Interview with Theo van Doesburg

Theo van Doesburg
Dutch Painter, Designer, and Architect 


In 1917, Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg established the De Stijl movement – translating to ‘the style’ in Dutch. It included a utopian vision and avant-garde design. The intention of De Stijl artists is to reveal universal harmony via visual design. The movement’s core concepts include geometric shapes – such as straight lines, rectangles, and squares – and primary colors.

Today we will be speaking with Theo van Doesburg.


Q: It’s exciting to be speaking with you today, Mr. van Doesburg. How are you today?
TVD: I’m doing well, thank you.

Q: You’ve revolutionized a movement. Your beliefs were clear, concise, and strong.
TVD: Thank you. The movement initiated due to a need to communicate – we had big ideas and truths to reveal. As artists, it came out in a visual language. I coined terms like ‘neoplasticism’ to further explain the new concepts.

Q: Why did you feel the need to coin the term ‘neoplasticism’?
TVD: It can be hard to explain abstract concepts. De Stijl artists needed a vocabulary that didn’t exist to explain this new concept. ‘Neoplasticism’ is a term unique to De Stijl and articulates the visual aspects of our core set of beliefs – primary color use, geometric shapes, strong horizontal and vertical line use, and a sense of balance and harmony that is unique to this particular style.

Q: Can you explain the De Stijl movement?
TVD: De Stijl is the style we use to express our concepts. I believe that painting, architecture, and design should be integrated into one. This is what spurred the creation of De Stijl. Our goals as artists, designers, and architects include revealing the harmony of the world through the use of geometric shapes, primary color, and prominent line use.

Q: What is it about you that made you into a revolutionary?
TVD: Thank you. I prefer to think of myself as a person who has an idea to communicate – an important set of beliefs to show the workings of the universe – my purpose is clear. It’s important to share this new knowledge in a clear way that others can understand, so as to reflect the truth of the universe in art. The integration of these creative fields is a step into the future.

Q: Why was it important to you to create the new art style?
TVD: Because nothing like it existed. Prior to De Stijl, each of these creative fields were treated as being separate. We needed to articulate the laws of the universe – the harmony, the balance. To do this, minimal design elements are required – as a matter of fact, only the most basic elements reveal this truth – geometric shapes, balanced compositions, and primary colors.

Q: What do you think makes De Stijl architecture successful?
TVD: The geometric shapes and primary colors create balance. The harmony of the universe is displayed in the visuals of the structures. The structure functions as an example of design, art, and architecture reflected in one piece.

Counter Composition in Dissonance 16 (1925) 

Q: Which piece of yours do you believe reflects the ideals of the De Stijl Movement best?
TVD: Each piece reflects the concepts of the movement in its own way. My favorite piece of mine, personally, is Counter Composition in Dissonance 16 (1925). This is because it includes the use of primary color, as well as all other formal elements!

Q: What makes your pieces graphic design?
TVD: They are simple designs used to communicate an idea.

Q: Can you define ‘harmony’?
TVD: Of course. In De Stijl, ‘harmony’ refers to the balance of design elements on the page – as well as their ability to reflect the balance in the universe.

Q: Your personal take on De Stijl is Elementarism. Can you speak on this a bit?
TVD: Of course. Elementarism ‘emphasizes subtle shifts in tones, tilting squares and rectangles at angles relative to the picture plane, and allowed straight horizontal and vertical lines to be colored, varied in length, and disconnected from one another.’

Q: What are your hopes for the future of design?
TVD: That the ideas of De Stijl permeate the blanket of the world and reveal to the people that the universal harmony and art are one. I would like to see the integration of art, design, and architecture continue.

Q: Thank you so much for your time, Mr. van Doesburg.
TVD: My pleasure! Important Art and Artists of De Stijl. The Art Story Foundation. 2018. Web. Accessed March 21st, 2018.

Arithmetic Composition by Theo van Doesburg

           De Stijl Important Art by Theo van Doesburg. The Art Story Foundation. 2018. Web. Accessed March 21st, 2018.

Creative Synesthesia by Anja Musura

Arithmetic Composition – Theo van Doesburg – 1929-1930 (click to view photo of piece)

The De Stijl Movement – translating to ‘the style’ in Dutch – became established in 1917 by Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg. The artists of the movement were interested in geometric shapes – often straight lines, rectangles or squares – and primary colors. Their intention was to use their art as a vehicle ‘to reveal the laws governing the harmony of the world’ ( In De Stijl, the magazine, Mondrian defined ‘neoplasticism’ – established as the specific name for the type of abstract art practiced by De Stijl artists. Included in the movement were architects such as Gerrit Rietveld and JJP Oud. The movement included a utopian vision and avant-garde design.

In van Doesburg’s Arithmetic Composition, geometric shapes sit on a diagonal plane from the biggest shape to the smallest, extending from the bottom right corner to the top left, or vice versa. The shapes incline or decline simultaneously to and from the viewer. The viewer experiences pure positive and negative space – the black, geometric shapes placed on a two-dimensional white surface. The geometric detail in the white background is subtle, yet creates movement toward the bottom right corner, as the edge of the corner of white points toward the flat, diagonal portion of the biggest shape. Its corner is parallel to the corner in the bottom right, unifying them, and creating balance and harmony within the piece. This piece is purely abstract, as it is devoid of the possibility of representation.

Immediately upon viewing this piece, I think of sound and movement. The shape’s increase from the smallest to the biggest size is smooth – I imagine the shape gliding through space on a diagonal and straight plane. The identical geometry, symmetry, shape, and black tone of each piece reflect their unification. In this scenario, the shapes act as one unit moving from one area to another – the sound is clean and high-pitched, as if gliding along the plane of a string instrument, such as a guitar. It increases in pitch as the shape glides from the top left to the bottom right to mimic the size increase of shape, and simultaneously decreases in pitch and size as it glides from the bottom right to the top left of the page. Alternately, I imagine it pulsating and increasing in intensity of sound as it gets closer to the big shape or decreasing in intensity of sound as it pulsates toward the smallest shape – like a siren. In this scenario, the shape would create a flash as it momentarily disappears, only to reappear in increased size, creating the gap on the page between each shape. This is continuous either in reverse or in forward motion, until all shapes are on the page. I’ve included a sound byte of an increasing pitch (at 0:00-0:01 seconds) and a pulse (at 0:01-0:04 seconds) – give it a listen and see if you experience the same sensations: High Pitch / Increasing (0:01) to Pulse Increasing (0:02- 0:04)


Arithmetic Composition by Theo van Doesburg

SFX High Pitch Alarm Increasing Freq. provided by FreeSound

De Stijl

Important Art and Artists of De Stijl