Project 4 (Time and place) – Exercise 3

Visual conventions for time and place

Examples of different visual conventions used to convey time and/or place/space from different historical periods.

Blooming flowers, 1995, GIF from film, Otomo Katsuhiro’s Memories / Giphy
  • motion
  • decayed flowers blooming
  • repetition of same action, endless loop
  • time
The Cartoon History of the Universe, 1978, Larry Gonick / Sequart
  • cartoon strip
  • visual description and textual sequence, steps (this, then this, etc.)
  • conveys time (beginning, middle, end)
The Arrival, 2006, graphic novel, Shaun Tan / Google
  • storyboard
  • step by step narrative
  • shows progression of action
  • conveys time and place (zooms out to show where)
A Bird’s Eye View, Drone Photography, Dirk Dallas / Artifact Uprising
  • photograph, directly from above
  • bird’s eye view perspective makes landscape more abstract, elements smaller
  • conveys sense of place

The Creation, Temptation and The Fall, 1513, oil on panel, Albertinelli, Mariotto / Bridgeman Images

  • many narratives in single frame
  • different religious events happening at the same time
  • creates an interesting, dynamic reading
  • time and place (depth and length of landscape, role of place in events)
The Batman Adventures Holiday Special #1 p.7, 1995, Bruce Timm / Scans_Daily
  • sequential, action following action
  • visually descriptive
  • use of speech bubbles
  • character illustrated in motion
  • movement, rush, time
Phenakistoscope, 1833, published by Thomas McLain, London / AnOther
  • endless loop
  • repetition of same action(s)
  • infinite, time
Disney’s Alice in Wonderland (1951), storyboard, Bill Peet / Pinterest
  • storyboard
  • character discovering place
  • sequence of events happening through given time
New Yorker cover, 1996, Eric Drooker
  • illustration
  • worm’s eye view perspective, seen from below
  • evokes sense of place (huge, majestic, intimidating)
Gloriosa Victoria, 1954, oil on linen, Diego Rivera / Art for a Change
  • mural
  • narrative, shows many stories at once
  • different interpretations, satirical, critical
  • movement, action
  • time and place
Sennedjem and Iineferti in the Fields of Iaru, A.D. 1922; original ca. 1295–1213 B.C., tempera on paper, Charles K. Wilkinson / MET
  • description of daily life, culture
  • division of places and people, linear reading, perhaps hierarchical
  • sense of place by use of trees, fields, cattle, rooms
  • sense of time by movement, action
High And Low, 1947, M.C. Escher / WikiArt
  • impossible perspective, optical illusion
  • both bird’s eye view and worm’s eye view
  • sense of place
Muybridge’s motion studies, Eadweard Muybridge / Mashable
  • sequence of action
  • movement divided by frames
  • time
Trajan column, 113 AD, Roman triumphal column, Emperor Trajan / Crystalinks
  • narrative sculpture
  • movement, war, action
  • sequence of events in given time and place
Tintin in America p. 10, 1968, comic book, Hergé / Reel 3
  • comic strip
  • speech bubbles, dialogue
  • sequence, step by step, beginning – middle – end
  • time and place
The Vast Power and Knowledge of the Crowd, comic strip, unknown author / Big Think
  • satirical, power of people
  • anticipation, movement, change
  • if this then that


For this exercise, I was to find different visual examples that conveyed time and/or place throughout history. I was successful in finding narrative pieces dating back to ancient times and also more contemporary pieces. I started by searching key words I was already familiar with, such as storyboards and comic strips, and then I looked for visual pieces that made use of different types of perspective. I visited the Met’s Timeline of Art History and looked for Ancient Egyptian art, then stumbled into the Trajan Column while looking for narrative historical art. I was already familiar with some pieces, such as Shaun Tan’s The Arrival and stills from Otomo Katsuhiro’s Memories, and decided they were suitable for this exercise.

A common factor in most of the examples I list above is the use of movement and/or change to create a sense of time. When an action has changed or evolved, a character has moved from point A to point B, or there is a clear beginning, middle and end, we automatically deduce that time has passed or will pass. A very important quality is anticipation, that which makes us feel that something will happen, even if there is no actual movement (as in film) or textual description (such as speech bubbles) and we have no idea what will actually happen; this can be simply a raised hand or a gasp of surprise at something unknown.

I found examples that express time and/or place by the use of sculpture, painting, murals, comic strips, film, GIFs, animation, storyboards, phenakistoscopes and zoetropes, etc. I don’t think the medium is the most important factor, but rather the use of perspective, anticipation, illusion of movement/motion, change, narrative, etc. And while the use of film, animation, and stop motion does make it incredibly easier to capture time and movement, artists back in the ancient Roman Empire were just as capable of narrating a sequence of events.


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