Artists often seek to express motion, or stillness, in their paintings. Here are examples of famous paintings shown side-by-side to compare their differences.
Vincent Van Gogh's "A Starry Night"
Artists have tried for centuries to capture motion in their paintings. In this painting by Vincent van Gogh, he sought not only to convey the motion of the night sky but also the movement of the entire cosmos! It's a big vision that can be seen in so many of his works. His very application of the paint creates a sense of motion over every inch of his canvases.
The motion in "A Starry Night," is depicted through expressive brushwork and a swirling composition. The sky is filled with rhythmic, spiraling brushstrokes that create a sense of movement and turbulence. The swirling patterns are echoed in the cypress tree and the village below, giving the impression that everything in the scene is caught in a dynamic dance. The energetic brushwork and the vibrant colors convey a sense of liveliness and motion, capturing the restless and dynamic nature of the night sky.
Compare "A Starry Night" to Georgia O'Keefe's "A Force of Nature":
in Georgia O'Keeffe's painting "A Force of Nature," motion is conveyed through dynamic brushstrokes and vibrant colors. The composition captures a sense of swirling energy and movement, with sweeping curves and flowing lines that suggest the power and force of nature. The contrasting hues and overlapping forms create a visual rhythm that engages the viewer and evokes a sense of natural vitality and motion in the scene.
Now, going to the entire other end of the spectrum of painting styles, let's compare O'Keeffe's "A Force of Nature" with Vermeer's "Milkmaid".
In Vermeer's painting "Milkmaid," a timeless stillness pervades the scene. The composition centers around a milkmaid engrossed in her daily task, frozen in a moment of serene concentration. The stillness is emphasized by the balanced composition, muted colors, and careful rendering of textures and light. The soft play of light on the milkmaid's figure and the simple domestic setting create a sense of quietude and timelessness, evoking a contemplative mood that transcends the passage of time.
Now back again to a painting with intense force and power:
In Chaim Soutine's painting "Bent Tree," energy and motion come alive through dynamic brushwork and vivid colors. The tree, contorted and twisted, seems to pulsate with life. The forceful and bold brushstrokes convey a sense of movement, as if the tree is caught in a gust of wind. The vibrant hues and exaggerated forms further enhance the feeling of energy, imbuing the painting with a restless vitality. The overall composition exudes a sense of animated motion, evoking a dynamic and expressive interpretation of the natural world.
Now, let's return to stillness again, with Edward Hopper's "Automat".
In Hopper's painting "Automat," a profound quietude envelops the scene. The solitary figure sits alone at a table in an empty café, engrossed in her thoughts. The muted colors, stark lighting, and absence of any other visible individuals contribute to a sense of stillness and isolation. The woman's introspective gaze and the empty space around her create a serene atmosphere, evoking a feeling of introspection and solitude. The painting captures a moment of quiet contemplation, inviting viewers to reflect on their own inner worlds.
Personally, I enjoy both energetic and quiet paintings. When done well, they both can evoke a delightful non-verbal appeal.
Examining and comparing a variety of paintings helps to develop a better understanding of painting composition. Here are several paintings in which to examine and compare their composition. Each of these paintings is effective for its own reasons. Take the time to study their differences and see how they might inspire your own painting. Read the captions to see my comments about painting composition.