Keith Haring Dance, Dancing Man, Dancing Dogs

Keith Haring’s simplistic yet iconic and notably recognizable figures are images that are designed to engage the viewer with semi-hieroglyphic motifs through Haring’s specific visual language.

One of the many symbols Haring has ingrained in his works is the dancing man, or his dancing figures. Typically considered to reflect the artists love for hip hop as it was emerging into the New York club scene and in particular, the gay scene of the ‘70s and ‘80s. The bold gestural double lines that typically surround his figures have come to symbolize freedom and ecstasy, occasionally appearing in multiples either holding hands or stacked together, creating an air of solidarity and community. These are not the only meanings behind his dancing figures; they were also meant to evoke fun and joy within the community, an attempt to radiate positive energy.  

His art was rising to prominence around this time, and it has been noted that Haring would often listen to rap while painting, finding inspiration in the movements and energy that came forth. Fellow artist and friend Kenny Scharf recalled: “He used to paint one stroke at a time to the rhythm of whatever he was listening to.” Trying to match that energy and the movement of music, Haring would create contorted figures that could backend and more to replicate the movements of break dancers in action.

Haring’s Dancing Dogs, depending on your view on themes of death, does not match the energy that life brings to us and instead subverts back to the imagery of ancient Egypt and the importance of their polytheistic Gods in the form of hieroglyphs. Dogs in Haring’s works typically illustrate the abuses of power through politics and questions ultimate obedience; however Dancing Dogs maintains a separate meaning. Recalling the ancient Egyptian God Anubis, a dog like God who watched over the dead, Haring incorporates these themes of Anubis and Death into his works by also portraying the dogs handling human-esque forms. It has also been related to the allegorical Christian notion of ‘The Dance of Death’, a literary or pictorial representation of a procession or dance of both living and dead figures, the living arranged in order of their rank, from pope and emperor to child, clerk, and hermit, and the dead leading them to the grave.

Dogs in Haring’s works continue to be representatives of humans and animals, continuously used through his career to explore semiotics and the changing nature of meaning in language. Matching ‘Dogs’ together or pairing them with other motifs from his repertoire, ‘in different combinations they were about the difference between human power and the power of animal instinct’, nonetheless always discussing greater issues of contemporary society.

Keith Haring Dancing Dog, 1982 @ Sotheby's

Haring once said ‘drawings don’t try to imitate life; they try to create life, to invent life’  - an ethos that very much captured the essence of his dancers.

What is the Keith Haring Dancing Men?
The Dancing Men in Keith Haring's work are simplistic figures that are always drawn in movement. They can be seen in prints dancing either solo or in multiples, stacked on top of each other, holding hands, or interreacting with other motifs in the work.

What is the Keith Haring Dancing Men represent?
The dancing men were made in order to evoke fun and joy, along with solidarity within the community.

Is the Dancing Men a Keith Haring motif?
Yes; The dancing men can be seen in many of Haring's works, such as in the Fertility Suite, within the different Pop Shops, and more.

Keith Haring Dogs

Symbolic imagery in artwork can be traced back to as early as cave drawings, into the multitude of different artistic movements that have followed; religious iconography being one of the most notably recognizable, followed by animals and more to the point, dogs. They are a representation of their behavioral namesake of man’s best friend in the sense of loyalty, companionship, and obedience has followed them into their depictions of art.

However, pop artist Keith Haring, who is known for his masterful craftsmanship of spreading a message through his simplistic forms and bright colors, integrating dogs as a main outlet for sharing his ideas and beliefs. Moving away from the traditional perception of these lovable animals that society knows and believes them to be, Haring was interested in pushing the perceptions created by society and asking his audience to rethink their value, and to question what things we tend to ignore.

Untitled, 1982 | Chalk on paper | Photographer: Ivan Dalla Tana

Keith Haring’s dog motifs began to appear in his subway drawing series from 1980-1985. During this time, he would draw on matte black paper with white chalk, posting them over expired subway advertisements. Haring is known for wanting to create work that was accessible and enjoyable to as many as possible instead of the select few who could afford it, and his subway drawing paved the way for art accessibility. None of his works in his Subway Drawings are titled, ensuring that each person could create their own interpretation rather than having their view influenced subliminally by Haring’s intention.

Dogs in Keith Haring’s works started as a mythical creatures, indistinguishable forms that eventually morphed and more closely resembled dogs with square mouths, sharp ears, and the occasional lines that surround them to indicate the sound of a bark. As they are now, these dog motifs became symbols of abuse in power, government, and oppressive regimes that demands obedience and represents authority.

 In instances where Haring has depicted a dog standing on two legs or combined with a human figure, he was illustrating caution of those in power, while simultaneously nodding to the often overlooked and over ignored oppression in society. By creating a seemingly playful figure to his audiences as a way to gather their attention, Haring was gently reminding them to question what they may assume at first glance and to push past their original perceptions.

Though there is an inherent seriousness to the majority of dog works Keith Haring has created, in which there are many, he has also exemplified their depictions by create dogs of a more humor filled tone; some dogs are DJs, some dance and laugh, and more. Haring’s versatility in his works mirrors how he believed himself to be, multifaceted and well educated in the matters that effect the everyday person.

Keith Haring Untitled, (1980).© The Keith Haring Foundation.

What is the Keith Haring Dog?
Haring stated that "The dogs really were representational of human and animal. In different combinations they were about the difference between human power and the power of animal instinct".

What is the Keith Haring Barking Dog representing?
The Barking dog stands for all abuses of power, government, and oppressive regimes that demand obedience and represents authority.

Is the Barking Dog a Keith Haring motif?
The Barking Dog makes is one of Haring's most iconic symbols from his oeuvre of visual/pictorial language.