Student Resource

Dynamism and Movement Exam Help

Explore how artists use marks and colour to suggest motion or make kinetic, performance and video art to explore movement

John Wells, ‘Sea Bird Forms’ 1951
John Wells
Sea Bird Forms 1951
Tate
© The estate of John Wells
Wassily Kandinsky, ‘Cossacks’ 1910–1
Wassily Kandinsky
Cossacks 1910–1
Tate
David Bomberg, ‘The Mud Bath’ 1914
David Bomberg
The Mud Bath 1914
Tate
© Tate
Leon Kossoff, ‘Children’s Swimming Pool, Autumn Afternoon’ 1971
Leon Kossoff
Children’s Swimming Pool, Autumn Afternoon 1971
Tate
© Leon Kossoff
Joseph Mallord William Turner, ‘The Fall of an Avalanche in the Grisons’ exhibited 1810
Joseph Mallord William Turner
The Fall of an Avalanche in the Grisons exhibited 1810
Tate
Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson, ‘Study for ‘Returning to the Trenches’’ 1914–15
Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson
Study for ‘Returning to the Trenches’ 1914–15
Tate
Bruce Nauman, ‘Untitled’ 1994
Bruce Nauman
Untitled 1994
Tate
© ARS, NY and DACS, London 2019
Catherine Yass, ‘Northwest D6’ 2001
Catherine Yass
Northwest D6 2001
Tate
© Catherine Yass
Jean Tinguely, ‘Débricollage’ 1970
Jean Tinguely
Débricollage 1970
Tate
© The estate of Jean Tinguely
Charlotte Posenenske, ‘Prototype for Revolving Vane’ 1967–8
Charlotte Posenenske
Prototype for Revolving Vane 1967–8
Tate
© Estate of Charlotte Posenenske/Burkhard Brunn, Frankfurt/M.
Julio Le Parc, ‘Virtual Forms in Various Situations’ 1965
Julio Le Parc
Virtual Forms in Various Situations 1965
Tate
© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2019
Mary Martin, ‘Inversions’ 1966
Mary Martin
Inversions 1966
Tate
© Estate of Mary Martin / DACS 2019
E.L.T. Mesens, ‘Mouvement Immobile II’ 1960
E.L.T. Mesens
Mouvement Immobile II 1960
Tate
© DACS, 2019

Capturing speed: Futurism and vorticism

Giacomo Balla, ‘Abstract Speed - The Car has Passed’ 1913
Giacomo Balla
Abstract Speed - The Car has Passed 1913
Tate
© DACS, 2019

Futurist and vorticist artists experimented with ways of capturing how dynamic the modern world was becoming. New technologies fascinated them. They were excited by how speedily life and technology were developing in the early twentieth century.
The futurist manifesto proclaimed:

We declare…a new beauty, the beauty of speed.

Futurist artists experimented with abstracting reality. They worked with dynamic shapes and lines in order to suggest movement. Giacomo Ballà was a leading figure in the group. He believed that the power and speed of machines like cars were the outstanding features of the modern age. He aimed to express this idea in works such as Abstract Speed – The Car has Passed 1913. The green and blue forms shown in this painting suggest a landscape seen from a moving vehicle. In Umberto Boccioni’s sculpture Unique Forms of Continuity in Space 1913 the figure is aerodynamically deformed by speed as it surges forwards unstoppably.

Umberto Boccioni, ‘Unique Forms of Continuity in Space’ 1913, cast 1972
Umberto Boccioni
Unique Forms of Continuity in Space 1913, cast 1972
Tate

Find out more about futurism

The vorticists were a group of artists who had similar ideas to the futurists. They also wanted to capture the modern world and express the exciting buzz it gave them. Artist David Bomberg wrote:

The new life should find its expression in a new art, which has been stimulated by new perceptions. I want to translate the life of a great city, its motion, its machinery, into an art that shall not be photographic, but expressive.

David Bomberg, ‘Ju-Jitsu’ c.1913
David Bomberg
Ju-Jitsu c.1913
Tate
© Tate

Ju-Jitsu c. 1913 was based on a simple figure drawing. The artist layered a grid over the drawing to break the composition up into geometric sections. He disrupted the regular grid-pattern to suggest the dynamic movements of the ju-jitsu athletes.

Helen Saunders, ‘Abstract Multicoloured Design’ c.1915
Helen Saunders
Abstract Multicoloured Design c.1915
Tate
© The estate of Helen Saunders
Helen Saunders, ‘Abstract Composition in Blue and Yellow’ c.1915
Helen Saunders
Abstract Composition in Blue and Yellow c.1915
Tate
© The estate of Helen Saunders

Expressing movement and dynamism

Wassily Kandinsky, ‘Cossacks’ 1910–1
Wassily Kandinsky
Cossacks 1910–1
Tate

Wassily Kandinsky believed that colours and lines can express emotional and spiritual values. He used them to suggest the dynamism of modernity, by combining expressive diagonal lines with dabs and washes of colour. Other artists have also used expressive lines and marks to suggest and create movement. Look at Frank Auerbach’s landscape views of Primrose Hill. The scrawled, expressive staccato lines produce a sense of the blustery wind blowing the sky and trees. You can feel the frenzied movement.

