Decree #1 on the Democratization of Art

Published in Moscow in 1918, this short manifesto first thrilled me as an undergraduate student when I began drifting from my studies in film towards graphic design. Written by Vladimir Mayakovsky along with other members of the nascent Russian futurist movement, its optimism is infectious—and utterly heartbreaking, considering the shadows gathering in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution that would turn this vision of democratic expression into a dark joke.

“Comrades and citizens, we, the leaders of Russian futurism–the revolutionary art of youth–declare:

1. From this day forward, with the abolition of tsardom, the domicile of art in the closets and sheds of human genius – palaces, galleries, salons, libraries, theaters—is abrogated

2. In the name of the great march of equality for all, as far as culture is concerned, let the Free Word of creative personality be written on the corners of walls, fences, roofs, the streets of our cities and villages, on the backs of automobiles, carriages, streetcars, and on the clothes of all citizens.

3. Let pictures (colors) be thrown, like colored rainbows, across streets and squares, from house to house, delighting, ennobling the eye (taste) of the passer-by. Artists and writers have the immediate duty to get hold of their pots of paint and, with their masterly brushes, to illuminate, to paint all the sides, foreheads, and chests of cities, railway stations, and the ever-galloping herds of railway carriages.

From now on, let the citizen walking down the street enjoy at every moment the depths of thought of his great contemporaries, let him absorb the flowery gaudiness of this day’s beautiful joy, let him listen to music—the melody, the roar, the buzz—of excellent composers everywhere. Let the streets be a feast of art for all.

And if all this comes to pass, in accordance with our word, everyone who goes out into the street will grow to be a giant and in wisdom, contemplating beauty instead of the present-day streets with their iron books (signboards), where every page has been written on their signs by greed, the lust for mammon, calculated meanness and low obtuseness, all of which soil the soul and offend the eye.”

A century later, Mayakovsky’s salvo continues to circulate through the veins of nearly every idealistic design manifesto, from Ken Garland’s First Things First to the proclamations of Adbusters to the contemporary writing of Mike Monteiro.

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