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Still & Moving Beauty

beauty

Are images incomplete unless they are moving ones?  The power of a single image, freezing a moment in time, has arguably become less important with the widespread use of film and video.  While the static image continues to wield power for most of us, it is the image in motion that completely captures our attention.  Or at least that is what the latest short video, Beauty, from Italian director Rino Stefano Tagliafierro seems to imply.
Released earlier this month the film, through the use of some clever digital animation, brings masterpieces by artists such as Caravaggio, Vermeer and Rubens ‘to life’, appropriating the tradition of pictorial beauty from the Renaissance to the Symbolism of the late 1800s, through Mannerism, Pastoralism, Romanticism and Neo-classicism.  According to Giuliano Corti, who wrote the piece’s manifesto, “It’s as though these images which the history of art has consigned to us as frozen movement can today come back to life thanks to the fire of digital invention…They are, from the inception of a romantic sunrise in which big black birds fly to the final sunset beyond gothic ruins that complete the piece, a work of fleeting time”.
Tagliafierro’s digital moving canvases may aim to render oil paintings more relatable, more immediate, to the present-day viewer, but both national and art press coverage of the film has been decidedly mixed.  It has been variously described as “quite clever”, “evocative”, “a memento mori of our times”, “a soothing bit of CGI”, “disturbing”, and “unsettling kitsch”.   The Guardian’s art critic, Jonathan Jones, clearly doesn’t approve, outlining how bringing the world’s most sensual paintings to life kills them: “In the end the stillness of paintings is not a lack or a failure – it is not something we have to digitally put right. The power of Caravaggio lies in his creation of moments of intense drama that are suspended forever – the dynamism and danger is all the greater for being arrested in a fraction of time.”
But what if, as the eminent art historian Ernst Gombrich argued in his brilliant essay Moment and Movement in Art, there is no instant in perception?  What if the entire premise of the static point in time (the punctum temporis) is false?  It may seem as if visual art is all seen at once, in an instant, but it takes time to see a painting.  Time does not stand still when we look at a picture.  We build the picture up in time, Gombrich writes, and hold “the bits and pieces we scan in readiness till they fall into places as an imaginable object or event”; we scan “backward and forward in time and space”.  As he says, even an instantaneous photograph “records the traces of movement, a sequence of events, however brief”.
Movement is a great temptation in painting.  When we see objects that are partly invisible, they can sometimes look as if they are moving (this is known as the Poggendorff illusion).  From Donatello to the Italian Futurists, artists and sculptors have sought to change our experience of time, playing with static images to arouse in us the memories and anticipations of movement – giving us the chance to use the power of our imagination.
Perhaps, when we immerse ourselves in a painting or a photograph, the image in motion and the image frozen in time are not so far apart after all.  Are Tagliafierro and his critics both right?  Perhaps the changeless can represent change.  May be we can make pictures move….but what do you think?
Julia Biggs


Posted by author: Julia
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7 thoughts on “Still & Moving Beauty

  • Still isn’t inferior to moving, although today’s culture might insist it is. They are different experiences. We relate to the still and the moving image differently. We can ‘own’ the still image while we muse upon it, the whole available to us for as long as we want or need. The moving image is always gone, slipping away like silver sand.
    Perhaps a beguiling aspect of it is that the moving image tells us how long we need to look for, obviating the social awkwardness of wondering if we’ve looked at a still image for long enough in say a gallery to appear serious about art. It also appears more eager to entertain those with their arms folded across their chests.

  • I admire the work that has gone into this digitization. My personal response is that the result seemed in parts rather Disneyesque, and that the added movements does generate a new significance that the original artist may not have meant.

  • As for still versus moving images:
    “Memory freeze-frames; its basic unit is the single image. In an era of information overload, the photograph provides a quick way of apprehending something and a compact form for memorising it. The photograph is like a quotation, or a maxim or proverb.”
    Sontag, Susan (2003, p.19) Regarding the Pain of Others, Penguin London, UK

  • Several interesting things happened whilst watching these. Firstly, the figures looked like moving sculptures divorced from their background. Then many of them looked like cut outs in layers, like 3D films. The nude ones started to look more pornographic (perhaps we are so used to seeing these kind of nudes in paintings we don’t register the pornography in them). However, the violent ones looked less violent than the still paintings.
    I am very interested in notions of time in paintings. Not all still images are records of frozen moments. Medieval artists often showed the same saint several times in the same painting, both dead and alive, like a comic book spread inviting us to follow the sequence of events. Bonnard was fascinated in exploring ways of showing the movement of perception in his paintings, using blurring and the periphery. Hockney also experimented with photocollages that showed the movement of the eye.

  • I can understand all theses different descriptions. I was fascinated to watch as these painted figures come to life. They seemed poignant and I felt sadness – deciding that this must be to do with the combination of the slowly moving figures with the music. Then the images seemed to become grotesque and I literally began to feel sick. I think it’s going to take me a while to work out how this came about.

  • I agree with you Olivia about the nudes ones starting to look pornographic – the movement seem to draw attention to the breasts in a way i hadn’t registered seeing them as paintings. it was fascinating to watch but it left me with a queasy feeling …

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