Tag Archives: op-art

Bauhaus Art School

Are you impressed to learn about the invention of Op-Art?

The modern art style, best associated with the art and theory of Josef Albers, influenced an artistic evolution throughout the 20th century, and continues to impact the 21st century as well.

But did you know that this trendy new art form started in Germany in the early 1900’s? Even more, it was created and taught at a school that was also a forerunner for architecture, graphic design, interior design, industrial design, and typography.

The famous school of art, called Bauhaus, existed in three different parts of Germany between the years of 1919 and 1933. This seems like a short period of time to have such a strong influence on the world. However, the principal thoughts and practices that encouraged artists at Bauhaus traveled with them and spread throughout the world when many of the practicing students and teachers had to emigrate during Nazi control.

The Bauhaus art school was known as a “House of Construction” or a “School of Building.” Even though studies in architecture were not implemented until later, the school built its values on the idea that creating a “total” work of art incorporates multiple elements of art.

A good example of this is optical art’s use of three types of elements: optical illusions, canvas painting, and color. Perhaps it was this concept of completeness that catapulted the Bauhaus style into success, becoming one of the most influential styles in modern art, design and architecture.

Another thought that contributed to the success of Bauhaus was the founding philosophical principle of constructivism. This term originated in Russia and commonly associated with the idea that art could contribute to a better society. With major political and economic shifts happening all over the world, especially in Europe, people learned they could express themselves and propel a positive message with art. Even though there was a negative atmosphere in the world during the time of World War I and leading up to World War II, individual artists knew that art had the power to carry the significant message of peace.

In a war-torn society, Bauhaus school had much to teach. Here are some common art forms that excelled and were mastered by artists at the school between 1919 and 1933:

  • Woodworking
  • Cabinetmaking
  • Work with Metal
  • Ceramics
  • Weaving
  • Printing and typography
  • Theater
  • Drawing
  • Painting
  • Photography
  • Architecture
Bauhaus art school existed at a poignant time in history. It’s location in the world and foundational European thought are two of the many reasons why it is still a reputable resource for art history today. The other reasons are artists, styles and creations that were consistently produced by the school. These are the pieces that influence modern art today, and will continue to do so evermore.

The Op-Art of Josef Albers

Josef Albers, photograph by Arnold Newman, 1948. © Arnold Newman

In a recent post, a popular art form of the 20th century was introduced. Op-Art puts thought provoking optical illusions onto a flat canvas. During the early 1900’s, the art form flourished with the creative use of lines and patterns. At the start, artists used black and white paint or ink to create captivating images; color was incorporated later. One artist and theorist at the forefront of this art style, who also pioneered the technique of adding color, was a man by the name Josef Albers.

German-born American artist, Josef Albers studied at the Bauhaus school for arts and crafts in Germany. The school existed at the time of Nazi dominance in Germany and, subsequently, closed in 1933. After spending decade at Bauhaus as an art instructor, Alber’s emigrated to the United States, where he continued his career as an artist and teacher.

After spending some time in the United States, Albers accepted a position at teaching at Yale University. It was there that Josef Albers was able to advance the graphic art program before retiring from teaching in 1958.

In the early years of his retirement, as a fellow at Yale, Albers received funding to exhibit and lecture on the art form he had done so much to advance. By this time, Albers had catapulted many artists into successful careers. The list of notable students includes Richard Anuszkiewicz and Eva Hesse. Both artists are considered major forces in the Op-Art movement that swept the world during the 1960’s and 70’s.

Aside from his artwork and teaching, Josef Albers added another form of art to his long list of talents: In 1963, his book, Interaction of Color detailed the theory behind colorful op-art. This writing built upon a foundational thought of Albers — that colors have an internal and deceptive logic all-their-own.

Albers continued to paint and write until he died in 1976. However, the impression he left on the world of art, especially as an abstract painter and theorist, continues to live and influence abstract art today. Even though much of his work is well known and recognizable, it continues to thrive because of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation. To this day, the organization supports exhibitions featuring the work of Josef Albers and his wife Anni, who was a textile artist.

The contribution Josef Albers made to the world of art is undeniable. He was successful at merging traditional European art with modern American art, to create an abstract style all his own. While his roots were grounded in the type of constructivist thinking that allowed Bauhaus school of arts and crafts to flourish, his experiences in America allowed him freedom to explore patterns and colors that are now the signature of optical art.

Op-art and graphic art continue to advance while consistently affirming Josef Albers influence. The world renowned teacher, artist, and color theorist is very much alive in the work of abstract artists today. Whether it is through his written words, paintings, or students who survived him, Albers will influence young artists for years to come.

No words can conclude a story about the life of this great man, except, perhaps his own. Alber’s was quoted as saying, “Abstraction is real, probably more real than nature. I prefer to see with closed eyes.” Others are happy to have their eyes opened by the influential life and art of Josef Albers. May his legacy and art been seen for years to come.

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Optical Illusions Create Art and Provoke Thought

Art is subjective. Individuals find themselves attracted to a certain artist, style, or theme when looking for art to inspire positive thought and decor. Upon finding the piece they consider, “just right,” one may seek to understand more about the particular picture or genre of art. However, they contrive their thoughts from a combination of what they already know, research, and see with their own two eyes.

In the early 1900’s this thought process was used to develop a new kind of art — completely subjective in form. It received the title, “op-art,” or optical art. This fresh form of art, not seen before the 20th century, used paint to create an interaction between a lively illusion and a picture plane, which is the flat canvas. Much of the art first produced in this genre (and some of the better known pieces) use only black and white paint or ink. As the art form expanded throughout the century, other elements of color and design were added.

This genre quickly evolved but remained true to its core: op-art is a perceptual experience that derives from manipulating typical visual functions. By painting an illusion onto a flat canvas there is a juxtaposition between what the eye expects to see and what it actually takes in. This is known as the figure-ground relationship.

Such a relationship exists because of edge assessment. For instance, when the boarderlines of one shape can be applied to both the outside of the shape and inside of another, an illusion is created. When placing this illusion on a flat, two-dimensional material, like a canvas, a human’s eye is especially baffled and the individual is likely to see the painting from more than one perspective.

But not all optical illusions are works of art. When an artist strives to deliberately challenge an observer’s eye with this figure-ground relationship, op-art is the goal in mind. In fact, the foundational elements of creating an artistic illusion are simple lines and patterns. With the use of color, op-art expanded because it used certain colors to change how the retina perceived an overall image.

This did not happen until the mid 1900’s, even though many artists trained in the op-art technique showed interest in applying color to their contrasting figure-ground paintings much earlier. Artists like Josef Albers, Bridget Riley, and  Julian Stanczak were eager to implement this element. Some time after color was introduced to op-art, photographers also became determined to produce op-art, in black and white, and in color photographs.

Op-art photography became popular in the 1970’s. However, this form of digital manipulation (that became easier with technological developments) lacked the foundational elements most important to op-art: Lines and patterns. For quite some time there was not enough subject matter for photographers to produce artistic illusions; lines and patterns were much easier to paint than capture.

This simplicity is what makes op-art a stroke of genius. It cannot be overlooked that the founders of this art, German artists who studied constructivist philosophy, believed thought provoking art could positively influence society. At the school of Bauhaus, where op-art first originated, great thinkers like Josef Albers developed a new way of seeing the world; by looking on both sides of the same line.

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