Time is one of the most common commodities of any artistic work. Yet it is also one of the least comprehended ingredients.

Albert Einstein, who thought a lot about the nature of time, despaired at his failure to explain the meaning of now. The moment now remains something ephemeral. In his Special Relativity Theory, he showed that the flow of time is affected by both velocity and gravity, and he conceded that the phenomenon simultaneity depended upon a chosen frame of reference.

Art exists in time as well as space. Time implies change and movement; movement implies the passage of time. Movement and time, whether actual or an illusion, are crucial elements in art although we may not be aware of it. An art work may incorporate actual motion; that is, the artwork itself moves in some way. Or it may incorporate the illusion of, or implied movement.

Figure 1: Wassily Kandinsky  Yellow — Red — Blue    1925

Kandinsky used abstraction to represent the intangible. He used formal elements to portray what can’t be seen with the eyes and has no physical form. In this painting, there is a strong and vibrant sense of movement. If you study it you will find diagonal, gestural, and directional lines; repetition; and placement of objects to give it an illusion of motion.

Or it may imply the suggestion of movement as in the next figure, a statue that symbolizes a sense of forward progress, speed, and determination in moving toward something.

Figure 2: Umberto Boccioni    Unique Forms of Continuity in Space    1913 (cast 1931)

Art can also move through the effect of some natural properties, either its own inherent properties or their effect, is unpredictable.  Spatial relationships within the work change continuously, with endless possibilities. One of the delights of experiencing such artwork is the element of change and surprise. It’s as if every time we look at it we are seeing a new artwork.

Figure 3: Witch Dance by Len Lye

Mechanical or technologically driven movement in art may be more predictable and limited than movement through natural properties, or it can seem endless, depending on the complexity of the system that moves the artwork.

Contemporary artists have been exploring the concept of how a viewer experiences an artwork, and either forcing the viewer to become aware of their process of experiencing the artwork, or inviting them to become part of the artwork itself.

Figure 4: Drawing on the water surface created by the Dance of Koi and People – Infinity

Visual, literary, and performing arts function as sources of inspiration for each other. Time in art can be actual time or implied time.  Actual time includes time-based work and media, artwork that changes through time, and the effect of time on artwork and how that affects its meaning. Implied time can be represented in the captured moment, an illusion of time passing, or the evidence of time already past. Rapid technological developments have spawned many new forms of artistic possibilities such as video game art and virtual art. A whole new genre of art has been created, known as new media art.

The traditional art of animation–crafted, detailed, painstaking, and requiring many artists for one project– has been revolutionized by the advent of digital animation processes like Pixar.  Some artists, however, stubbornly refuse to abandon the traditional art and process of animation.

Some artists deliberately create work that will change during the course of time. To fully experience it you must return at a later time to see what’s happening. It is extremely unpredictable. The end result is a completely different form and sometimes different material, functioning as a testament to the history of its existence and the changes that have taken place. This type of artwork is ephemeral and sometimes, in the end, nothing is left but a memory.

When contemplating into the future a work of art, maybe spend also some thoughts about how the dimension time influences its existence.

2 thoughts on “Time in Art.

  1. Lovely bit of Kandinksy there!
    I think in representational visual art, Degas’ dancers are full of the suggestion of movement in an extraordinary way.
    When I was at school, I did a bit of research into the relationship between art and time – I’d have loved to create something similar to what you’ve described, where the artwork changes over time. I did ask about making something which would melt or decay, but the limitations of assessing the work for exams (an external examiner might have needed to see the artwork, possibly weeks after my teacher had assessed it) meant I was told it would not be possible. Ah well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. An artist’s formation only starts after they graduated. In the context of your comment, I thought of Lick and Lather by Janine Antoni. She cast 14 portrait busts of herself out of chocolate and soap. She then began to consume the chocolate busts and bathe the soap busts, in progressive degrees. Antoni had this to say: “I wanted to work with the tradition of self-portraiture but also with the classical bust. I had the idea that I would make a replica of myself in chocolate and in soap, and I would feed myself with my self, and wash myself with my self. Both the licking and the bathing are quite gentle and loving acts, but what’s interesting is that I’m slowly erasing myself through the process. So for me it’s about that conflict, that love/hate relationship we have with our physical appearance, and the problem I have with looking in the mirror and thinking, ‘Is that who I am?’” (as quoted on PBS’ Art 21 website).

      Liked by 1 person

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