Frank Auerbach, ‘Working Drawing for ‘Primrose Hill’’ 1968
Frank Auerbach
Working Drawing for ‘Primrose Hill’ 1968
Tate
© Frank Auerbach

Abstract expressionist artists Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning worked in a spontaneous way to create dynamic paintings. Pollock famously placed his canvases on the ground to work on. He danced around them pouring paint directly from the can or trailing it from the brush or a stick. He also listened to jazz music while painting. Pollock felt this helped to orchestrate a sense of movement and rhythm in his work. Because of how physical creating the works was, these artists are often referred to as action painters.

Find out more about abstract expressionism

Jackson Pollock, ‘Yellow Islands’ 1952
Jackson Pollock
Yellow Islands 1952
Tate
© ARS, NY and DACS, London 2019

Damien Hirst also uses the application of paint to create a sense of movement. Standing on a ladder above horizontal canvases attached to a spinning motor, he drops paint onto the canvases. This creates dynamic splashy colourful images. He sometimes presents these attached to a motor. As well as using movement to create them, they move while you watch them!

Damien Hirst, ‘Global a Go-Go - for Joe’ 2002
Damien Hirst
Global a Go-Go - for Joe 2002
Tate
© Damien Hirst and Science Ltd.
Damien Hirst spin painting

Damien Hirst
Beautiful, childish, expressive, tasteless, not art, over simplistic, throw away, kid's stuff, lacking integrity, rotating, nothing but visual candy, celebrating, sensational, inarguably beautiful painting (for over the sofa) 1996
Household gloss on canvas and electric motor
© Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved. DACS 2012. Photographed by Prudence Cuming Associates

Damien Hirst, ‘Round’ 2002
Damien Hirst
Round 2002
Tate
© Damien Hirst and Science Ltd.

Cartoonists make use of lines and marks to suggest a sense of movement. Think about speed lines or clouds of dust as figures or vehicles make a hasty exit). Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein borrowed from the language of cartoons in his paintings and prints. Works such as Whaam! 1963 are explosive and action-packed.

Roy Lichtenstein, ‘Whaam!’ 1963
Roy Lichtenstein
Whaam! 1963
Tate
© Estate of Roy Lichtenstein

George Condo uses cartoon techniques and imagery in his humorous portraits and pictures. They look like a tangle of Picasso-like abstractions. His works borrow references from pop culture, music and graffiti. The lively and expressive lines are reminiscent of those seen in futurist works. They suggest everything from a head turning, like in Interrelated Portrait 1999, to utter chaos, as in The Butcher’s Remorse 2009.

George Condo, ‘Constellation of Figures’ 1999
George Condo
Constellation of Figures 1999
Tate
© George Condo
George Condo, ‘Study for the Escaped Hippie’ 1999
George Condo
Study for the Escaped Hippie 1999
Tate
© George Condo

Op art and the perception of movement

Bridget Riley, ‘Hesitate’ 1964
Bridget Riley
Hesitate 1964
Tate
© Bridget Riley 2018. All rights reserved.
Bridget Riley, ‘Fall’ 1963
Bridget Riley
Fall 1963
Tate
© Bridget Riley 2018. All rights reserved.

Line and colour doesn’t have to be expressive and gestural to suggest movement. Op artist Bridget Riley explores the dynamic potentialities of optical phenomena. She carefully organises and manipulates colours, shapes and lines. Her paintings and prints have a disorienting physical effect on the eye. They appear to move as you watch them. In Hesitate 1964, the gradual changes in the shapes of the grey forms suggests a wave or fold created when you shake a piece of fabric. The wavy lines of Fall 1963 seem to be in perpetual falling motion.

Find out more about op art

Kinetic artworks

So far we have looked at art that suggests movement. What about art that actually moves?

Artists first began to experiment with kinetic art at the beginning of the twentieth century. Naum Gabo wanted to make sculpture which explored both space and time. For Standing Wave 1919-20 a motor oscillates a strip of metal. Alexander Calder exlored the natural movement of air in a space and creating the first ever mobiles from around 1930.

Alexander Calder, ‘Antennae with Red and Blue Dots’ c.1953
Alexander Calder
Antennae with Red and Blue Dots c.1953
Tate
© ARS, NY and DACS, London 2019

Discover more about kinetic art

Artist duo Fischli and Weiss made use of chain reactions to create their kinetic artworks. Watch this video excerpt from The Way Things Go and see the causal chain of a precarious 70-100 feet long structure made ot move by a rotating bin bag!

