Saturday, August 14, 2010

Time and Motion

Pictured at left is Marcel Duchamp's controversial "Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2". When first exhibited at New York's Armory Show in 1913, it created a scandal.

"I see no nude! I see no Staircase!"

There were fistfights.

I visit this amazing work all the time at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It's hard, at this late date, to understand the fuss. We 21st-century types are used to non-representative art. Of course there's no nude. That's not what the painting is about! It's about motion, and surface, time and space.

Pictured at right is another early 20th century masterpiece; a panel from E.C. Segar's Thimble Theater (April 29, 1932). While nowhere near the draftsman that Duchamp was, Segar here employs a very similar method for depicting time and motion in a static two-dimensional space.

Why no fistfights?

Is it because 20 years had passed, and Duchamp's methods had been asimilated? Is it because it's "just a comic strip" and therefore unworthy of the passion elicited by Duchamp?

I have no answer to these questions. I'm not even sure they're valid questions. I was just reading old Segar strips and said "Hey- that looks a lot like Duchamp's Nude!" I can't discount the possibility that I'm completely full of shit, but that's what I see.


alex-ness said...

I think you might be completely full of shit and right. Constipation is a horrible thing.

Neil said...

Great piece.

kurt wilcken said...

I think a little bit of both. Also, I think that there's this tradition that "Capital A" Art should be a single image immortalized for the ages, while comics, being images in continuity, has always been about depicting motion.

This is obviously an over-simplification. Some of the greatest works of Art have depicted motion in vivid means, but until about the start of the 20th Century, it was pretty much always depicted as a moment frozen in time.

In the early days, comics were also tied down to that idea of the single frozen moment, but as comics became more about narrative, they also became more about motion.

I think the development of motion pictures, which were born about the same time as comic strips had a lot to do with this too; helping create a visual language which comics gleefully appropriated.

And, as you suggest, Rich, the fact that comics weren't "Serious" Art, meant that they weren't held to the same expectations and could experiment more.

rsb said...

I would say that Segar was a better draftsman. That's just me.