In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Cinema and the Visual Arts

  • Introduction

Cinema and Media Studies Cinema and the Visual Arts
Christine Sprengler
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 October 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0122


The relationship between cinema and the visual arts is a long and complex one, stretching back to cinema’s earliest years. It is one of reciprocity, defined by various acts of exchange and mining for legitimation, subversion, and inspiration. It involves the creative efforts of practitioners from both domains and experimental gestures that pitted one against the other, thought one through the other, and often blurred the distinctions between them. Connections between art movements and film movements, art theories and film theories, as well as individuals who contributed in various ways to both realms, have done much to foster multiple points of contact. Assessing cinema in relation to the visual arts is necessarily an interdisciplinary—or, increasingly, an “intermedial”—endeavor, one that requires drawing on scholarship in other, related areas of study. As such, certain scholarship is not covered here, but is accessible in other Oxford Bibliographies articles. For instance, early (philosophical) attempts to assess the status of film as art are covered in Early Film Theory (see the Oxford Bibliographies in Cinema and Media Studies article “Film Theory before 1945”) and other entries on individuals whose work directly addressed such questions, including “André Bazin” and “Sergei Eisenstein.” Furthermore, the concern here is not with “Art Cinema,” though some overlap with this category is unavoidable given the penchant of certain “art films” to also engage with art. Likewise, there are a few sources likely to be central to the “Avant-Garde and Experimental Cinema” article. However, this present article makes reference to only a selection, specifically to those explicitly invested in the history of dominant art movements and painting practices. This article is organized around three broad categories that represent the three main ways of conceptualizing cinema in relation to the visual arts: the nature of the relationship between cinema and the visual arts, representations of the visual arts in film, and cinematic art. The first requires elaboration, for it may appear to be a category capable of subsuming the others. The relationships of concern here are the ones explored through analyses of visual and material practices in contemporary culture. While historical precursors are considered, the bulk of this section focuses on how scholars might examine, for example, cinema in relation to photography or the affinities between cinema and architecture in terms of the experiences they offer. A final note: The majority of the citations included here are suitable for senior undergraduates, postgraduates, and scholars unless otherwise noted as written for “junior undergraduates” or “theoretically complex” and thus best tackled by experts in the field. Exhibition catalogues are a mixed bag, with some introductory essays geared toward a general, nonspecialized audience and others offering rigorous, sophisticated analyses. With the exception of Pelfrey 1996 (see Themes and Issues) and McIver 2016 (cited under Crossing Over: From Art to Film and Film to Art), no textbooks on this subject are available and only one journal, Moving Image Review and Art Journal deals with the topic.

The Relationship Between Cinema and the Visual Arts

The relationships that exist between the cinema and the visual (and other) arts have been the subject of much scholarly discussion and debate since the invention of film. Philosophical and theoretical reflections on these relationships and arguments about film as art have certainly informed how we broach this topic. However, consideration of this particular avenue into the subject can be found in other Oxford Bibliographies articles, as noted in the Introduction. The focus here is on analyses of the objects of visual and material culture. Where “theory” does enter into the equation is in a survey of contemporary texts that offer concepts, frameworks, methodological models, and questions that help us make sense of the practices that define this ever-changing relationship.

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