Modern Minute: Arthur Dove, "Dancing" (1934)

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Modern Minute: Arthur Dove, "Dancing" (1934)

David Lubin of Wake Forest University discusses Arthur Dove's painting Dancing, on view in the Museum's exhibition Reynolda Moderns

Modern Minute: "Dancing" Arthur Dove

Reynolda House is grateful for the generous support of Reynolda Moderns from media sponsor Our State magazine.

[TRANSCRIPT] David Lubin, Wake Forest University: Arthur Dove, “Dancing” 1934

“Dancing” in a dynamic oil painting by Arthur Dove, America’s first abstract artist. He began his career as a magazine illustrator, but a trip to Paris in 1908 introduced him to the glories and challenges of modern art, and he never looked back. Given the unpopularity of abstract painting at the time, he had to supplement his meager income by raising chickens in Connecticut and at one point, began living on a small boat moored off Long Island. When he inherited a farm in upstate New York, he moved there, far from the city.


“Dancing” comes from those years on the farm. When I look at it I can’t help but think of growth beneath the soil. I see seeds ripening, roots spreading. Dove, of course, wouldn’t have meant anything as literal as that. I don’t think he was literally referring to dance either. All the same, the contoured, biomorphic blobs of color seem to move rhythmically across the canvas. Bending, stretching, weaving, tugging one another, or facing off in pairs. Two large forms seem to be engaged in pas de deuxwhile others link arms as if in a chorus line. The colors themselves dance in a pulsating push and pull. Some are warm and earth-toned, some are cool and celestial.


Dancing can’t be put into words and shouldn’t be. It’s a lyrical, romantic work, a document of the artist’s moods as they come and go, dancing through a private interior space that he has made visible for any of us who care to be quiet and take the time to listen and look.


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