Principals Of Movement In Art

by bryantjaquez on January 1, 2013

Movement in art is a concept in art related to design. Here is a free version of the elements of art class we offer in the AAO store.
explaining movement in art, how to use it and how to understand its role in an artists tool set

Photo by landscape photographer: Eric Leslie.


What Is Movement In Art?

how to use movement in art

Artists will rely on many tools to establish the story as well as the ‘flow’ of the composition from one area to another. They use a visual sense of motion through the work to create this movement.

The artist can use different elementso move the eye along: How and where the artists places the elements and what tools and techniques he uses to move the eye from one area to the other will determine how we prioritize what the viewer looks at. Large objects placed far apart will cause the eye to bounce from one to the other. The artist can use other elements to create a trail, a pathway or serve as a bridge from one to the other and this help to create a sense of flow and order to the design.

Moving The Eye Through The Painting

how to move eyes through a painting Artists control the movement of the viewers eye by how they position the objects and elements in a composition. By framing the main subject with other elements can cause the eye to stay focused on the main subject. In the image above the eye focuses on the single bloom of the water lily. There, the contrast of interest, contrast of color and shape as well as texture create the main focal area. The lily pads that are positioned in a circle around the ‘star’ of the show, help to keep the eye focused in that area of the composition. Similarly, the ripples in the water around this duck help to frame the subject and restrict the viewers eye moving away from the duck. A simple trick that can be used in a very effective manner.

this bridge draws your eye through the paintingCan you see it? When you look at other paintings or photographs, try to find how the artist created the movement through the painting. In the example below, how do you enter the painting and where does the path take you to?

The artist will often use a combination of several ‘formal’ elements of art to move the viewers eye around and into the composition. For example, in the image above, the eye moves from the head to the book and back to the head . What makes us view the painting in this way? What are the tricks that the artist uses?

As shown in the example above, one can see that the artist has applied several elements of art to direct the viewers eye from the head of the old man and back to the book. We see where he has used light, color, texture and line to draw the eye downward from the head. The eye follows either of the arms and is pulled downward towards the open pages of the book. The eye moves along the pages of the book, back and forth horizontally and then follows the arms back up towards the head once again to complete the journey. This is movement through the painting.

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Movement And Motion Pulls The Eye.

Movement is the imaginary itinerary that is followed by the viewer’s eyes inside and around the composition. Artists know it as creating the visual flow. As we saw in the previous examples, the artist can use the positioning of these elements throughout the composition to pull the viewer from one area to another. Rhythm and movement are closely tied together as they will determine the speed at which the viewer will travel.

The positioning of the buildings helps to pull the eye up from one rooftop to the next. In the example shown here, the viewer almost gets the feeling that they are climbing steps and racing to the top!

In Landscape painting the artist may use perspective and the structure’s size (buildings) to help them create movement around the composition or to another area of the painting. Observe the ripple effects on the water in the images below, Can you see how these can pull the eye towards the main element of the composition or serve as a way to tell you which direction to move towards?

Movement in art can direct your attention and create a visual flow. pleasure. In this image, the strong movement of the water’s ripples form a spiral and pulls the eye inwards, towards the goose. This also helps to create the energy and action of the composition.

In this image the diagonal lines of the ripples on the surface act like an arrow, pointing the viewer in the direction of the duck and where he is swimming to.

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Movement In Stroke-work.

Movement in Stroke work points the way for the artist to appreciate the painting as a whole…

In Historical Decorative painting, the viewer may be moved through the directional pull of the rhythmic stroke work and the scrolls. Visit the Historical Decorative art section of this web site to view the rhythmic movement of these strokes and scrolls as they are used to create a musical rhythmic style of art.

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Why Create Movement In A Painting?

There are many ways and reasons to create movement in a painting…

  • Rhythm creates predictability and order in the composition.
  • Rhythm is used to create order and thus serves as a way to create an organized movement of the eye. Either gentle, graceful, rambling quick, or a fluid and rambling movement, etc.
  • Rhythm creates a mood or tempo in very similar ways to how we relate to the tempo of music. Think of the differences between dance movements – the slow and fluid waltz and the fast upbeat cha-cha.
  • Rhythm and movement is used by the artist to direct the viewer or to point the way.
In this image the ducks are lined up in perfect order. The eye naturally ‘flows’ from one sleeping duck to the next. This is ‘pure harmonic’ movement or flow without any interruption. This positioning of the elements also help create depth in the composition.
In this image, the position of the elements leads the eye from one area to the next. The horizontal position of the duck in the foreground eventually leads to the duck in the rear of the composition and creates a quiet pause or slows the viewer down just a little.
‘Give what you have. To someone it may be better than you dare to think’ ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

paulie November 21, 2014 at 1:05 pm

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Neadeen Masters April 4, 2015 at 7:42 pm

Thank you for letting us know Paulie,always nice to hear,
Neadeen Masters


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