Depicting gestures: Examples of the analysis of embodied communication in the arts of the West
Abstract:In "Depicting by gestures" (Gesture, 8 (3)), I have explored the methods by which hand gestures depict the world. Here I explore how gestures themselves are depicted. Many paintings and sculptures show human bodies in motion or showcase traces of body movements, including gestures of the hand. The issue is how the artists succeeded in depicting or insinuating movement in media that are inherently still, and how such arrested gestures function in pictures of social life so that these are perceived as "legible interactions" (Gombrich). By scrutinizing the changing logic of representation of embodied communication in the visual arts, gesture researchers can gain insights into the relationships between movement, form, meaning, and context, and recontextualize their own analytic methodologies within the broader discourse in the humanities on human behavior and its interpretation (Streeck, 2003).
In the following, I examine a number of characteristic attempts, made during different periods of Western art-history, to solve this problem: in Egyptian, Greek, and Hellenistic art; in some medieval illuminations; in the early and late Renaissance; and in the 20th century styles of "écriture automatique" and Abstract Expressionism. Each of the strategies involved is predicated on three types of analysis: of ways in which body motion communicates meaning, of visual perception, and of the nature of pictorial representation.