To arrest motion

We are surrounded by arrested motion, and we hold the keys to unlock it. National Gallery of Art, Washington DC,  June 2014

We are surrounded by arrested motion, and we hold the keys to unlock it.
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, June 2014

“The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed so that a hundred years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again since it is life.”  — William Faulkner

I could really identify with this quote, because even without being an artist, I’m always trying to arrest motion with my camera. When I take the time to look back over photographs from years past, it amazes me how much I would have completely forgotten without the pictures that help me remember.

When I read Faulkner’s quote, I realized that is why I so love art galleries. Viewing art is a chance to peek through the windows into other worlds. The really good artists, whether they use paint or photography or sculpture or words, capture the motion in the subjects of their creativity, and bring it to life again and again within the mind of every person who experiences it. Since each of us will see or read a work through the lens of a life that is also unique, the art really does move again, growing and changing from one beholder to another, never quite the same.

If your life feels unsatisfactory or downright sad, try getting some perspective by visiting other lives available to you through the arrested motion of art. If you are reading this blog, you have the means to access the world’s greatest museums right at your fingertips. Or re-visit your own life, through photographs, letters and other mementos. If you are feeling happy or contented or frustrated, try arresting that joyful or angry motion through creative work of your own, whether it be a photograph, a craft project or a letter or journal entry.

Those of us who believe life is eternal can readily appreciate that this immortality is evident in many ways, including the lingering fragrance left behind by souls long ago passed from this life. Thanks to art, we can see as they saw, and join them in appreciating and understanding the wondrous as well as the deceptively ordinary. Have you unlocked any arrested motion lately? If so, what did you see? Where did it take you?


  1. Rene

    I recently found a packet of photos from an Easter long ago. We were having an Easter egg hunt for my two boys. The youngest was not yet two & didn’t quite get the concept of putting the eggs in his basket; he kept throwing them on the ground, which he & the adults found really amusing. I had remembered the event but forgotten how much fun we had had.

    • Rene, that does sound like fun. Don’t you just love the way kids can take a planned activity and improvise, making it much more delightful? I’m glad you have the photos!

  2. You’ve described art so interestingly Julia. It’s really true, some art can take you to moments long ago celebrated. I remember the photo you posted here of President Lincoln sitting in a tent, having a meeting with a General. A moment in history long ago but it was so crisp and clear, it seemed like I was just around the corner. There’s also a huge painting in the Louvre of Napoleons Coronation which took place at Notre Dame. The artist captured light so amazingly, you feel so much the moment. You can step back into history by just visiting the original venue on the way back to your hotel. Art truly blurs the lines of history, especially with the internet so widely available. xk

    • I have to really watch my time limits or I would spend hours looking at art online. Even so, there’s nothing like seeing the real thing, particularly those HUGE canvases that take up an entire museum wall. Here’s an example from the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. It is definitely the closest I’ll come to seeing a Russian wedding from that era. I’m trying to remember whether I saw the one of Napoleon at the Louvre. If so I don’t remember. I do remember the gorgeous Joan of Arc series at the Pantheon.

      • Isn’t that beautiful ! You’ve probably seen Napoleon’s Coronation painting…it’s giant. Here’s a link and you can see how much bigger than the viewers it is. I’m sad to know I missed the Pantheon in Paris. There’s so much to do in 5 days. I went to the site and my word! Those are wall size paintings. stunning!

        • oops, here’s the link

          Paris #8, The Coronation of Napoleon

          • WOW, is that fabulous or what? The little dictator himself would approve, I’m sure! Which I guess he did, since he commissioned it himself. Apparently a lot of people are impressed, since the Met even has a painting of the painting! What fun. Now maybe someone can make a painting of the painting of the painting. I learn the most interesting stuff from these comments.

            • That’s really interesting hey…I guess it was the only option before the Camera. Did you see Napoleons overcoat and hat at his Tomb? He was of very small stature wasn’t he….he definitely had that ‘little dictator attitude’ down pat.

              • I guess I must have seen the uniform, but what I remember most was that gargantuan tomb (more like a giant box) which looked silly and cartoon-ish to me. But again, it might have been appropriate for him. When Drew was 9th grade he did a really good project on Napoleon– he had to compose a thematic notebook with an original story, play, poem, imaginary interview and cartoon on any topic of his choice for honors English, or honors history, I forget which, and he chose Napoleon– and I really learned a lot about him just from listening to Drew talk about him. I should scan some of the stuff sometime and send it to you; I realize I’m his mom but I thought it was quite good, and his teacher wrote effusive praise all over the notebook and wrote “A++!!! Not high enough!!” so she must have agreed. Apparently he (Napoleon) was quite the character so Drew had plenty of raw material from which to work. I read Carolly Erickson’s biography of Josephine which could almost have been a novel; it was fascinating. I don’t know how anybody could think history is boring if they look very close.

