Type: Process Essays
Sample donated: Georgia Hamilton
Last updated: April 21, 2019
In October of 1964, an article in Time Magazinecoined the phrase “Optical Art”. Op was recognized and popularized inthe United States, and spread to Europe specifically France and Italy where itachieved critical acclaim (“Op art – Art Term”).It emerged in the 1960s as an abstract style of artthat creates the illusion of movement through mathematical precision, contrast,color and abstract shapes (“Op Art”).Ops greatest success was in 1965, when the Museumof Modern Art exhibited the style in The Responsive Eye show, which showcased123 paintings and sculptures by various artists such as Victor Vasarely,Bridget Riley, Jesus Rafael Soto, and Josef Albers (Op-Art.co.uk).
Victor Vasarely, Bridget Riley, and Jesus RafaelSoto where key Op artists that dazzled museum attendees with theirincorporation art and science. Art criticssuch as Clement Greenberg vehemently opposed the movement. The exhibition castdoubt on the movement, since the artistic interests were so different from eachother; for example Albers was not an Op artist, but he was included forincorporating illusion in his art. The Op label seemed too broad.
(“Opart – Art Term”). INFLUENCESOp was influenced by Bauhaus ideals of form followsfunction. William Seitz, who documented Op Art in 1962 called it a generator ofperceptual responses. Op was designed to provoke sensations in the spectator bytricking the human eye. Illusion is common to art, but Op exploited thecapability of the viewer to complete images in their mind by effecting thenormal perceptual process (trompe l’oeil). Op was influenced by AbstractExpressionism to entice a feeling in the audience, but it left any kind ofrepresentation behind to create an experience (Op-Art.
co.uk).It can be seen as descendant of Impressionism andPost-Impressionism, for artists like Seurat rejected palette mixing. Seuratused pure colors of dots next to each other, to allow the eye of the viewer tomix them in their mind. Op would push this idea even further. Artists in the Opmovement made technique and subject matter inseparable (ThoughtCo).JosefAlbers and Victor Vasarely, Hungarian-born French painter (1908-97) were hugeinfluences on Op art.
Albers explored the expressive potential of color morethan any living artist. He demonstrated relativity of color in his paintingseries “Homage to the Square”, and he embraced the deception of color to appearsimilar and different in relation (“Op Art”).Vasarely is an early pioneer of Op Art, in 1938with his Zebras utilizing photographismes (black and white line drawings) thatcaused illusionary effects on the eye. He created disorientation throughsyncopated rhythms and geometric patterns (ThoughtCo).He believed the experience of the work outweighed the meaning.
This isimportant to note while viewing Op art. He applied the term cinetic art notkinetic art. Cinetic art referred to the illusion of movement. This was used byJR Soto who created Op sculptures that moved based on the viewers interactionwith object. Vasarely sought to create art that captured the modern times. But,color is where the full power of Op art was realized. Color contrasts ingeometric shapes caused retinal vibrations within the spectator (ThoughtCo).
STYLES(ThoughtCo)Op Art fools the eye. Op compositions create visual tension. It is flat,static, and two-dimensional, but the human eye tells the brain that the objectmoves. Op Art isnot reality. Op Art is abstract.Artists do not attempt to depict anything we know in real life. Op Art is not chance.
The elements picked for maximum effect in eachcolor, line, and shape in the overall composition. It takes a great deal of thoughtto successfully create artwork in the Op style. Consider most of it was handdone, at large scales.Op Art has specific techniques. They used perspective and juxtaposition of colorto achieve effective optical illusions. The color may be chromatic (hues) orachromatic (black, white, or gray), or bold, complementary and high-contrastfor a full visual experience for the viewer.
. Op Art does not blend colors. The lines and shapes are defined. Artists do notuse shading. Two high-contrast colors placed next to each other to trick theeye into seeing movement.Op Art uses negative space.
The positive and negative spaces in a composition makethe illusion plausible. Op artists used negative space as they do the positive. COLORThere are three major classes of the interaction ofcolor: simultaneous contrast, successive contrast, and reverse contrast (orassimilation).
Simultaneous contrast may take place when one areaof color is surrounded by another area of a different color. Successivecontrast, one color is viewed and then another. This may be achieved either byfixing the eye steadily on one color and then quickly replacing that color withanother. Reverse contrast (assimilation) the lightness of white or the darknessof black may seem to spread into neighboring regions. A NEWMOVE Op artists were concerned with the explored the physiologicalresponse of the eye. They developed abstract works that caused after-images,moire effects (wavy patterns) and dazzling(ThoughtCo).Op art had no ideology, and the range of interests made the Op label veryuncomfortable. It was more of a technique that the artists that used it gavetheir reasoning.
