No one part takes on a greater importance than
any other. All the components appear to stay on
the same plane spatially—no element gives the
illusion of receding into deeper space or extending outwards. There’s no mirroring of any two
elements. Striving to create an art of dynamic
equilibrium, Mondrian rejected the use of symmetry for its static (or “lifeless”) expression.
Look closely at the black lines. There’s noth-
For Mondrian, the structure
emerges from intuition and
from careful, reflective working
and reworking of the
The closer we look, the more subtle the
composition becomes. It is not based on any calculated mathematical formula. For Mondrian,
the structure emerges from intuition and from
careful, reflective working and reworking of the
interrelationships between the elements. There
is a sense of dynamic tension in which every
element seems to be at maximum intensity.
Tableau with Large Red Plane, Blue, Black,
Light Green and Greyish Blue (1921) is a perfect
square within which Mondrian has positioned
eleven rectangles of varying sizes. The parts are
organized in a framework of black lines that
seem to “lock” everything in place. No curves,
no diagonals disturb the basic clarity of expression.
A Closer Look
Mondrian was seeking an art of stability and
balance in contrast to what he considered ever-changing surface appearances.
Stella Paul, museum educator in charge of exhibitions and communication, The Metropolitan
Museum of Art.
Piet Mondrian: The Transatlantic Paintings
(see especially “career” section).
Sabine Rewald, The Metropolitan Museum
of Art website. www.metmuseum.org/
Paul, Stella. 20th-Century Art: A Resource
for Educators, The Metropolitan Museum
of Art, 1999 (includes excerpts from Mondrian’s writings).
Everything matters in this art of rigor and
clarity. Mondrian has created an ideal geometry to express his view about universal laws
of art and of life.
ing formulaic in their arrangement. Sometimes the lines create a border all the way
around a shape. Sometimes they encase only
part of it, leaving one side unbounded. At
times the line is free-floating and doesn’t
even delimit a rectangle. Sometimes the line
stops partway. Look at the bottom edge on
the right, where the yellow and blue shapes
meet. Here the black extends only partway
down their border.
SchoolArts December 2006
Mondrian believed that form had a symbolic
meaning, expressing a vision of harmony with
larger forces of the universe. Read passages from
his manifesto and try to make his case (in your
own words) for how the form of a work can
express such lofty ideals. Now consider your own
views. Do you feel that the form or structure of
any artwork could possibly have such power to
express a philosophical idea? Make your case for
answering yes or no in a debate, individual verbal
presentations, or short written essays.
A manifesto is a formal written declaration that
provides definitions of artistic principles, and the
reasons for choosing them. Mondrian wrote one
and named his new art Neoplasticism. Divide
into workgroups. Each workgroup should establish some binding artistic principles and create
a manifesto that outlines them. Don’t forget to
make up a name for your group!
Mondrian used only straight lines and edges, and
the lines intersect at 90-degree angles. Talk about
vocabulary, including the words horizontal,
vertical, and rectangle. Depending on level, introduce
parallel lines, perpendicular, symmetry or
diagonal. Have students consider where straight lines
and rectangles exist in the world (natural and
human-made), listing examples. Ask for examples
of straight, wavy, meandering, zig-zag, and curvy
lines. Have students make two compositions. The
first uses any kind of line. The second is strictly
limited to straight lines. Ask them: Do you need
to use a ruler or tape to keep the lines straight, or