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An Artistic View of Time

Exploring the views that philosophers, psychologists, or physicists have on time can be fascinating, and sometimes even mind-boggling. Still, after researching these diverse and equally interesting perspectives, we are left with one question.

How does the artistic mind—a visual artist, a writer, or a director—view time?

Certainly their perspective is a unique one. Time, like art and entertainment, means different things to different people around the world. To entertain themselves, some people like to read books. Others would rather watch a movie, listen to music, go to a museum, or take in a show. The common denominator in all these activities is that they all take time. Since the concept of time permeates not only everyone's work day, but play day as well, we thought it might be worthwhile to look at how artists from various disciplines (whose products are usually associated with leisure time) depict time in their work.

We will provide you with an interesting link between the subjects of art, entertainment, and time as we help you visualize the concept of time through an artist's eyes. We will discuss ways artists have depicted the passage of time or time itself using refined realistic methods as well as more abstract forms using symbols and hidden meanings. Time will also be shown to be an important part of music, movies, television, and books.

In a nutshell, we will endeavor in this section to explain and give examples of how time is viewed, depicted, and integrated into the world of art and entertainment.

Time in Art: Time You Can See

"The difference between false memories and true ones is the same as for jewels: it is always the false ones that look the most real, the most brilliant."
Salvador Dali

Time has had a significant influence in the world of visual arts. Artists depict various symbols such as watches, clocks, seasons, eras, or important events in history to represent the passing of time. Time is an abstract concept, and many artists present it as such. Some artists however, turn time into something more tangible for the audience. For example, you could present time in a way that was not particularly direct, such as drawing a picture of yourself waiting for the bus. On the other hand you could draw a more visually clear example of time, such as a painting an elegant grandfather clock, or the crystal ball falling in Times Square at 11:59 PM on New Year's Eve. Overall, the experience of time in art is a powerful one. This article presents the use of time as a symbol in various works of art. The presentation follows a timeline from oldest to the most recent.

■Probably the most famous example of time in art, Salvador Dali, a Spanish surrealist painter of the 20th century, created this painting—titled The Persistence of Memory — in 1931. It is an oil on canvas painting. The scene depicted is actually based on the landscape of Catalonia, Spain, where Dali lived. The melting clocks in the painting represent Dali's attempts to show the loss of the meaning of time. The ants crawling over the one watch are meant to demonstrate the decay of time. The title of the painting suggests memory’s ability to remain intact as time decays around it. In all his work, Dali's major contribution to surrealist painting was his ‘paranoiac-critical method,’ which allowed him to paint and perceive two different things simultaneously (Bradley) – time and nature in this case. This strange concept made his work unusual, fantastic, and at times somewhat disturbing. All three characteristics clearly manifest themselves in The Persistence of Memory.

■René Magritte was a Belgian painter who also belonged to the surrealist movement. The presence of time in his painting La Durée poignardé — loosely translated into English as Time Transfixed—is obvious given the painting’s title and the placement of a clock on the mantelpiece. The actual title of the painting, were it to be translated more precisely, would be “ongoing time stabbed by a dagger." Magritte was actually upset about the loose translation, as he “took great pains with the titles of his works" (“Time Transfixed"). The title of the painting shows that Magritte considered the concept of time important to his work, but its actual meaning in the painting remains somewhat mysterious. Many art critics have attempted to analyze the work, but René had rejected most of their viewpoints; he simply wanted the painting to create a feeling of mystery in the viewer (“Time Transfixed – 1939"). The painting is oil on canvas and it was completed in 1939.

■The painting, "Time of a Rose," attempts to show the passing of time through the life cycle of a simple rose. It was painted by Prachuap Chaikham-udom in 2005. Prachuap was born on March 24, 1957. He grew up in a Thai family and is the second oldest of five children (“Prachuap Chaikham-udom"). Read what Prachuap himself had to say about his goals for this piece, and how they relate to the concept of time: “‘I want to show the act of time,’ the artist says. ‘Today the rose is beautiful but someday it will not be. Everything in the world is ephemeral’" (“Time of a Rose"). The rose appears in multiple planes, passing through time and coming towards the viewer. Prachuap’s focus on nature suggests that he bases his views of time on how time manifests itself in nature—through the changing of seasons and the shifting colors of the leaves. Time of a Rose is oil on canvas.

