Kinetic Art

Around since the 1910’s gained more popularity in the early 50’s.

Kinetic art marked an important revival of the tradition of Constructivism, or Constructive art, that had been a presence in modern art since the 1910s. Parts of the movement also revived its utopian optimism, talking once again of the potential for art to spread into new areas of everyday life and to embrace technology in ways appropriate to the modern world.

But the movement also borrowed much from Dada, and in this respect parts of it were highly skeptical about the potential of technology to improve human life. Artists who were inspired by Dada used their work to express a more satirical attitude to machines and movement. They suggested that rather than being humanity’s helpmate, the machine might become her master.

Kinetic art – art that depends on movement for its effects – has its origins in the Dadaist and Constructivist movements that emerged in the 1910s. It flourished into a lively avant-garde trend which attracted a wide international following.

At its heart were artists who were fascinated by the possibilities of movement in art – its potential to create new and more interactive relationships with the viewer and new visual experiences. It inspired new kinds of art that went beyond the boundaries of the traditional, handcrafted, static object, encouraging the idea that the beauty of an object could be the product of optical illusions or mechanical movement.

Important Pieces:

Arc of Petals (1941)


Artist: Alexander Calder

Painted and unpainted sheet aluminum, iron wire, and copper rivets – Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, Italy


Homage to New York (fragment) (1960)


Artist: Jean Tinguely

Painted metal, wood, rubber tires – Destroyed

Artwork description & Analysis: Homage to New York was constructed in three weeks in 1960 in the garden of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and involved the talents of several artists and engineers, among them Robert Rauschenberg. It was blown to pieces in a public performance of noise and light in only 27 minutes. Consisting of several mechanized parts that result in the self-destruction of the artwork, it contained pieces of metal, wheels, bicycle horns, and motors. The parts jutted out into space to create an entanglement of abstracted forms. The machine fragments worked together to complete tasks that eventually led to its destruction. Homage to New York is typical of the anarchic and satirical side of the Kinetic art movement, and reflects the skepticism among many of its followers about the possibility of mechanization and modernization. Homage to New York is like a mechanized Frankenstein that turns on its own and destroys itself in a parable for the modern world.


Some examples of kinetic art projects you could do.





Another kind of art that was popular at this same time was Op Art. Optical art.

Here’s a tutorial we can try.


Color Field Painting

Color Field Painting marks a major development in abstract painting, since it was the first style to resolutely avoid the suggestion of a form or mass standing out against a background. Instead, figure and ground are one, and the space of the picture, conceived as a field, seems to spread out beyond the edges of the canvas.

The style was championed most enthusiastically by critic Clement Greenberg, who acclaimed the advances it achieved in the realm of form and composition. Bemoaning what he saw as the increasingly imitative, academic qualities of some action painters, he argued that Color Field Painting represented the way forward. His advocacy of the style proved highly influential.

Clement Greenberg was perhaps the first to identify and celebrate the emergence of Color Field Painting. He did the most to explore it in his 1955 essay, ‘American-Type Painting,’ in which he argued that the style advanced a tendency in modern painting to apply color in large areas or ‘fields.’ He considered this particularly important since it returned to what he saw as one of the most important innovations of the Impressionists – the suppression of value contrasts (contrasts of light and dark hues), to describe depth and volume. Many Abstract Expressionists adopted an “all-over” approach to composition – approaching the canvas as a field, rather than as a window in which to depict figures – but none pushed this as far as the color field painters.

Other Artist

East-West (1963)


Artist: Kenneth Noland

Artwork description & Analysis: Kenneth Noland is often known for his exacting symmetry. Throughout his career he shifted from targets to chevrons to stripes, and experimented with many other styles in between (most notably the shaped canvas), but he always maintained a visual balance to his work.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art 1870-1970 (1970)


Artist: Frank Stella

Artwork description & Analysis: By 1970, Color Field artists like Frank Stella, Kenneth Noland and the late Morris Louis had long established their style as the next phase in modern abstraction. Stella in particular was best known for his Color Field spectrums, in which bands of varying colors were situated in such a way as to render the canvas a three-dimensional field of pure color. What made these paintings unique, and thus a distinctive characteristic of most Color Field work, was the absence of any representation or figurative forms.


Nature Abhors a Vacuum (1973)


Artist: Helen Frankenthaler

Artwork description & Analysis: Helen Frankenthaler played a crucial role in the evolution of Color Field Painting. Some time in or around 1952, Clement Greenberg invited Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland to pay a visit to Frankenthaler’s studio in order to witness her technique of staining untreated canvas with paint. This seminal moment marked a turning point for Abstract Expressionism, and soon this new group of artists were simplifying the painting process by applying large bands (or waves, circles, lines, etc.) of uniform color to the canvas, and Color Field Painting advanced further.


No. 2, Green, Red and Blue (1953)


Artist: Mark Rothko

Artwork description & Analysis: Although Rothko never considered himself a Color Field painter, his signature approach – balancing large portions of washed colors – matches up to critics’ understanding of the style. Rothko considered color to be a mere instrument that served a greater purpose. He believed his fields of color were spiritual planes that could tap into our most basic human emotions. For Rothko, color evoked emotion. Therefore each of Rothko’s works was intended to evoke different meanings depending on the viewer. In the time No. 2, Green, Red and Blue was made, Rothko was still using lighter tones, but as more years passed and Rothko’s mental health increasingly declined, his Color Fields were constituted by somber blacks, blues, and grays.

