Notes on the artist's manifesto

Thrown together by David Tamés
v.6, revised December 9, 2023

An artist manifesto (from the Latin manifestus, meaning clear, evident) declares an artist’s or artistic movement’s perspectives, motives, or intentions. Sometimes, they are written to achieve a political goal. Typical themes include:

  • Freedom of expression
  • The role of the artist in society
  • The purpose of art-making

Manifestos are often structured with several statements (using vigorous language) that do not necessarily follow logically from one to the next.

Use the process of writing your manifesto as a process of synthesizing what you feel most strongly about that’s in some way related to the work you are doing. What’s most important to you? Why are you interested in artistic practice and media making? How does the industry or the world need to be changed? Don’t be afraid to be bold!

A manifesto is often a cranky, passionate, and persuasive document. The motivation for writing a manifesto is, more often than not, dissatisfaction with how things are, and by starting your own movement, you set a plan to fix it in motion. The Communist Manifesto and The Declaration of Independence are probably the two most widely known and influential manifestos.

Your manifesto can be as severe or as funny as you want. Will you make up your movement? Would you like to write an open letter to a specific group of people you despise? Do you want to parody a well-known manifesto? The choice is totally up to you. You can have a lot of fun writing your manifesto. Establish a set of ideas and what you intend to change, and include any background your readers may need to understand where you’re coming from. Your manifesto is a work of persuasive and expository writing that presents an argument with supporting statements and claims. 

A highly effective rhetorical device and poetic technique is to begin your paragraphs or sentences with the same or similar word or phrase (anaphora). A classic example is Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech, delivered on August 28, 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C., in which there’s a repetition of phrases at both the beginning and the end of some sentences (epistrophe, the counterpoint to anaphora).

Manifestos are often structured with numbered points that break up the statements and give the impression you have several specific points to make to change the world, e.g., The Anti Web 2.0 Manifesto. Consider making up a set of rules to go along with your manifesto (e.g., the Vow of Chastity associated with the DOGME 95 manifesto

The following resources provide essential tips that will be useful as you write your manifesto:

The following examples of artist manifestos, along with manifestos from other fields, are provided for inspiration; I suggest reading/viewing some that strike your fancy (links are to web pages unless otherwise indicated):