■The metal sculpture entitled, "Time Guardian" was created in the year 2006 by a Brazilian artist named Mauricio Matta. Time Guardian depicts a fierce warrior who Matta says is a time traveler. The guardian travels through time to rid the world of evil (“Metal Sculpture"). He carries a weapon in his hands, stands at 24.8 inches (about 63 centimeters) tall, and weighs 5.7 pounds (about 2.6 kilograms). Time Guardian is a meld of some interesting parts such as an engine pulley from a Volkswagen car, a mechanical motor from a clock (seen in the middle of the sculpture’s chest), parts from a typewriter, metal bells, parts from a bicycle, and much more (“Metal Sculpture"). Matta makes his sculptures completely from recycled scrap metal.

Time has always had a place in art. Both time and art are mysterious concepts that are interpreted differently by different individuals. Both art and time can be very personal things, and both can seem intangible at times. Viewing time through the eyes of an artist can be both enlightening and thought provoking since it differs greatly from seeing time through the eyes of a physicist, psychologist, or philosopher.

Keeping Us Amused: Time in Entertainment

"The past is the beginning of the beginning and all that is and has been is but the twilight of the dawn."
H. G. Wells

The entertainment industry keeps people around the world amused in a variety of ways. Visual entertainment includes films, live performance, and television series. There is also entertainment to be found in music and books. Chances are that you enjoy one or more of the following activities: watching movies, watching television shows, enjoying a performance at a theater, perusing through a good book, or listening to music. There are many examples that show the use of time in various types of entertainment. There are songs, movies, and shows that have used the concept of time as a central theme. In this article, we will explore these examples.

Time in Music:

Each example gives a short explanation of the song, artist, and/or time period, as well as a small sample of the song’s lyrics.

■The following song is called “Time in a Bottle.” It is a love song that stresses the importance of time spent with those people who mean the most to us. This song by Jim Croce was actually the number one hit of the year in 1973 (“Jim Croce”). Below is an example of lyrics from the song:

If I could save time in a bottle
The first thing that I'd like to do
Is to save every day
‘Til Eternity passes away
Just to spend them with you

But there never seems to be enough time
To do the things you want to do
Once you find them
I've looked around enough to know
That you're the one I want to go
Through time with

■“As Time Goes By” is a song that was originally written by songwriter Herman Hupfield (“Herman Hupfield”). It is a song that describes the eternal qualities of love and other human emotions. Louis Armstrong was a famous jazz musician of the 1920’s who performed this song. Frank Sinatra has also covered the tune. Below is an example of lyrics from the song:

You must remember this
A kiss is still a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh
The fundamental things apply
As time goes by
And when two lovers woo
They still say, "I love you"
On that you can rely
No matter what the future brings
As time goes by

■The song entitled simply as “Time” by Lionel Richie has very meaningful lyrics that seem to search for something more profound and deep about life. Richie sings about wasted time and time lost. The lyrics ask the listener to ponder what is truly important in their lives. “Time” came out on Lionel Richie’s 1998 album, also entitled “Time” (“Lionel Richie Lyrics”). Below is an example of lyrics from the song:

‘Cause time, time, time don't give a damn about tomorrow
Time don't really care about no yesterdays,
Time is only watching all the pain we bear
All of the joy we share
Do we care
Time to wonder

Take a look around at all the time we wasted
Take a look around and know that you're just passing through
When you find the truth that lies inside the darkness
Will it ever come to be that you'll find the key
That will set you free, that will set you free, that will set you free
It's only time
Time to wonder
It's time to wonder
Ooh yeah, it's time to wonder

What are you going to do with your life?
What are you going to do with the time that you're living in?

Time in Television Programs:

Each example gives a description of a television program and explains how the concept of time was incorporated into that show.

■The British television program called Dr. Who was a very long running and popular show. It actually ran from 1963 to 1993 (“What is Dr. Who?”). The show is about an unnamed man who usually just goes by “the doctor.” He is from the planet Gallifrey and he is one of many “Time Lords” that hail from that planet (“What is Dr. Who?”) He travels through time in a machine he calls TARDIS. TARDIS stands for Time And Relative Dimensions In Space, and the machine itself actually looks like a public calling box. The doctor uses his time traveling abilities to fight evil. His actions often change the lives of others and although this is technically against the rules of the Time Lords, he continues in his adventures.

■Another television show that deals often with time and time travel is Star Trek. Star Trek premiered in 1966. The show was cancelled after three seasons, but had gained so many fans—referred to as “trekkies”—that a new version of the show was brought back in 1987: Star Trek: The Next Generation (“Star Trek”). The show was also proving to be extremely profitable. The first series followed the crew of a ship called the U.S.S. Enterprise in its intergalactic adventures of the 23rd century. The second series followed the adventures of a new crew on a new version of the spaceship Enterprise (“Star Trek”). The second series ran over twice as many episodes as the first. Overall, both series had a great impact on popular culture of the seventies and eighties. Two more series followed. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in 1993, and Star Trek: Voyager in 1995. Throughout all four series, the show dealt with such topics as time travel, travel through space through wormholes, and getting lost in space—many light years away from home.

