Motion in Art

Painting and photography allow the artist to capture a moment in time. That moment is frozen ... or is it? Numerous artists have attempted to depict motion and to show movement over time. Look at the pictures below to see all of the different ways that artists have tried to make a visual suggestion of motion.

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In Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending A Staircase from 1912, the person is painted as if there were multiple depictions of the same person going down the stairs; the viewer can see each step being taken. In Giacomo Balla's Dynamism Of A Dog On Leash, also from 1912, one can almost feel the frantic energy of the little dog, its feet shuffling quickly, its tail wagging excitedly, and the hurried footsteps of the person trying to keep up.

Marcel Duchamp Nude Descending a Staircase

Painting by Marcel Duchamp

Dynamism of a dog on a leash, a painting by Giacomo Balla

Painting by Giacomo Balla

The Great Wave, from 1823, by the Japanese artist Hokusai. This wave has reached its peak, and is starting to curl into a downward movement. The impending crash of the wave creates a tension in the picture. Umberto Boccioni's sculpture, titled Unique Forms of Continuity from 1913, also shows a person in motion. The sculptor's aim was to illustrate the interaction of a moving object with the space that surrounds it.

The Great Wave, a woodblock print by Hokusai

Woodblock print by Hokusai

Unique Forms of Continuity, a sculpture by Umberto Boccioni

Sculpture by Umberto Boccioni

Frederic Remington's painting The Cavalry Charge from 1907, doesn't use any abstract tricks to suggest motion; instead, the painter has captured the horses at full speed, and the expression on the lead horse's face shows the urgency with which they are running. It's interesting that the energy and action in this picture comes from the horses; the men riding them are in rigid and seemingly calm positions.

Frederic Remington painting The Cavalry Charge

Painting by Frederic Remington

In this photograph from 1938, one can see Harold Edgerton's technique of using multiple flashes during the process of taking the picture, which allowed the camera to capture high-speed motion. Here we see the golf club during the full range of its swinging motion. In Blam, a 1962 painting by Roy Lichtenstein, we see the moment where a plane has been struck by fire. The upside-down position of the plane suggests that the impact from the blast will send it hurtling off the right side of the canvas.

Photograph of a golf swing by Dr. Harold Edgerton

Photograph by Dr. Harold Edgerton

Blam, a painting by Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein

Painting by Roy Lichtenstein

Jackson Pollock's painting Blue Poles from 1953 is an abstract painting whose imagery is the result of motion - the motion of Pollock taking his paintbrush and flicking paint across the canvas. Whether pouring, flicking, dripping or spilling paint, Pollock made conscious motions to get the effects he desired. The Red Horseman, by Carlo Carra from 1913 shows a horse and its rider in a somewhat abstracted manner. The approach to portraying motion is similar to that of Duchamp, in showing the parts of the bodies in multiple stages of movement.

Blue Poles, a painting by Jackson Pollock

Painting by Jackson Pollock

The Red Horseman, a painting by Carlo Carra

Painting by Carlo Carra

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