Concrete Art

Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University


Theo Van Doesburg, Dutch founder of De Stilj, defined Concrete Art in a 1930 manifesto. Art “should receive nothing from nature’s formal properties or from sensuality or sentimentality. We want to exclude lyricism, dramaticism, symbolism, etc…. The picture should be constructed entirely from purely plastic elements, that is to say planes and colours. A pictorial element has no other significance than ‘itself’ and therefore the picture has no other significance than ‘itself’…. Technique should be mechanical, that is to say, anti-impressionistic” (qtd. in Dempsey 159).

This movement lasted from the 1930s to the 1950s, but its principles seem somewhat reincarnated in subsequent late-century movements. Concrete artists wanted nothing “abstracted from” nature, nothing nationalistic or romantic. Instead, they aimed for art as the product of not the Surrealist irrational mind but of the rational conscious mind of the artist, free from illusion or symbolism. Art was to be an entity in itself rather than vehicle for spiritual or political ideas. Concrete are is geometrically abstract painting and sculpture. The artists loved grids and geometric shapes, and they used scientific concepts or mathematical formulae for “inspiration.”

In later international years, Concrete Art held its own independence from the new Existential attitude to matter and gesture. It remained cool, impersonal, and precise.

Theo Van Doesburg (1884-1931)

In 1917 he and Piet Mondrian founded De Stilj: flat, primary, geometrical art.

Arithmetic A sense of movement and perspective is created by the black squares on the stark white background. Van Doesburg uses a simple mathematical equation: the sides of each square and the distance between them = half the size of the preceding square. He creates a three-dimensional effect on the two-dimensional surface and perhaps shows his architecture interest.

Max Bill (1908-1994)

Emphasis is on real materials, real space. Scientific concepts or mathematical formulae serve as the starting point. The piece consists of arrangements of grids and geometric shapes.

Works Consulted

The Art Book. London: Phaidon Press Ltd., 1996.

Dempsey, Amy. Art in the Modern Era: A Guide to Styles, Schools & Movements. NY: Harry N. Abrams Inc., Pub., 2002.