Paintings are static. The uniqueness of the experience of looking at a painting repeatedly – over a period of days or years – is that, in the midst of flux, the image remains changeless. Of course the significance of the image may change, as a result of either historical or personal developments, but what is depicted is unchanging: the same milk flowing from the same jug, the waves on the sea with exactly the same formation unbroken, the smile and the face which have not altered.
One might be tempted to say that paintings preserve a moment. Yet on reflection this is obviously untrue. For the moment of a painting, unlike a moment photographed, never existed as such. And so a painting cannot be said to preserve it.
In early Renaissance art, in paintings from non-European cultures, in certain modern works, the image implies a passage of time. Looking at it, the spectator sees before, during and after. The Chinese sage takes a walk from one tree to another, the carriage runs over the child, the nude descends the staircase. And this of course has been analysed and commented upon. Yet the ensuing image is still static whilst referring to the dynamic world beyond its edges, and this poses the problem of what is the meaning of that strange contrast between static and dynamic. Strange because it is both so flagrant and so taken for granted.