Summary of Neo-Plasticism
Neo-Plasticism, articulated most completely by Dutch artist Piet Mondrian, relied on the most basic elements of painting - color, line, and form - to convey universal and absolute truths. Mondrian advocated for the use of austere geometry and color to create asymmetrical but balanced compositions that conveyed the harmony underlying reality. As with many avant-garde styles of the early-20th century, a utopian vision of society underlay Neo-Plastic theory. Embracing the elemental forms of composition and the merging of painting and architecture, Neo-Plasticism strove to transform society by changing the way people saw and experienced their environment.
Key Ideas & Accomplishments
- Instead of representations of natural forms, Neo-Plasticism relied on the relationships between line and color to emulate the opposing forces that structured nature and reality. Neo-Plastic compositions juxtapose horizontal and vertical lines along with the primary colors of red, yellow, and blue against the non-colors of black, white, and grey to produce timeless balance.
- Neo-Plasticism abolished the figure-ground dichotomy by using an irregular grid structure that resisted arranging the pictorial elements into a hierarchy. This all-over composition created a unity that Mondrian felt underscored the disharmony of the surrounding environment.
- Mondrian and other Neo-Plastic artists thought that the merging of painting, architecture, and design would hasten the coming of an ordered and harmonious society. They intended that this utopic vision, coming from the "dynamic equilibrium" sought out in Neo-Plastic paintings, would spread to the interior of the studio, to the home, the street, and the city, and eventually to all of the world.
Overview of Neo-Plasticism
From 1909-1910 Mondrian painted in a Neo-Impressionist style and carefully studied Georges Seurat's scientific methodology and color theory that emphasized the use of contrasting primary colors. During this time, he also joined the Dutch Theosophical Society and remained a member all his life. The writings of the theosophists Madame Blavatsky, Rudolph Steiner and M. H. J. Schoenmaekers's Beginselen der Beeldende Wiskunde (The Principles of Plastic Mathematics) both influenced and echoed the aesthetic theory that Mondrian was then developing. Particularly influential was Schoenmaeker's view that, "The two fundamental and absolute extremes that shape our planet are: on the one hand the line of the horizontal force, namely the trajectory of the Earth around the Sun, and on the other vertical and essentially spatial movement of the rays that issue from the center of the Sun...the three essential colors are yellow, blue, and red." The use of horizontal and vertical lines and primary colors became fundamental principles of Neo-Plasticism. Mondrian even borrowed one of Schoenmaeker's phrases, "de nieuwe beelding," which literally means "new image creation" or "new art," as the name for his new art style.