39 EARLY 20t h-CENTURY ARTISTS known as the Futurists…sought new ways of depicting light, motion and speed suitable for an increasingly modern and urban era. FIGHT OR FLEE? We have all felt the instantaneous reaction to a perceived threat described by Walter Cannon in his theory of fight or flight. Is your immediate reaction to stand your ground or is it to escape as quickly as possible? By comparing our own reaction to that of animals, Cannon described something that may be universal across the mammalian kingdom. Even if animals do not process this decision to fight or flee in the same way as we do, the fight-or-flight situation is one we can all relate to, and that makes it an engaging subject for a work of art. One of the first artists to gain widespread recognition for his depictions of wild creatures in action was French sculptor Antoine-Louis Barye. Working the middle of the 1800s, Barye’s bestknown works are sinuous sculptures of animals in the midst of battle. For Parisians experiencing an increasingly urbanized existence, these sculptures provided a form of emotional escape by tapping into the raw power of Nature. Barye studied animals in the confines of European zoos and menageries, using his imagination to create compelling battles between worthy foes. Working slightly later, Bruno Liljefors relied on close observation of animals in nature to spur his imagination. Influenced by Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, including the notion of the survival of the fittest, Liljefors represents a generation of artists who wanted to depict animals enacting natural behaviors, one of the most dramatic of which is the fight-or-flight response. FLIGHT There are few sights that elicit as much human envy as that of a bird in flight. Wanting to capture that sense of awe and feeling of airborne freedom, depictions of flight have been a longtime staple of wildlife art. Convincingly conveying a sense of a bird in mid-air, however, takes a great deal of artistic skill and first-hand observation. One technique prevalent in depictions of flight is the blurring of edges to communicate rapid motion. When we look at a hummingbird in flight, all we see is the body, surrounded by a blur of wings. By softening the wingtips of their avian subjects, artists such as Robert Bateman and Manfred Schatz convey movement while simultaneously presenting a static image. Robert F. Kuhn (American, 1920–2007), Cruisin’, 1980. Acrylic on board. 22 x 48 inches. National Museum of Wildlife Art Collection. © Estate of Robert F. Kuhn.
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