Messy Histories Part 10: Movement


This week, for the first time since the Medusa’s of Week 2, this week’s images are going to be chronological. It’s the first time since then that a linear narrative makes sense, because capturing movement has been a long-standing goal of art. Well maybe not ‘movement’ per se – it’s more that action tends to be a signifier of life. In the earliest piece I have for this week – and this is certainly the longest timespan I’ve looked at to date, going back no fewer than 14,000 years – there’s a sense of this being a source of curiosity. The art might be an exercise in capturing as much realism as the creator possibly could, an experimental as much as creative endeavour.

From these early examples with anatomical observation, what “movement” means in art kind of ebbs and flows from the realist to abstract. But it never disappears – indeed it’s embedded how we like to talk about art, how we speak about looking for the ‘liveliness’ and ‘energy’ of a hugely diverse range of artworks. I wonder if this is linked to a sense, even as art has expanded into many new forms and way beyond realism, we’re still looking for a humanity within it. I firmly believe that we create art to tell truths, either about what we see or feel. This is as true for the horses on a piece of bone made in an Ice Age cave as it is for the simplest, calmest and most abstract works – after all rest is a human action too. This is what we mean by wanting to see something ‘of us’ in art – we want to see something of a shared soul.

I’m actually not going to get that abstract this week – there’s quite a deep hole to fall down if I did. Nope, I’m going to keep it fairly simple and look at examples where evoking the physical movement of people, animals or machines is the point. Certainly this is the path which makes the most sense in terms of talking about the evolution of what movement looks like in art. Although this does have its own meaning right now – I don’t know about you, but as I wrote about in another recent blog I’m finding physical action a particularly important, but particularly strange, process right now. Maybe I’ll find a kindred spirit for this strangeness in something this week.

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