Therefore, its origin and end blurs with other movements likeKinetic art. Op artists used black and white to produce thegreatest contrast in their designs, since this caused the greatest struggle tothe eye to discern which element of the composition is in the foreground andwhich is in the background (ThoughtCo).Bridget Riley created black and white undulatingstriped paintings through a systematic process to etcetera, trick the eye tosee something that does not exist (“Opart”). IMPACTTheantecedents of Op can be traced back to Neo-impressionism, Cubism, Futurism,Constructivism and Dada. Its complex perceptual effects created by Op artistswere embraced by the general public, but art critics considered it a gimmick. Commercialsuccess led to the decline of the movement, since artists discovered that theirdesigns were borrowed by American clothing manufacturers. Op artelements were made into posters, t-shirts and book illustrations. Audiences whoembraced the movement would reject it as eye trickery.
The Op movement in a lifespanof around three years lost popularity by 1968, but its exploration ofsystematic optical effects are still incorporated in visual art andarchitecture. The artists sought to create a unique experience through intensesensuality not intellectual content (ThoughtCo). Structural Constellation (1913)Artist: Josef AlbersAlbers experiments with the perceptionof space by arranging simple lines to create an indistinct sense of depth. The black rectangular shapesintersect in various angles to disorient the viewer’s perception of space. The piece is 2D and notstylistically rendered, but the viewer interprets unstable dimensions. Albersrejected the label “Op art,” and his Bauhaus background inclined himto be interested in a very rational investigation of color, yet he embraced theusefulness of tricking the eye (The Museum of Modern Art).
In the Museum of Modern Art, NewYork Duo- 2 (1967)Artist: Victor VasarelyThe warm and cool shades of colorcreate the illusion of three-dimensional structures. The concave, or convexshapes blur the lines of reality, but one needs to remember it is a paintedimage, despite its volumetric assembly. Vasarely used black and white todeliver his more memorable Op images like Zebras Color interested many Opartists. The scientific study of color wascentral to teaching at the Bauhaus, and Vasarely benefited from his educationat the “Budapest Bauhaus.” Bauhaus teachers such as Albersencouraged students to think beyond the symbolism of colors, which was veryimportant in art, but the effects that color had on the eye was worth moreexploration (Masterworks Fine Art).Gouache and acrylic on board -Private Collection Blaze (1964)Artist: Bridget Riley (b.
1931)Zigzag black and white lines in createthe perception of a circular attire. The image tricks the brain that thepattern shifts back and forth. Her work would wave before the audience, andcritics found something feminine about her abstract work (“Op art – Art Term”).The interlocking lines add depthto the form as it rhythmically curves around. Thecurator Joe Houston has argued that works such as Blaze “trigger in theviewer an experience equivalent to an atmospheric electric charge; not anillusion, but an “event.” (ThoughtCo)She disliked thecommercialization of her work, probably due to her early career as a graphicdesigner. Rileyherself has said, “My work has developed on the basis of empiricalanalyses and syntheses, and I have always believed that perception is the mediumthrough which states of being are directly experienced.” (ThoughtCo)Screen print on paper – TheInstitute of Contemporary Prints Houston Penetrable 2004-2014 (IdeelArt)The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston(Houston, Texas)Artist: Jesus Rafael SotoThe artist investigates light,movement and space.
He initially spoke of them as “enveloping works”—art thatwould give people a sense of the shape and density of space (IdeelArt).The space was a field that had tobe experienced with the eyes, the entire body, and the senses. French artcritic Jean Clay was the first to call them Penetrables (meaning, in French andSpanish, “to get into” or “to walk through”), a term that Soto then adopted (IdeelArt).Soto used art to make people seethe world differently, to make them experience moving through it. Spectatorsentering a Penetrable redefine their relationship to the space, and they mustreconfigure their sense of height and width.
The Houston Penetrable was Soto’smost ambitious work. It uses clear tubes with a huge yellow ellipse at itscenter. The design and immense scale made the piece extremely difficult to produce.After more than five years, the Museum helped Soto in Paris to construct what hisfinal project (IdeelArt).