Futurism does a great job of letting the viewer see a lot of them.

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  21. I always thought art that engaged or threw the viewer right into the middle of the painting was much more fulfilling than looking at some of the modernist stuff for example. In terms of responding to the quote, “Painters have always shown us things and people in front of us? We will put the spectator in the middle of the picture.” I think being able to engage the viewer more will make your work more successful. Take Umberto Boccioni, Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting, 1910 for example. It is so dynamic and fun to look at one could stare at it all day. The textures especially are what draw me to liking this work so much. I think artists should take this into consideration when creating artwork of their own. How will the viewer react/respond when looking at my piece is a good question to consider. I think that is why movies for example do so well. They take you and put you right in the middle of the action. The sound design, the film, the color, etc all contribute to making it engaging.

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  22. Umberto Boccioni’s statement describing Futurist painters’ inclusion of spectators in their pieces highlights a remarkable new way in which patrons were able to fully immerse themselves into works of art. Futurist painters, as Boccioni would agree, endeavored to do more than include spectators as external participants; their pieces, however two-dimensional, depict scenes and images that do anything but sit idle and motionless. The works of Futurist artists, including the two pieces of Boccioni’s shown above, engulf spectators in a manner which very nearly forces them to, in a sense, participate in the piece itself. Futurist artists, as Boccioni might say, do not merely produce art—they produce entire worlds that reach out and pull their spectators into.

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  23. I think that it is a very interesting way to describe the way in which painters and other artists are able to immerse the viewer into the images they create. Including the spectators is the perfect way in which for people to remember your piece. The best artist don’t just create works of art, they create world for which to pull the spectator into. Immersion into another world is something that everyone has though of at least a little in their lifetime, and works of art are able to bring that fantasy to reality at least a little. Not every piece of art can do that, but people don’t tend to remember those anyways. Boccioni’s pieces are able to make bring the viewer into the piece and become a part of it.

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  24. When Umberto Boccioni said, “Painters have always shown us things and people in front of us. We will put the spectator in the middle of the picture.” It is true in most realist and naturalist paintings, the perspective the spectator gets in the imagery tends to be more disconnected from the painting itself. It is simply you, the viewer, and then the art you are viewing. There is mostly no engagement with the art as the painting plays out in front of you. Sometimes though, the viewer is put in between the actions of the painting, changing up the perspective a little bit, but still, there is this disconnect. Much like Umberto Boccioni’s States of Mind and The Si, the imagery he portrays in his work is so bold with lots of movement and jarring colors, it leads you to believe that you are there in the painting engaging with it.

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  25. Umberto Boccioni proclaims that Futurist artists “Painters have always shown us things and people in front of us? We will put the spectator in the middle of the picture.”

    I believe that Boccioni is not really talking about placement of items in a painting but more as in placing the viewer in the perspective of being in the painting. Futurism was a movement were artist wanted viewers to be engaged with the art work not just view it. It was immerging into another person world and perspective view. These paintings and work were pulling the viewers into more of how does this make you feel instead of just staring an a self portrait or landscape of some place.

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  26. To me the audience of art has always been outside looking in. Not very often do you see the chaos of the middle of a scene in a painting and we don’t get a feel for how it really is to be in the mix. I honestly feel like its a really interesting view and it should absolutely be looked into a lot more. This view is very engaging and interesting and it can create amazing outcomes and possibilities for compositions of paintings and art in general.

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  27. Umberto Boccioni, a futurist artist, makes a mark on futurism who shows the dynamism, speed, and motion he captured in his works and Italy’s social situations. According to Boccioni, speed is essential. What was beautiful for the futurist artists was speed and motion, war, destruction, and technology—basically, the machine itself. Art involvement begins spontaneously at the first encounter of the work with the audience. Every viewer has an opinion about the work they see. Put the spectator in the middle of the picture is to draw people from a passive point to an active matter. In this respect, what needs to be done is the artist should interact with the audience in every field. Umberto Boccioni adopted a reader-oriented approach within the framework of the meaning of the artwork. Because where there is art, there is also interpretation at the center with the audience no matter what.

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  28. Boccioni’s claim that Futurist artists “will put the spectator in the middle of the picture,” I believe that he tries to convey the importance of evoking experiences in painting. They try to convey and capture the human experience and eliminate the degree of separation that a viewer has when looking at a piece of artwork. Rather than having a painting that feels staged and carefully composed to communicate an idea or theme, Futurists like Boccioni utilizes exaggerated movement, sweeping gestures and bright colors to immerse oneself in the work. They try to create a sense of immediacy and motion, and simulate the feeling of something happening directly in front of the spectator, much like how they experience time outside of the piece.

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  29. I think the idea of putting the spectator in the middle of the picture is a great way to have the spectator interact with the painting. In more classical art the paintings act more like a window and the viewer feels almost like an intruder looking into this intimate scene. The Futurists allow the viewer to have this interaction with their work that they would never be able to have with a Monet. The futurists are coming from a place of war and destruction and are able to use art for not only them to escape, but the viewer as well. Boccioni is so expressive with his line that looking at his artwork see it in motion and it almost makes me sea sick looking at it like I am in motion as well. The effect is amazing and I’m sure very escapist for the viewers of the time when the paintings were created. It’s a very unique way of interacting with art for the time and I’m sure it came at the perfect time.

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  30. Arron Adams
    Art 473-1001
    My thoughts are that the idea is really interesting on paper, but, in practice, it actually can make my head hurt a bit, particularly if I look at the paintings long enough to work out what all is going on. But for those who don’t get a headache from it, I expect it is really cool and different.

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  31. The Futurists built upon what Cubism had developed as a style and introduce elements and ideas of the modern industrial world in a way that reflected what was new and unexplored in society. Looking at Futurist art presents a multitude of perspectives and interpretations that give the spectator room to visually explore art and have a much more active role in the experience. More traditional and classical art styles focus on presenting a single experience or idea while Futurism opposes that by presenting the visuals of the modern world in dynamic and multi-dimensional ways. In doing this they created much more inviting compositions that engage the viewer in the experience and shared the artist’s perspectives of the modern world.

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  32. With many of the paintings in Futurist art, there is alot of movement. I think it can be quite simple to submerge yourself in these pieces because of that specific quality. It can be quite chaotic to look at as there is so much to look at. It makes sense that the viewer can be placed in the middle of the painting. Maybe from how vivid the colors are and the way that the subjects are painted with so much energy. The various perspectives and dimensions can make it a bit instense but that is what makes each piece that much more interesting.

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  33. I think it’s certainly an interesting perspective. As the audience, we have seen art and the scene as a third person point of view for so long. We have been the observers, not participants in a lively scene. The perspective frescos from the Romans kind of allows us to “view through the window or scene”, but not like this. They’re usually stills or picturesque. Umberto Boccioni puts the audience right in the middle of “the happenings” and such motions, I think the Futurists may really have captured something really far into the future, something that we haven’t even reached today. We have AR and VR experiences, so we can place ourselves right into the lively scene or world that the artist wishes for us to experience.

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  34. When Umberto Boccioni proclaims that Futurist artists “Painters have always shown us things and people in front of us? We will put the spectator in the middle of the picture,” I think of how much more memorable exhibits are at galleries when they are interactive. Yes, a stationary piece of art can be moving and be able to create an emotional response in the viewer but there is a unique connection with the viewer when the piece of art can engulf them with expressive or realistic textures.

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