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What are Mobiles?

Mobiles are dynamic sculptures that dance with the grace of air currents, a harmonious blend of art and motion. Invented by Alexander Calder, they captivate with their delicate balance and tranquil movement. These kinetic masterpieces are not just for babies; they're a sophisticated addition to any space. Curious about how mobiles can transform your environment? Let's explore their mesmerizing charm.
S. Mithra
S. Mithra

Mobiles are dangling sculptures that hang as decoration, art, or an educational tool. Most people are familiar with those that hang above cribs, play music, rotate, and give an infant something to focus on. These sculptures can also be projects for school-aged children that allows them to represent a family outing, favorite book, or science concept. Alexander Calder elevated the mobile form to high art with his oversized sculptures designed for outside spaces or solariums.

In general, mobiles are groups of suspended, three-dimensional items that have several smaller objects, such as seashells or stuffed animals, hanging from crossbars. A prototypical one would have a main string to which several horizontal supports are tied. Then a series of objects are tied to these braces, usually at different heights. Beyond that simple definition, the decoration may be tiny, heavy, delicate, playful, translucent, musical, or informative.

The most popular types of mobiles are those that hang above cribs, play music, rotate, and give an infant something to focus on.
The most popular types of mobiles are those that hang above cribs, play music, rotate, and give an infant something to focus on.

The most common kind are introduced in the home during a baby shower. This device is designed to hang over a baby's crib, bassinet, rocker, or even car seat. With batteries, these plastic devices rotate and play lullabies or nursery rhymes. They are meant to soothe fussy babies and entertain their developing brain as they begin to be able to visually focus, understand color, and hear melodies. As a baby falls asleep, he or she is quieted by the music, but if the infant wakes up unexpectedly, he or she will have something interesting to stare at, such as blocks, animals, or simple shapes in primary colors.

Some mobiles are designed for babies in car seats.
Some mobiles are designed for babies in car seats.

Children may design other mobiles as part of a challenging, artistic project. A child who has been studying ancient Egypt could create one that incorporates a mummy, pyramid, scarab beetle, and a scroll of papyrus. If he needed to illustrate the various stages of metamorphosis for a butterfly, he could cut out drawings of a larvae, caterpillar, chrysalis, and butterfly. Thematically, people typically assume the different objects included in the sculpture have something in common as they turn and flutter in the breeze.

A mobile can give an infant something to focus his eyes on.
A mobile can give an infant something to focus his eyes on.

Alexander Calder is well known for his abstract, graceful, swinging mobiles. Most of his are large enough to take up a room or an entire museum's lobby. Their sweeping arcs connect organic, amoeba-like shapes, usually in bright or simple colors like red, white, blue, yellow, and black. They tend to slowly rotate or counter-balance themselves so they're in constant motion, even away from wind. Calder was inspired by kinetic sculptures with expert mechanics and engineering. Some people describe them as planets in orbit, autumn leaves about to fall off a tree, or electrons spinning around a nucleus.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is a mobile?

Mobiles are designed to soothe fussy babies.
Mobiles are designed to soothe fussy babies.

A mobile is a type of kinetic sculpture that is designed to move and balance in the air, often suspended from a ceiling or stand. It consists of rods and shapes that can move independently, creating a dynamic and changing piece of art. The American sculptor Alexander Calder is credited with inventing the mobile in the early 20th century, bringing a new dimension to sculpture by incorporating movement.

How do mobiles move?

Mobiles move through the interaction of subtle air currents with their balanced components. Each part of a mobile is carefully designed to have a certain weight and length, allowing it to rotate or sway when air moves around it. The movement is also influenced by the distribution of weight and the pivot points where the rods and shapes are connected, creating a harmonious and fluid motion.

Are mobiles only used as art?

No, mobiles are not solely used as art. While they are indeed artistic expressions, mobiles also serve educational and developmental purposes. For instance, mobiles are commonly used above cribs to stimulate and entertain infants, aiding in their visual and cognitive development. Additionally, they can be found in scientific and educational settings, such as planetariums, where they model celestial movements and systems.

What materials are used to make mobiles?

Mobiles can be made from a wide variety of materials, including metal, wood, plastic, paper, and fabric. The choice of material often depends on the desired aesthetic and the environment where the mobile will be displayed. For example, Calder's mobiles were typically made of painted metal sheets and rods, which allowed for durability and a smooth movement. Modern mobiles may also incorporate recycled or sustainable materials as a nod to environmental consciousness.

Can mobiles be considered therapeutic or calming?

Yes, many people find the gentle, rhythmic movement of mobiles to be therapeutic and calming. The slow, predictable motion can provide a sense of relaxation and can be used as a visual focal point for meditation or stress relief. In some cases, therapists and healthcare providers use mobiles in clinical settings to help reduce anxiety and promote a peaceful atmosphere for patients.

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Discussion Comments

seag47

@cloudel – That sounds beautiful! I would have rather put a mobile like that above my baby's crib than the one my husband insisted upon.

He wanted her to take an interest in science one day, particularly in astronomy. He believed that influencing her at a very early age might point her in the right direction, so he designed a solar system crib mobile.

He at least made it sparkly and brightly colored, so she did respond to it. I think it's a bit extreme to believe that this will make her grow up to have an interest in astronomy, though.

cloudel

I found a beautiful cheap mobile on sale at a discount warehouse. It was made entirely of purple and silver butterflies.

They had been positioned in a sphere, so they seemed to be flying all around each other. They hung from a clear string, so it really did look like a clump of butterflies.

My daughter loves this mobile. I think I would have loved it at that age, too!

kylee07drg

I have a solar light mobile hanging from my front porch. The strings have dragonfly shapes hanging at different lengths, and each one has an LED light inside that gets charged by the solar panel and the sun.

When night falls, the dragonflies begin to glow. The fact that they are suspended in midair makes them look more realistic.

OeKc05

In my college three-dimensional art class, we had to design and build mobiles. It was a challenging project, but it resulted in some of the best artwork I have ever done.

I worked many hours fashioning wires and sculpting pieces to go on the mobile, and a lot of it was trial and error. If one piece was too heavy and caused the mobile to go off-balance, it was back to the drawing board for me!

I think the fact that the mobile took so long to get right made it really special to me. I will keep it forever, and I will pass it down to my kids someday.

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    • The most popular types of mobiles are those that hang above cribs, play music, rotate, and give an infant something to focus on.
      By: sattva
      The most popular types of mobiles are those that hang above cribs, play music, rotate, and give an infant something to focus on.
    • Some mobiles are designed for babies in car seats.
      By: Joanna Zielinska
      Some mobiles are designed for babies in car seats.
    • A mobile can give an infant something to focus his eyes on.
      By: Adam Borkowski
      A mobile can give an infant something to focus his eyes on.
    • Mobiles are designed to soothe fussy babies.
      By: jamdesign
      Mobiles are designed to soothe fussy babies.