                • I have no doubt Drew was an A++ student, just knowing a little bit of his academic achievements thus far is entirely impressive. So go ahead, be a mom! The 9th grade project as assigned sounds very advanced, I can’t remember what we were learning back then, but I’m sure it didn’t involve the creation of a thematic notebook. Way to rock grade 9 Drew! I think History is really interesting. It’s only one reason I loved DC and Virginia. You can throw a stone without hitting a spot where something of great significance happened. I could spend a whole holiday drinking it all in.

                  • His high school in San Antonio was tops. (High school started in 9th grade there.) This was how I became a fan of George W. Bush, because he was governor at the time and it was amazing how he improved the schools in a very short time. Rod Paige was Secretary of Education there, too. I could not believe that the special education was actually enacting federal legislative mandates TWO YEARS EARLY before I, as a parent, even knew about it. That’s unprecedented. Each school had its own special ed director (other states had only one for the entire district!) and ours called me into the office and said “Mrs. Denton, we are informing all the parents that the federal special education laws have added protections for students to be enacted within two years, but we are starting them right now, and I want to go over them with you…” I almost fainted. Totally improved IEP, no fighting for Matt’s rights, none of that nonsense to deal with. No state we lived in the entire time our kids were in school had schools that could compare to those in Texas. Back to Drew — in 9th grade, ALL his classes were honors classes, including Honors Latin. Then we moved to CA for 10th grade and there were NO honors classes until he got to 11th grade, when there were 2 AP classes. I really did NOT want to leave Texas because of the schools (for both boys) but as you know I soon fell in love with CA for other reasons, so all’s well that ends well.

                    Hey, you could spend a whole holiday in the DC and Virginia area…Hmmm…sounds like a plan! Just let me know when. 🙂

        • Yes, the Pantheon is great, but it’s one of those places that’s easy to miss. In fact, even though I knew I wanted to go there and had a walking map, I remember having to stop and ask directions, then trying to decipher them with my limited French. I honestly don’t remember seeing that gorgeous photo of Napoleon’s coronation. It’s entirely possible I missed it, even after 3 trips to the Louvre, because my typical museum M.O. is to spend loads of time in the first few galleries and then realize I’m almost out of time and start running frantically around looking for the “must-see” items (such as, in my case, the Winged Victory, which was fortunately hard to miss) before the guards start chasing everyone out at closing time. Well, this just means I have to go back. Quel dommage!

          • LOL, your ‘MO’…I can totally see that. It was unbelievably crowded when were went this summer and probably 30C, it’d be nice to take a leisurely stroll thru in late fall.

            • YES, so much better without crowds, and it’s especially magical at night. Drew and I were there one night in early December and there were probably fewer than two dozen people there by the time we left at closing (it was their late-open night and there were art students in there painting; fun!)

  3. Sheila

    Good morning, Julia. ☕️ We’re almost ready for another Verandah. Ready or not, here it comes. I was thinking of our gallery of Verandah’s that we’ve shared, together across the miles. Once you said, “Jeff had already turned to the next porch when I went to the calendar.” That makes me so happy. We plan to go to Benjamin Wall’s Gallery while in Bristol this weekend. Any gallery works for me! Thank you for another wonderful post! 💛

    • Jeff and Matt are both real sticklers for keeping those calendar pages turned at the right time. I always know when it’s a new month because the first thing Matt says to me when I go to wake him is “can you turn the calendar page?” I get a big kick out of that! Have fun in Bristol for me – I love that town and will always remember how fun it was for me to have one state on one side of the street and another state on the other…is it still like that?

      • Sheila

        Good morning, Julia. ☕️ This Thursday morning finds us in Winston Salem, meeting up with the Vann Clan later in the day. Wake Forest ballgame this evening, luncheon with two cousins tomorrow and then we drive on to Bristol. State Street is still as you described it, TN is on one side and VA on the other. We are going “into town” one afternoon so I’ll take some photos to share. I’m so glad Matt and Jeff enjoy the calendar, too. What a treat to have y’all in the Verandah Club! Hi to all!

        • Sheila, I love reading about the Vann Clan Plan. It’s like a mini-vacation without the driving. Hope you have a wonderful holiday weekend. BTW when I saw the September Verandah, the first words that came to my mind were “Calgon, take me away!” 😀

  4. HarryS

    Thank you for the Awe and Wonder that you are inspired reflections raise in me.

    • Harry, you are most welcome. I appreciate your kind words of encouragement.

  5. Good morning, Julia! It’s “Penny Lane Day,” my personally declared holiday, where I relax and pay attention to inter-personal interactions, take time to smile at postal workers and cashiers, etc. (I set it for every August 26th, or last Wednesday in August). So today, I’ll be arresting moments in my memory where (hopefully) I’ll be able to retrieve and enjoy them for the coming year.
    I invite you all to join me!

    • “All the people like to come and go, stop and say hello” 😀 Perfect song for a fun personal holiday. Hope you didn’t have any “pouring rain” that day! Sorry I missed it…please remind me again next year.


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