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’ (theartstory.org). 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
Important Art and Artists of De Stijl