Op art, also known as optical art, is a style of visual art that makes use of optical illusions. Back in October 1964 there was an article in Time Magazine where they came up with the phrase ‘Optical Art.’ The term referenced the fact that Op Art is comprised of illusion, and often appears to the human eye to be moving or breathing due to its precise, mathematically-based composition
It was because of a major exhibition of Op Art in 1965 called ‘The Responsive Eye,’ that the public became enthralled with the Op Art movement. As a result, Op Art work started showing up everywhere, including in the media, in print and television advertising, on record album art and as a fashion motif in clothing and interior design.
Bridget Riley is a well known Op Art artist who has moved from achromatic to chromatic pieces, but has constantly created Op Art from when it first started to the present day.
Back in the early 1960’s artists didn’t have computers or the software required to create the digital versions we see today. Original Op Art represents a great deal of mathematics, planning and technical skill, as none of it came freshly-inked out of a computer like it does these days! Original, hand-created Op Art deserves much more respect, at the very least.
So what are the key characteristics of Op Art?
First and foremost, Op Art exists to fool the eye. Op compositions create a sort of visual tension, in the viewer's mind, that gives works the illusion of movement. For example, concentrate on Bridget Riley's Dominance Portfolio, Blue (1977) - for even a few seconds - and it begins to dance and wave in front of your eyes. Realistically, you actually ‘know’ that any Op Art piece is really flat, static and two-dimensional, yet your eye begins sending your brain the message that what it's seeing has begun to oscillate, flicker, throb and any other verb you can come up with that means moving!
The critical techniques used in Op Art are perspective and careful juxtaposition of colour whether chromatic as in identifiable hues or achromatic as in black, white or gray. Op art utilises the positive and the negative space equally unlike most other forms of visual art.
Here are some Artists known for their op art, click on their names to learn a bit more about them and to see their artwork
The little piece I have scratched out for this entry is the old women/young women, obviously not as good as the original but can you see the old lady and the young woman?