Op Art

Optical Art or Op Art is a method of painting or drawing which concerns the interaction between the painted or drawn plane and illusion created within the eye of the observer. It is about what we see compared to what we understand ourselves to see. Op art is a form of abstract art which in the beginning was often just a high contrast black and white drawing or painting giving the impression of movement, hidden images, flashing or vibrating patterns or an alternating or swelling and warping.

While the foundations of Op Art developed earlier out of the Constructivist School of Art it came out as a new artistic movement during the mid 1960s when Time Magazine first referred to Optical Art as Op Art, which was understood as comprised of an illusion that moved and breathed due to a mathematically precise composition on the canvas. Abstract Impressionism which developed earlier may have also contributed to the development of Op Art. The original Optical Art required a certain level of mathematical precision, planning and technical skill in its production. Computers were not then available. Now Op Art or rather Digital Op Art can be, in principle, created by relatively young children.

Op Art exists to confuse the eye. While any Op Art piece is flat, unmoving and two dimensional, the eye receives the message that what it is seeing is oscillating, flickering or throbbing. Color, line and shape are all chosen with careful arrangement between contrasting colors or black and whites (positive and negative tone). The main theme is to repeat simple forms or colors to create effects through a visual confusion of foreground-background, exaggerating the sense of depth or other visual effects. Op Art still appeals to those interested in the nature of perception and in how optical effects create illusions. Abstract patterns with stark contrasts intended to confuse and somehow excite our visual sensations have also been referred to as “kinetic art.” In it’s early days, critics referred the purposes of Op Art as gimmicks and thus tainted the field of Op Art, though it’s popularity continued to increase. Op Art has emerged again in the first five years of this century when it was also referred to as Pseudorealism. Further discussion of Op Art pieces in which two or more highly contrasting colors art juxtaposed can provoke an unusual sense of depth in an illusion which promotes the third dimension. It appears in some cases as though the artistic work is invading the eye. This has led to further discussion of the nature of color in artistic works and how color elicit visual effects in the observer.

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