Brushstrokes in Motion: Exploring Movement in Art

Brushstrokes in Motion: Exploring Movement in Art

Brushstrokes in Motion: Exploring Movement in Art banner

Across all mediums, artists rely on advanced techniques to bring their creative visions to life. Movement in art is one of the most powerful techniques, and it can provide additional depth and insight into the piece.

What Is Movement in Art?

Movement in art is a technique in which the artist uses lines, shapes, color and composition to convey movement. Movement in art is often used to express an idea — such as the passage of time — it can also be used to enhance emotion within a piece.

Art enthusiasts often find themselves feeling connected to artworks that include movement, as they are often thought-provoking and filled with emotion. To put it one way, movement in art simply makes art more interesting and exciting.

What Does Movement in Art Mean?

The meaning or intention of movement in art will vary based on the artist. Artists may incorporate movement into their pieces to:

  • Showcase the emotion within the art.
  • Direct the viewer’s eyes to a particular component of the piece.
  • Convey the passage of time.
  • Identify tension within the piece.
  • Improve the harmony of the work.

Different Types of Movement in Art

There are several distinct types of movement in art. These include:


Physical movement is the most obvious form of movement in art, and it occurs when a piece represents movement as part of the actual composition. For example, a painting that includes a wave crashing on boulders depicts physical movement. Another example of physical movement would be a drawing of an athlete running on a track.

This sense of movement is often depicted using diagonal, zigzag or curved lines. The lines are typically used repetitively or as part of a pattern to convey a sense of movement. Vincent van Gogh famously used lines in circular patterns to create a sweeping sense of movement in his pieces.


While physical movement is rather obvious, implied movement relies on the viewer’s imagination. Implied movement is a suggestion rather than a statement. For example, a static sketch of a person mid-fall implies that they are about to land on the ground below them, but the movement isn’t literally conveyed in the artwork.

Artists who incorporate implied movement into their pieces often portray their subjects as off-center or off-balance. For example, John Singer Sargent would paint his subjects off-kilter, implying that something was amiss and a particular movement had just happened or was about to occur.

Two elements of art commonly relied upon to convey implied movement are composition and space, as these heavily influence the impression that the viewer gets when looking at a piece and determining the action taking place.


Optical movement is a technique that relies on the juxtaposition of lines, colors and patterns to create an optical illusion. These illusions allow the human eye to see an image within an image, making them particularly fascinating to experience.

Optical illusions in art became particularly popular during the Op Art movement, which peaked during the 1960s. However, most people do not realize that optical movement began increasing in prominence in the early years of the 20th century. According to Art in Context, Victor Vasarely created an optical illusion artwork in the 1930s that showed two zebras intertwined.

Artists can convey optical movement by relying on color, lines and repetition of patterns.

For decades, viewers have been captivated by optical illusion artwork, with many people squinting and straining their eyes, trying to see the hidden image within the artwork. Then, once the illusion reveals itself, they often have a hard time seeing the original image once again. It’s a captivating experience and one that is enjoyed by art enthusiasts of all ages.

How to Show Movement in Art

There are several techniques artists can use to create the illusion of movement in their pieces. The technique used will depend on the medium. For instance, a painter may rely more heavily on brushwork to show movement, while an artist who specializes in pencil drawings might utilize lines to imply movement.

Using Color and Lines

Color and lines are two of the most common techniques used to imply movement in a piece of art. Artists who rely on color to show movement will often change the tone of their color to help the viewer move through the piece. An artist may use more vibrant hues around the focal point of the piece to keep the viewer’s attention on a particular part of the artwork. Conversely, cooler tones will help the viewer drift more naturally to a focal point and keep their attention for a longer period. It’s important to note, though, that the color does not usually imply physical movement. Rather, it encourages the individual consuming the art to move through the piece thoughtfully and strategically.