Information gathered from:

Abstract Expressionism


Abstract Expressionism” was never an ideal label for the movement, which developed in New York in the 1940s and 1950s. It was somehow meant to encompass not only the work of painters who filled their canvases with fields of color and abstract forms, but also those who attacked their canvases with a vigorous gestural (the use of movement to express thought) expressionism. Still Abstract Expressionism has become the most accepted term for a group of artists who held much in common. All were committed to art as expressions of the self, born out of profound emotion and universal themes, and most were shaped by the legacy of Surrealism, a movement that they translated into a new style fitted to the post-war mood of anxiety and trauma. In their success, these New York painters robbed Paris of its mantle as leader of modern art, and set the stage for America’s dominance of the international art world.

Key Ideas:

Political instability in Europe in the 1930s brought several leading Surrealists to New York, and many of the Abstract Expressionists were profoundly influenced by Surrealism’s focus on mining the unconscious. It encouraged their interest in myth and archetypal symbols and it shaped their understanding of painting itself as a struggle between self-expression and the chaos of the subconscious.
Most of the artists associated with Abstract Expressionism matured in the 1930s. They were influenced by the era’s leftist politics, and came to value an art grounded in personal experience.
Having matured as artists at a time when America suffered economically and felt culturally isolated and provincial, the Abstract Expressionists were later welcomed as the first authentically American avant-garde (new and unusual or experimental ideas.) Their art was championed for being emphatically American in spirit – monumental in scale, romantic in mood, and expressive of a rugged individual freedom.
Although the movement has been largely depicted throughout historical documentation as one belonging to the paint-splattered, heroic male artist, there were several important female Abstract Expressionists that arose out of New York and San Francisco during the 1940s and ’50s who now receive credit as elemental members of the canon.
Important Pieces:
Mountains and Sea (1952) is one of  Helen Frankenthaler’s most important works and first major paintings executed when she was only twenty-three. Not only is it monumental in size at 7 x 10 feet; it also reflects the artist’s departure from traditional mediums and surface and the onset of her signature technique. Rather than treating paint as a layer meant to sit on top of the canvas, she thinned oils (and later switched to acrylics) with turpentine to the consistency of watercolor. She would then place large swaths of unprimed canvas onto the floor and through a highly physical dance of pouring, dripping, sponging, rolling and mopping, would apply the liquid washes. The effect was one of staining – the paint would completely sink into the canvas creating an integrated, transparent effect. Much like the other Abstract Expressionists, this process allowed for both control and spontaneity.

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Excavation (1950) is one of Willem de Kooning’s most renowned works, and a true depiction of his Abstract Expressionist style. In it, we see a multitude of outlined forms that are abstractions of familiar shapes right on the periphery of recognition: fishes, birds, jaws, eyes and teeth. De Kooning has said of his work, “I paint this way because I can keep putting more and more things in – drama, anger, pain, love, a figure, a horse, my ideas about space.” After this frenzied pile up of imagery, de Kooning would then, with signature chaos and deliberation, remove, scrape and add paint until he unearthed what he wanted. The resulting piece presented a true excavation of the artist’s mind and movements in the moment.

De Kooning remains one of the most seminal gestural “action painters” who worked often with broad brushstrokes and in light, pastel palettes. He sought authenticity of experience, not only in the making of his paintings but also in the representation of the experience on canvas.

Oil and enamel on canvas – The Art Institute of Chicago


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 Jackson Pollock, Number 1 (Lavender Mist) is one of thirty-two paintings that debuted in Pollock’s 1950 solo exhibition at Betty Parson’s New York gallery and was the only painting that sold. In it, a chaotic composition of black, white, russet, orange, silver and stone blue industrial paint is built up in random web-like layers that blend visually together to give off the illusion of a lavender glow.

The piece is exemplary of Pollock’s famous “drip” works in which paint was poured, splattered and applied by the artist in an extremely physical fashion from above to a canvas which lay on the ground. This process of expressing an internal emotional turbulence through gesture, line, texture, and composition represented a breakthrough for Pollock in his career and helped put the New York School of painters to which he belonged on the map. These paintings became the impetus for critic Rosenberg’s coining of the term “action painting.” This type of unlikely combination of chance and control became tantamount to Abstract Expressionism’s evolution.

Oil on canvas – National Gallery, Washington DC


It’s all in your mind…

Art and dreams collide in the Surrealist Movement.

The Surrealists sought to channel the unconscious as a means to unlock the power of the imagination. Disdaining rationalism and literary realism, and powerfully influenced by psychoanalysis, the Surrealists believed the rational mind repressed the power of the imagination, weighting it down with taboos. Influenced also by Karl Marx, they hoped that the psyche had the power to reveal the contradictions in the everyday world and spur on revolution. Their emphasis on the power of personal imagination puts them in the tradition of Romanticism, but unlike their forebears, they believed that revelations could be found on the street and in everyday life. The Surrealist impulse to tap the unconscious mind, and their interests in myth and primitivism, went on to shape many later movements, and the style remains influential to this today.


Surrealist imagery is probably the most recognizable element of the movement, yet it is also the most elusive to categorize and define. Each artist relied on their own recurring motifs arisen through their dreams or/and unconscious mind. At its basic, the imagery is outlandish, perplexing, and even uncanny, as it is meant to jolt the viewer out of their comforting assumptions. Nature, however, is the most frequent imagery: Max Ernst was obsessed with birds and had a bird alter ego, Salvador Dalí’s works often include ants or eggs, and Joan Miró relied strongly on vague biomorphic imagery.