What Is Neoplasticism?

Neoplasticism was a twentieth-century modern art movement whose proponents emphasized the fundamentals of art in their search for new ways to express themselves in the Machine Age. This art theory, also known as the De Stijl movement (Dutch for “style”), favored abstract art that avoided realism and emotional content. Piet Mondrian is probably the most well-known Neoplasticism artist.

Neoplasticism’s artists favored visual art’s basic elements and principles, such as line, shape, color, balance, and unity. Their work was non-objective, in the sense that it didn’t depict anything from the real world. Many modern art movements shared this interest in pure aesthetics. Neoplastic artists believed that their work should express universal truth and harmony, which was partly a reaction to the turmoil in the world. During World War I, the Neoplasticism movement arose around 1916 or 1917.

Although Piet Mondrian is often credited with being the driving force behind Neoplasticism, the movement’s emergence in the Netherlands appears to have been more of a collaborative effort. Another artist, Theo van Doesburg, as well as several architects and sculptors who used Neoplasticism principles heavily influenced Mondrian’s work. Despite this, Mondrian is the movement’s most well-known artist. His sparse painting compositions in his later years were largely limited to the three primary colors — red, yellow, and blue — as well as black and white. Though he occasionally strayed from primary colors, his style was defined horizontal and vertical lines, right angles, and geometric shapes.

Mondrian published “Neo-Plasticism in Pictorial Art” in 1919, an essay that summarized his thoughts on modern art aesthetics. Mondrian went on to have a long and fruitful career as an artist. He lived in Paris and London for a short time. Mondrian moved to New York City in 1938 to get away from the turmoil of World War II. He became involved in the artistic community there and had a large influence on a younger generation of artists who began the Abstract Expressionist movement in the 1940s.

The Abstract Expressionists, like Mondrian, were influenced the devastations of war. Many of these artists adopted Mondrian’s artistic principles, especially the pursuit of universal truth and harmony through non-objective art. While their work differed significantly from Mondrian’s, the Abstract Expressionists remained committed to the fundamental elements and principles of visual art.