On the other hand, lines are typically used to convey physical movement. Lines create definition within a piece of art, and they can also showcase action occurring in the work. Some lines that can be used to show movement include:

  • Leading Lines — These lines can draw the viewer’s eyes to a particular focal point.
  • Zigzag Lines — These lines can convey movement and express excitement or activity.
  • Diagonal Lines — These lines can highlight the direction of the movement or portray instability.
  • Curved Lines — These lines can show a more natural, peaceful movement and add emotion to an artwork.

The Role of Brushwork

Painters commonly use brushwork techniques to create a sense of movement and dynamism in a piece. Brushwork techniques that can show movement include:

  • Gestural Brushwork — This loose brushwork technique shows soft and gentle movements and is often used when an artist wants to incorporate a sense of spontaneity into a piece.
  • Controlled Brushwork — Tighter strokes may showcase restricted or constrained movement. It is often used when the artist wants to imply a sense of order or structure.
  • Sweeping Brushwork — These soft, sweeping strokes are used to showcase flowing movement in a piece.
  • Short Strokes — These short, rigid strokes may make the piece feel as if the movement is interrupted or unexpected.

Artists often use their brushstrokes to highlight the intention of their piece and direct the viewer’s eyes to a particular area of their painting.

Texture and Its Impact on Movement

Texture has a surprisingly significant impact on movement in art and is widely used in many impressionist paintings. The intensity of the texture as well as its placement in the piece can help showcase movement, particularly when it comes to any fabric elements depicted in the artwork.

Importance of Scale, Proportion and Placement

In still-life paintings and drawings, scale, proportion and placement can heavily influence the perception of movement in the piece. For example, an artist can place something in the foreground and adjust the scale of the rest of the piece to imply movement in the background.

Artists Known for Capturing Movement

  • Edgar Degas — This famous French impressionist painter is most well-known for his paintings of dancers. He was captivated by capturing the human form in movement.
  • Jackson Pollock — As an American painter who specialized in abstract expressionist art, Pollock conveyed movement by using his infamous drip technique.
  • Isamu Noguchi — The acclaimed American sculptor used patterns and shapes as part of the biomorphism movement to express activity in his works.
  • Fernand Leger — As one of the leading artists in the pop art movement, Leger was able to use patterns and lines to create the impression of movement.

The Impact of Movement on Artistic Expression

Movement impacts artistic expression because it provides the artist with a sense of control that other techniques do not. Through movement, artists can direct the attention of the viewer, showing the viewer exactly where the artist wants them to focus and what they want them to feel as they absorb the artwork before them.

In addition, movement plays a powerful role in conveying emotion in an artwork. As artists often use their work to express themselves or their ideas, they must rely on techniques that allow them to set the mood and tone of the piece.

How Movement Influences Audience Interpretation

Not only does movement impact artistic expression, but it also leaves room for interpretation on the part of the audience. How one individual experiences the movement of a piece may vary from another, adding to the mystery and beauty of art. The sweeping brushstrokes of a painting may invoke a feeling of peace and serenity in one viewer, while another may feel a sense of sadness or longing, depending on their personal interpretation. While an artist’s intentions may be straightforward, a viewer’s interpretation can be incredibly subjective and influenced by a variety of factors.

Can Art Exist Without Movement?

While art can certainly exist without movement, most experts would agree that the best works of art rely on movement in some way. The fact of the matter is that movement makes art more interesting and inviting. Movement allows art to be interpreted in a wide variety of ways, giving viewers a chance to discuss the art and debate their findings. Movement expresses emotion and identifies the purpose of the artwork. It may not be a requirement, but many artists, art instructors and art enthusiasts would agree that movement can certainly play an integral role in the overall success of an individual piece of art.

Explore the Principles of Art at Johnson & Wales University

Creativity and innovation are the hallmarks of Johnson & Wales University’s online Bachelor of Science in Liberal Studies. If you are interested in exploring the arts while honing core competencies that could help you in any industry or field that you choose, then this may be the perfect degree program for you. Our liberal arts curriculum emphasizes communication and collaboration while prioritizing analytical and problem-solving skill development.For more information about completing your degree online, complete the Request Info form, call 855-JWU-1881 or email [email protected].

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