Life manifests itself through movement. Even when we lie down and close our eyes, trying to be still, we can feel our body moving: breathing, blood flowing, digesting. Motion expresses that we are alive.
Artists throughout history have shared the need to capture this reality. From Athenian sculptor Myron with his Discobolus to Van Gogh’s Starry night, movement has always been one of art’s main characters. However, these consist of merely an illusion, where the spectator has to imagine movement.
Art was yet to find a way to truly represent it.
During the XIX century, the theory of Retinal Persistence became very popular. It was based on the belief that the human eye had the ability to store an image for milliseconds, until another image would be presented. This gave the illusion of movement.
Although this theory was later disproved, it encouraged many to experiment with the succession of images, creating an atmosphere that would eventually develop the cinematograph. Many interesting artefacts were created at the time for the purpose of entrainment rather than for artistic intentions. For example:
Still, artists were not very enthusiastic towards these ways of depicting movement, as it seemed too obvious and left little room for creativity and perception, aspects very strongly valued in the second half of the XIX century, when Impressionism was born. Reality was to be shown through the artist’s eyes.
This is why scientists were amongst the first to experiment with photography; along with travellers, they saw great potential in it when it came to expressing movement.
Eadweard Muybridge was one of the first to use photography to create movement, taking a series of pictures of horses racing and projecting them in a machine he invented himself and called zoopraxiscope: the first movie projector. His work was very acclaimed by those studying animal locomotion.
Another man very interested in locomotion was Étienne- Jules Marey, who developed the chronophotography. His invention consisted of a photographic gun that allowed him to take several frames per second, recorded in the same photo. The possibilities for exploring movement through this were endless.
With this, I don’t intend to teach the origins of cinema, but rather to invite to a reflection about the enormous step it was for art the possibility of having actual moving pictures. From that moment on, reality was not to be mimicked with visual tricks. When motion was no longer the goal of art, everything changed. The artist was in a way freed; he or she would no longer be valued for his technical prowess.
Instead, a great artist was the one who successfully transmitted clear interesting ideas in an original way. Creativity and expression became the most important factor in art.
Movement is art and art is movement.