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Motion in Art February 7, 2011

Posted by leskanturek in Art History, Student Blog posts, Student Post, Uncategorized.
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Post by  Leigh Cunningham

The concept of motion has been explored throughout history in the work of artists.  Depicting motion in art spans the range of two and three-dimensional pieces, and covers a broad spectrum of cultures and purposes. While traditional art works (drawings, paintings, sculptures and photographs) served only to capture a single moment in time, numerous artists have challenged these restrictions and ventured to convey a sense of movement, or a suggestion of motion over a longer interval of time.  One of the early artists to explore motion and a main sources for contemporary  artists interested in motion is the work of Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904). Branching off of genuine intrigue and exploratory research, Muybridge began photographing animals in motion, and by1878 he had done a series of photographs capturing a horse galloping, thus providing accurate reference for illustrators of the time.

(above)  stills from Muybridge’s series, “The Horse in Motion


Similarly, French artist Marcel Duchamp tackles the concept of motion through cubism,  using fractured parts of what would seemingly be a sequence of images to show a figure in motion.

(above left) Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending A Staircase 1912 (above right) Umberto Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity 1913


Motion has also been handled in sculpture, perhaps the most prominent being the works created during the Italian Futurist movement.  Italian futurism  was about glorifying speed and in some cases, the brutality of war, while also declaring a new way of life during a time saturated in new technologies.

Umberto Boccioni’s futurist bronze sculpture incorporates the idea of motion into a deeper connection between the subject and it’s relation to the space around it. His sculpture serves as a tangible work of art that relates every being to its surroundings.


Contemporary painter, Gerhard Richter appropriated the idea behind Duchamp’s Nude Descending A Staircase and painted Woman Descending the Staircase, as well as Nude on a Staircase. In both paintings, the subject is painted in a naturalistic way, giving a completely opposite feel to the original iconic painting of Duchamp. While the viewer still does not see every step, a feeling of unrest exists in the piece, suggesting that she(the subject)  is not a static element, but rather a component of the scene in its entirety.

(above left) Ema/Nude on a Staircase (Ema/Akt auf einer Treppe) (above right) Woman Descending the Staircase (Frau, die Treppe herabgehend)  www.gerhard-richter.com/



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