Have you ever stood in front of one of those “hidden picture” works – the ones that are supposed to have a dolphin hidden in the field of flowers or something like that? I’ve never quite been able to figure those out, but I have always had a thing for optical illusions. Those are the basis of the Op Art movement.
In the 1960s, the art world went through some rapid changes. In the span of just a few decades, styles and methods ran the spectrum from Post-Impressionism to Cubism to Abstract to Pop Art. That’s a pretty huge change!
On the heels of the Pop Art movement, which included artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, the Op Art movement arose. Op Art stands for “Optical Art,” and is actually the descendant of methods that go back hundreds of years.
Another type of art that came out of Op Art is Kinetic Art, which is basically Op Art in 3D, sculptural form. Both are really pretty fascinating!
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- Op Art is founded in a centuries-old method called trample l’oeil, which is French for “fool the eye.” It was originally used to make two-dimensional canvases seem three-dimensional. Many classical artists were amazing at this technique! Learn more about it and try it out for yourself!
- Learn about the beginnings of the Op Art movement and the artists who took part in it.
- What else was going on at this time? Op Art and Kinetic Art were huge in the 1960s and 1970s. Check it out, and be sure to record it on your timeline!
- Make some Op Art for yourself!
- You can also try some Kinetic Art! There are lots of fun ways to do this – with a sculpture, mobile, or even a collection of works!
- And another fun Kinetic Art activity!
- Find some images of Op Art on Google Images and select a few you’d like to try. Figure out the shapes and patterns behind them and make your own masterpiece!
- Op Art and Kinetic Art are great vehicles for STEAM activities! Here’s a fun engineering challenge. How can you expand on it even further?
- Much of Op Art is based in geometry. Many pieces are based on tessellation patterns. Tessellations are patterns of one or two shapes that all seem to interconnect, almost so you can’t tell where one ends and the next starts. Choose a simple shape and make a tessellation piece. (Note – quilting templates work really well for this!) Then, color in the pattern in colors that strongly contrast each other. Stand back an admire your work!
- Did you know that many quilts are actually based on Op Art? Do a little research, either online or in a quilt magazine, to find a pattern that you like. Working off of that, recreate it using pieces of colored paper, like origami squares. Or if you’re really ambitious, use the inspiration to make a small quilt top of your own!
Learn more out about some artists who work in Op Art and Kinetic Art!
- Bridget Riley
- Victor Vasarely
- Jesus Rafael Soto
- Jean-Pierre Vasarely Yvaral
- Alexander Calder
- Peter Fischli
Pop-Up Art: Vasarely – A 3D Pop-Up book of Victor Vasarely’s Op Art Masterpieces. This one is just too much fun!
Sandy’s Circus – A picture book about the life and art of kinetic artist Alexander (Sandy) Calder.
Discovering Great Artists – One of my favorite resources for teaching art history! This book has some really great projects.
Share Your Masterpiece!
I would love to hear how your unit study and projects go – please comment below and let me know! And to help you keep track of what you learn, I’ve designed a set of Art History notebooking pages!
Edgar Degas (+ free art visuals of Degas’ Dancers!)
Claude Monet (+ free art history cards!)