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The world has been conveying motion in art for hundreds of years in a variety of ways. Though early works were unable to create the illusion of movement before the late 19th – 20th centuries, they were still able to show motion through important actions and movements. Here, I have a Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) painting made in Imperial China. This painting is a good example of an early attempt to convey motion. The painting is able to convey motion through the many actions of its subjects, their direction of movement, and how they connect to tell a story.




The actions of the painting’s subjects are one way the painting conveys motion. For example, at the top of the painting is the Yellow River, which had history of changing its course and creating floods. It can be seen that the river is moving fast and thrashing about, causing great waves. Next, there are people on the land performing many tasks. There are people digging holes and hammering down post to make a wall. There are also people tying up and carrying stalks of grain or giving directions.

Motion is also conveyed as the subjects are moving in particular directions. The subjects’ direction of movement may give the painting a sense of disorder, but it also gives a sense of realism. Each individual subject is moving in a different direction and in a different way according to their actions. For example, the Yellow River is not flowing in one direction, but is clashing into itself, displaying its instability. As for the people on the land, they are not only moving in different directions, but at different speeds as well. It can be seen that the people carrying the stalks of grain may move slower than those carrying hammers, shovels, and grain baskets.

The individual actions and the different directions of movement all connect to a story. The painting’s subjects each play a particular role in this story and perform their actions for a reason. For example, the painting telling is story of how that the Yellow River was moving fast, quickly rising, and violently throwing waves of water. Because of the instability of Yellow River, the people are working together build a wall to hold back the water and protect their land (most likely farm land) from being flooded.  They are also gathering and moving their harvest in case a flood occurs.

This story would not have been easily told without the attempt to convey motion in this painting. As time goes on, attempts like this are made until the illusion of movement is achieved, where individual subjects can move a certain way, bringing out unique personalities, so unique stories can be told.


(1) Ebrey, Patricia Buckley. The Cambridge Illustrated History of China. 2nd ed. New York:  Cambridge University Press, 2010. 222

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