The kinetism of the past and present within Kinetic Fine Art or Kinetic Art used interchangeably pertains to the way motion-in-art has evolved through technology throughout the Twentieth Century and into the Twenty-First Century. Three major technological advances that directly influence kinetic artist are within the realms of machine, light and computer. These realms of technology also constitute the three main categories in Kinetic Fine Art (a word-phrase elevated from kinetic art): Machine Aesthetic, Light Aesthetic, and Computer Aesthetic. Keep in mind that the development of kinetism within Kinetic Fine Art was not linear. I explain it in linear terms and in realms of technology for the sake of order and simplicity. As well, each major technological category had an incubation period before it actually became an art movement.
Machine Aesthetic had an early incubation period starting with the hydro-clock during the time of Ancient Greece and even farther back with Egypt. Also, during the middle Ages elaborate clocks were developed with a sequence of events unfolding. "In the seventeenth century we see the development of a new phenomenon, the human or animal automation which imitates lifelike appearances" (Popper, Origins and Development of Kinetic Art 122). However, Machine Aesthetic had its most recent incubation period with the constructivist. In the words of my former Design Foundation instructor, Ulrich Niemeyer who is an artist associated with many artist in Germany and considers himself a constructivist, "Constructionism is a post-cubist movement which deals in part with sculpture by way of the machine originated aesthetic. In other words, the sculptures are not carved or modeled. They are constructed from wood, metal, paper, glass, or modern industrial materials such as steel, aluminum, or plastic, and then assembled."
With that in mind, let us start with "the Germans during the Industrial Revolution" (Popper, Origins and Development of Kinetic Art 95) who "adopted the term 'kinetic arts' for the arts of gesture." In this atmosphere of arts of gesture and expanding mechanical technology within the German culture, the Bauhaus was formed. Mainly thought of as an Art Design Institution, Bauhaus had many fine art constructivist artists as instructors. One of these artists had a major impact on the United States, "Lazlo Moholy Nagy, an instructor at the Bauhaus, established an American branch years later, in Chicago (Popper, Art of the Electronic Age 11)." He was a constructivist and his work evolved into Kinetic Fine Art. “Moholy Nagy, although his output in sculpture was small, is ranked very high among the constructivist" (Greenhill, Dictionary of Art 364). Naum Gabo also started as a constructivist. Then after becoming an instructor at the Bauhaus, he soon became a kinetic artist. But his early focus was with kinetic sculptures that incorporated spectator motion, which is arguably a combination of actual motion and virtual motion. This use of motion with the machine originated aesthetics theory employed by the Bauhaus, used in reference to Kinetic Fine Art, was clearly brought into the physical realm by the constructivist experimenting with actual motion as well as virtual motion using their constructivist sculptures.
However, artist working on mobiles and other areas using actual motion also had a major influence on the beginning of Kinetic Fine Art. They were in many European countries and in the United States as well. Pevsner, Marcel Duchamp, Thomas Wilfred, Vladimir Tatlin as well as Alexander Calder and Man Ray were very influencial. "It was in 1920 that the word 'kinetic' was first used in connection with the plastic arts" (Popper, Origins and Development of Kinetic Art 95). Kinetic Fine Art had been developing for many years in the early 1900s, however, it was the year 1920 that Frank Popper (Popper, Origins and Development of Kinetic Art 253) used as the birth of kinetic art. It was actual motion scuptures, sculptures using spectator motion, and mobiles all considered a form of actual motion as the predominant focus of Machine Aesthetic. This was occurring even though light was incorporated into some of these kinetic art forms. Such as Thomas Wilfred, inventor of kinetic painting, his Clavilux was mechanically controlled.
The second major technology to evolve and influence the kinetism of Kinetic Fine Art was the evolving technology of light. As Machine Aesthetic was in full bloom, Light Aesthetic was going through an incubation. In 1905, Thomas Wilfred began to explore kinetic painting. "His components were no more than a cigar-box, a small incandescent lamp and a few pieces of colored glass" (Popper, Origins and Development of Kinetic Art 161). Later in 1919, Thomas Wilfred developed, the Clavilux, a color organ. This color organ had some similarities to the “Visual Music” tradition used by Vladimir Baranoff Rossine , a Russian Futurist painter. The Clavilux consisted of a keyboard that was manually controlled by the artist to project light onto a translucent screen. Although Thomas Wilfred was arguably the pioneer of kinetic painting using mechanical technology as well as light technology. He is a prime example of how kinetism did not occur in a clearly linear fashion but looped and overlapped in their development in time.
Moholy Nagy's light machine, or Lichtrequisit, is another prime example of Light in Kinetic Fine Art in the incubation period, which occurred near the same time period (1923-30) as Thomas Wilfred's Clavilux. Popper explains that this machine was a moving sculpture made of polished metal, which reflected light (Origins and Development of Kinetic Art 125). Reflected light is one of the many different ways to express Light in the kinetism of kinetic art. But it wasn't until 1955 that light technology began overtaking the machine as the main focus in Kinetic Fine Art. However, it was in 1955, the experiments of scientist and artist Frank Malina heralded a remarkable renewal in the art of moving light (Popper, Origins and Development of Kinetic Art 165).