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Performance and interactive art

Performance art is art when the artist uses their own body as the medium. They perform an action or series of actions which become the artwork. Performance art is sometimes carefully planned and scripted but can also be spontaneous and random. Watch this introduction to performance art:

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Read more about performance art

Interactive art also involves action and movement but it is the viewer who becomes the performer. In 1971 artist Robert Morris was invited to create an artwork for Tate. The work he made, Bodyspacemotionthings 1971 was an interactive installation. It was the first work of art shown at Tate that you could play on! Visitors were encouraged to climb, balance, crawl and roll on the huge ramps, tunnels, platforms and beams included the installation. Tate recreated Bodyspacemotionthings at Tate Modern in 2009 and recorded the whole thing! Watch people interacting with the objects in this video of the event.

Installation view of the Robert Morris retrospective, Tate Gallery, 1971

Installation view of the Robert Morris retrospective, Tate Gallery, 1971
Tate
© Robert Morris

Experimental film and video

Artists began to experiment with film as an art medium as early as the 1920s. Oskar Fischinger’s dazzling films combined abstraction with the new technology of cinema. These works were like fast-moving versions of abstract paintings. Len Lye created abstract films without using a camera. For films such as A Colour Box 1935, he painted vibrant abstract patterns directly onto the film itself, (a process called direct film). They were then synchronized to music so the abstract forms looked as if they were dancing.

Oskar Fischinger Allegretto 1936–43

Oskar Fischinger
Allegretto 1936–43
© Fischinger Trust courtesy Center for Visual Music

Since the 1960s video has been a popular medium in art. Artists such as Bruce Nauman and Steve McQueen use it capture their own (or others’) performances or actions. Steve McQueen’s Bear 1993 shows two men wrestling. The men are locked together in a physical sequence which changes from confrontation to embrace, from dance into fighting and back again. There seems to be no reason or resolution to the confrontation. The figures keep filling the screen and blocking out the light. This emphasises their movement as well as reflecting the aggressive nature of the action.

Bruce Nauman, ‘Violent Incident’ 1986
Bruce Nauman
Violent Incident 1986
Tate
© ARS, NY and DACS, London 2019
Susan Hiller, ‘An Entertainment’ 1990
Susan Hiller
An Entertainment 1990
Tate
© Susan Hiller

Susan Hiller's video and sound installation An Entertainment 1990 uses recordings of scenes from traditional English ‘Punch and Judy’ puppet shows. When displayed, it uses all four walls of the gallery space. This causes the viewer to turn constantly in the space to keep up with its fast changing images – making them part of the movement of the artwork.

Many contemporary artists, including Christian Marclay, Mark Leckey and Elizabeth Price use ‘found’ footage and sampling techniques to create their videos. Different technological histories are digitally montaged in Elizabeth Price’s multi-layered films. In this video she talks about her work THE WOOLWORTHS CHOIR OF 1979 2012, which was shown in the 2012 Turner Prize exhibition:

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have a go

We’ve pulled together some ideas to help you get started:

  • Explore line, mark making and colour to suggest a sense of movement. Experiment with ways of applying paint…splashing, dripping, trailing dabbing…or moving around while you paint!
  • Try working while listening to music like Jackson Pollock. Or like Damien Hirst you could experiment with ways of adding paint to a moving canvas! Look at gestural art in Tate’s collection for inspiration.
  • Look at the ways graphic artists and cartoonists suggest movement. Could you adapt this language of marks and lines and repeated overlapping images to add movement and dynamism to your artwork?
  • Research op art. Investigate how shapes, lines and careful composition can create optical illusion and suggest movement. You could use graphics software on your computer to manipulate, repeat and distort lines and shapes. Use Bridget Riley as inspiration.
  • Mobiles are a simple way of creating kinetic art that explores the movement of forms and lines in space.
  • Experiment with causal reactions like Fischli and Weiss. This doesn’t have to be elaborate. A poured bottle of water can cause a balanced tray or plastic dish to tip over…what happens next? Record your experiments on video
  • Use video or formats such as GIFS to create simple animations. These could be abstract such as Fischinger’s moving shapes and lines or you could animate found objects or images. Check out the 1840s GIF Party for inspiration
  • What about your own actions or movements? Record yourself dancing or moving around a room, or like Bruce Nauman repeating certain actions. Use furniture or ordinary objects you have around you and work out different ways of interacting with these – to create an interactive performance artwork. Use Robert Morris’s Bodyspacemotionthings as inspiration or explore the performance work of Lucy Gunning

Art terms related to dynamism and movement

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