History of Dance in Art

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Dance, Music, and Performance
"The Joy of Life"


In the nineteenth century some of the greatest innovations come from artists who strove to discover if art could work on the same level as music. I have decided to research the relationship between art, dance, and music. The interpretation of dance and music in art continually developed during the twentieth century. Firstly dance as a subject matter, drawn narratively and may have a symbolic meaning. This then moved on to dance interpreted emotionally. Thirdly music and dance can be interpreted abstractly. Endell's hypothesis (Fig.1) shows this idea of art working abstractly. Arshile Gorky describes abstraction as "allowing man to see with his mind what he cannot physically see with his eyes" and this works on the same level as a composer hearing the music in his mind before writing it down.

Some of the earliest drawings made by man are of people dancing (fig. 2). Dance is intimately associated with music and like image making it is a basic human act associated with emotional expression. Dancing is thought to be one of the most primitive instincts of mankind and this is why it has been recorded as early as 15 000 BC in Addaura, Sicily in the cave drawings of "Ritual Dance" (Fig. 2). The figures are created by simple arabesque line and are very effective in creating rhythm to the eye and therefore creating movement in the dancers.

Section 1
Matisse and Découpages

When Matisse interprets dance, it is the colours that express the feelings for the joy of life. Dance is a subject that Matisse has kept coming back to throughout the whole of his life. He took influence from early, primitive art and created raw energy and dynamism. Matisse looked at the cave drawings from Addaura, Sicily 15 000BC. In "Ritual Dance" (Fig 2) you can see diagrammatic, schematic, arabesque outlines of humans and animals in a dance which most likely would have been a ceremony for fertility. There is no use of perspective, tone, colour or balance as you would expect from such an archaic piece of art. However, there is a sensuous shape to the figures that gives a vigour and rhythm to the eye.

With the rejection of classical art, artists started to look at other sources of inspiration. ‘Primitive' art such as masks from Africa, cave drawings from across the world have been influences. Traditionally, this kind of work was not thought to be ‘art' but rather a novelty. Matisse was strongly influenced by these early cave drawings as were many of the twentieth century artists. Matisse was one of the first to have a collection of African art and was the first to show this art to Picasso. African art is thought to have sparked Cubism with pieces such as "Demoiselles d'Avignon".

"Dance" (1911) (Fig. 3) and "Music" (1911) (Fig 4) are murals, originally commissioned by the Russian; Sergey Shchukin to be exhibited in Trubetskoy Palace. They were actually influenced by a visit to Collioure in 1905 when Matisse like Gauguin was influenced by the local labouring class after watching some fishermen and peasants on the beach doing a circular dance called a "sardana". Perhaps another reason why dance and music may have been chosen as subject matter was the influence of the World of Art movement and the Russian avant-garde. Artists worked collaboratively with musicians, dancers, directors, and writers. Creating productions that would show off their collaborative effort. Also in Moscow and St. Petersburg dance and music was the social par of excellence.

In these pieces, Matisse captures each of the elements; earth, sky, and body. The use of flat colour and rejection of tone means there is no volume or perspective in the piece. Although shallow depth is created by the blue and green background receding against the red figures. The vibrant colour creates explosive energy and is reminiscent of his Fauve era (1905-09). This scene has an exciting presence. The simplicity is...
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