De Stijl: The Philosophy In Art

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I came across this statement in one of my graphic design modules which we were studying about the history of art and design. It is quite interesting and I do feel that this applies to contemporary art in varying degrees.

“Piet Mondrian’s art consists of painting in horizontal and vertical lines with basic colours filled up in the spaces created by the intersection of the lines. Surely such a simplistic style does not deserve the artistic merit it has attained in the history of art. Anyone could have created such a piece of art.”

I do not agree with this statement. I personally feel that an art movement does not develop or form without a reason. There has to be some aspects of society that affects people’s way of thinking and their urge to be honest and open with themselves through expressionism through art.

Why do people create art in this way? Instead of using curvy lines, swirls and strong vibrant colours to illuminate their artwork and draw people’s attention towards it, why do these artists insist on using only three colours and only straight solid lines?

Just like the Art Nouveau movement, the philosophy behind it is that people want to express their rejection for machinery. When artists believe in something, they follow it and acts upon their beliefs as guidance to create the art and message they want to tell. And when this philosophy reached many artists across the region, it continues to reach many areas across the world, hence births the development of an art movement.

Therefore, the development of this unique De Stijl movement must have its reasons. I believe art can come in any shape and size and is limitless, whether it is simple or composed of sophisticated lines and colours.

Sometimes, it is not just the aesthetics of art that makes it valuable. It is the thinking behind it and the discovery of why artists want to create art in this specific style that makes it very interesting and meaningful.

The historical circumstances of the early twentieth century Europe caused many artists to retreat from their society in reaction to its turmoil. This is the philosophy behind the Art Deco movement.

However, for the De Stijl movement, the philosophy is that artists sought to find solutions instead of retreating from turmoil. They pursued a vision whereby art has the ability to improve mankind. They realise these ideals by shifting the focus of art towards the rejection of materialism.

Abstraction was a collective goal with emphasis placed upon the spiritual properties of colour and eradication of figurative forms. Art for the ones driving the De Stijl movement, has a new mission. It was to pave the way to realisation of universal harmony. I believe WWI was viewed as the catalyst for a new society. The “old” must make way for the “new”. The De Stijl movement consists of simple straight lines and only the limit of using three primary colours. It is a great breakthrough to modern art, which in other words, a “new” art for this “new” society and a rejection of superficial decoration.

Primary colours harmonise each other, just like how these artists idealise the new world, where people live together and strive for a harmonious society. I find that the twentieth century saw a society in chaos transform artists into idealists.

Artists sought a solution to the materialism and corruption of the world through art and wishes to express their ideals for harmony and unity. “We speak of concrete and not abstract painting because nothing is more concrete, more real than a line, a color, a surface.” as mentioned by Theo van Doesburg, a De Stijl artist known as the founding father of De Stijl.

His words suggest how he feels about the realistic world we are living in and with this, he has expressed his feelings about the realistic society through the De Stijl movement. With this vision in mind, I believe De Stijl artist, Piet Mondrian turned to abstract and simplistic images to deny the influences of external references and to promote a universal language. Mondrian sought equilibrium between the opposing forces of lines and colours, setting forth a journey towards a new society of universal harmony.

In conclusion, as simple as the De Stijl art movement looks to the common eye, it has a very expressive and revolutionary meaning behind it. Such a strong philosophy through simple artworks makes me find Mondrian and artists of the De Stijl movement very inspiring and definitely deserve a high artistic merit.

I believe it will be a very eye opening, enriching experience for the public to view art as an idea, a cultural reference and not merely for aesthetic purposes.

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