Representing Sound Through Painting: “Rhythm + Noise + Speed ​​of Car”

Rhythm + Noise + Speed ​​of Car is a 1913 painting by Futurist artist Giacomo Balla. Part of a vibrant pre-WWI experimental art culture, the Italian Futurists were enamored with energy, power, and modern technology. Many of them were pro-war fascists, and although this is likely the case for Balla as well, his work does not focus on themes of war or violence. In some of his paintings, including this one, Balla attempts to depict sound and speed through visual means. The hectic lines and dark colors depict the loud noise and fast pace of the city street, a typically Futurist subject matter.

Scholar of visual culture W. J. T. Mitchell argues that there is no such thing as “visual media.” Upon further examination, all artworks turn out to be mixed media, if for no other reason than that they function as part of a complex sensory environment in the gallery space and in the real world. Rhythm + Noise + Speed of Car is a perfect example of a “visual medium” like painting that is engaging with and depicting a non-visual sense (in this case, sound).

Mitchell, W.J.T. “There Are No Visual Media.” MediaArtHistories, edited by Oliver Grau. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2007. 395-406.

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