■The Jetsons was a popular cartoon about a space-age family. The series debuted on September 23rd, 1962 (“The Jetsons”). The futuristic setting featured flying cars, transport tubes, robots, and sometimes time travel. The main characters of the show were George Jetson, his wife Jane, their daughter Judy, and their son Elroy. The family also had a dog named Astro and a robot named Rosie. The series only ran for one season but was later revived in the 1980’s. This allowed for better animation and a more sophisticated view of the 21st century (“The Jetsons”). However, The Jetsons was not as popular as the series which inspired it, The Flintstones—a cartoon about a stone age family.

■Another popular cartoon relating to time was Astro Boy. Astro Boy actually started our as a Japanese comic, and is considered by some to be the first example of Anime (“Astro’s History”). Astro boy first appeared in the comics of Osamu Tezuka in 1951. He continued to produce the comics for over 2 decades. Astro Boy was introduced to Fuji Television in the early 1960’s and ran until 1966 (“Astro’s History”). In 1982 Astro Boy went from black and white to color, and around this time the series was introduced as a color dubbed-over version to the United States. In the series, a Doctor who has lost his son decides to create a boy robot: Astro Boy (“Astro’s Story”). Astro Boy has many impressive powers such as lasers in his hands, rockets in his legs, and search lights in his eyes. Astro Boy related to time because his rocket boosters allowed him to travel around the globe in a short period of time. Could Astro Boy have traveled through time? The answer is unclear, as the concept of time travel was never mentioned as an important one to the show.
Time in Films: Each example gives a description of the movie and demonstrates how time is used in it.

■J. K. Rowling created feelings of frenzy with her novels about the young wizard boy with a lightning-shaped scar on his forehead. The Harry Potter series has become excessively popular, gaining devoted fans across the world and turning a collection of novels into a major hobby. The Harry Potter novels have sequentially been made into movies. One of the movies—the one that is based on the third book—is called Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban. This movie has a particular sequence of scenes near the end of the film which deal specifically with time travel. The main character Harry and one of his best friends, Hermione, must travel back in time in order to save one of their friends. Hermione uses a trinket called a “time turner” to turn back in time. The trinket contains an hourglass, and Hermione can determine how far back in time she goes back how many times she turns the time turner.

■The original movie Back to the Future, which came out in 1985 and eventually spawned two sequels, showed an interesting and highly entertaining take on time travel. In the movie, main character Marty McFly is asked by his friend, Dr. Emmet Brown, to test out an experiment with him. Marty finds that Dr. Brown has created a time machine out of a DeLorean. Once the DeLorean reached 88 miles per hour (or about 142 kilometers per hour) the driver could travel through time. The “flux capacitor” is the part of the car which makes the time travel of the car possible (“Back to the Future”). In order to save himself and Dr. Brown, Marty ends up having to travel back in time.

■The movie The Matrix deals more indirectly with topics of time. The plot of the movie deals with a group of humans who realize they have the ability to escape from one dimension of time to another. The latter dimension is one created by a higher power to control the humans (“The Matrix”). Time does not play as big of a role in The Matrix as it does in the two previously mentioned movies, as time travel is more pertinent to time itself than travel through dimensions.

Time in Books or Stories:

Each example gives a description of the book and how time plays a role in it.

■One well known book that focuses largely on the passage of time and its effects is “Rip Van Winkle” by Washington Irving. “Rip Van Winkle” tells the short story of a man named Rip Van Winkle who falls asleep beneath a tree for twenty years. He wakes up as an old man with a white beard. He goes into town to find that everything has changed, and hardly anyone actually knows who he is. The children are frightened of him. Besides showing us what life and politics were like during the War of American Independence (“Rip Van Winkle – Introduction”), the story also shows us the effects of the passage of time: aging, changes in environment, and changes in people and their views.

■As its title would suggest, The Time Machine by H. G. Wells, is all about time travel. The story begins as a Time Traveler demonstrates his miniature time machine to a group of men. A week later when the men come back they find that the Traveler has returned from an exhausting trip through time (“Summary”). The novel tells his story. He actually ended up traveling to the year 802, 701 AD (“Summary”). He deals with some interesting characters during his travels and manages to escape in the very end. What do you think the year 802, 701 would be like? For the Time Traveler it was dangerous.