The color organ also began the early incubation period for Light Aesthetic. Father Louis Betrand Castel, a Jesuit philosopher, is credited for inventing the first color organ in 1734 (Roukes107). "Father Castel was working towards a new art of light...Bainbridge Bishop developed a color organ in 1880 that projected lights onto a screen...Frederick Kastner developed a gas organ called the "Pyrophone" in 1869-73" (Popper, Origins and Development of Kinetic Art 156-157). The intricacies, in Kinetic Fine Art, are almost impossible to follow. Although, Thomas Wilfred was part of the machine aesthetic movement through keyboard mechanical control of his Clavilux. He was also part of the incubation period for Light Aesthetic as well.
During this Light Aesthetic period, Frank Malina incorporated virtual motion, spectator motion, actual motion, moiré effects, and artificial light into his kinetic paintings. Frank Malina's kinetic art work called "Lighted Animated and Ever-changing Picture Arrangement" incorporates two technology categories: machine technology and light technolgy combined with the moiré effect. Then in his next stage of development Frank Malina incorporates the entire three main categories of technology into one kinetic painting: machine technology, light technology, and arguably an early form of computer technology into his lumidyne system series. This lumidyne series is the actual start of the incubation period for using the computer in kinetic art. Frank Malina used electronics and regulators extensively to control the movement of motors and light patterns in his kinetic paintings, and that constitutes early cybernetics. Cybernetic art is merely an attempt to control light effects with mathematical programming, electronics, and or a microchip. Through the experiments of Frank Malina, we can vividly illustrate the phenomena of Kinetism growing out of Machine Aesthetic into Light Aesthetic, along with an early beginning of Computer Aesthetic growing out of light technology.
Computer Aesthetic as a movement in the kinetism of Kinetic Fine Art began in an attempt to control the light effects. As Light technology continued to grow, it developed through many forms of kinetism in kinetic art: reflected light, laser light, holography, and interactive environments. It was a natural form of progression to employ mathematical programming to control the effect, which gave birth to cybernetic art. "The word is derived from the ancient Greek 'kybernetike' meaning, roughly, 'steersmanship'" (Malina, Kinetic Art: Theory and Practice 176). It is a term used in reference to control. An early form of control over the effects of light was through electronics. Before the microprocessor chip, there was electronics being used in the computer. This use of cybernetics is the actual beginning of using early computer technology as the main focus in the kinetism of Kinetic Fine Art. Some examples of this period of transformation are Jean-Pierre Yvarol "Interference", Nicholas Schoffer " Cybernetic Light Tower ", Piotr Kowalski's " Field of Interaction , and Nam June Paik's Video Synthesizer . Nam June Paik' s Video Synthesizer may mark the actual start of Computer Aesthetic in kinetic art. Nam June Paik and Piotr Kowalski's experimentation with light are excellent examples of kinetism in kinetic art's transformation from light technology to computer technology. They are but two of the many great pioneers for the creation of kinetism using the computer. Computer Aesthetic, to put it simply, is the use of some form of mathematical programming, electronics, or a software program (such as an animation or video editing program) to control, or to create the effect of motion.
In another development of kinetism through science and technology is the neo-kinetism of the Twenty-First Century. Neo-kinetism is the phenomenology of human imagination in relation to virtual motion in Kinetic Fine Art. The Impressionist may have been an early incubation period for this artistic scientific research in an attempt to catch a fleeting impression using color and light as vibration motion. However, it was Kandinsky, credited for creating the first abstract painting, which conveyed the impression of motion through the abstraction of lines, color, and forms and officially began the study of structures of experience and consciousness. He proclaimed that the rhythm of music and sounds could be conveyed by painting. Kandinsky experimented with virtual motion through the geometry expressed through vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines, which were considered psychological lines in much of his non-figurative works. Klee, along with Kandinsky was another instructor at Bauhaus, was very much influenced by this way of thinking, this way of creating art, and this way of teaching.
In essence, much of the virtual kinetism of the Twentieth Century such as abstract art, screen paintings, line drawings, and many other art forms commencing from the Bauhaus as well as other artist influenced by Kandinsky were the incubation period for the phenomenology of human imagination in creating a virtual motion within the viewers mind. This research was not random image-connections but from the inner experience connection to science concepts. Kandinsky focused on non-figurative art for his pioneering research. However, artist today have expanded this phenomenological research to use figurative art as well as non-figurative art to activate virtual motion within the viewers mind. This exploration of the human mind in relation to science concepts such as dark matter and entanglement have become a few new areas of the Neo-Kinetism artistic research of the Twenty-First Century.
In a nutshell, the scientific technological kinetism of Kinetic Fine Art is a simplification of many overlapping events occurring with no special order. The use of evolving scientific technology to explain kinetism in Kinetic Fine Art gives order and simplification to a complicated series of events. While Naum Gabo, Moholy Nagy, and Alexander Calder may have been some of the pioneers of kinetic sculptures, the kinetism in this article attempts to put the focus on the neglected portion of Kinetic Fine Art. This is the actual and virtual motion created by pioneers of kinetic painting, such as the intellectual pioneer of non-objective virtual motion created by Kandinsky, Thomas Wilfred as the pioneer of actual motion within kinetic painting, and Frank Malina arguably the greatest kinetic painter of the Twentieth Century.
Kinetic Fine Art
by ISBN 0-9623544-9-x First written in 2003, revised and published in 2005, current version- 2015
Moire Tomas, Ed.D.
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First written in 2003, revised and published in 2005, current version- 2015
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