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What Is LED Art?

By Wanda Marie Thibodeaux
Updated May 23, 2024
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LED art is any art constructed with light-emitting diodes. This type of art falls into four primary categories: street art, advertising art, entertainment art and aesthetic art. It is widely varied due to the availability of LEDs in different sizes and colors.

The primary component of LED art, the LED, is a semiconductor diode. LEDs let current flow in only one direction. When voltage is applied to the semiconducting element, energy is released in the form of photons, or light. All light is energy at different wavelengths, so different colors of LEDs represent different energy levels. LEDs offer several advantages over other light sources, including compactness, longevity, turning on and off quickly and low energy consumption. In art, LEDs are advantageous because artists can use them in a wide variety of settings.

Street art, including street art with LEDs, is broadly defined as any art in the streets that is not graffiti, and it usually has a distinct, often political, message or purpose. LED advertising art is intended to draw attention to products or services for sale. LED entertainment art is put up just for fun or visual effects at events and is often quickly removed. Aesthetic art using LEDs is art that, like traditional sculptures, paintings or drawings, is intended to remain in use and hold appreciation over time because of its visual and beauty appeal. Sometimes LED art overlaps categories, such as an LED T-shirt that is worn "for fun" but which also promotes a company.

People did not develop LED art until the later part of the 20th century. The reason is that early LEDs didn't appear on the electrical scene until around 1962. These early LEDs were primarily red in color because scientists and electronic workers hadn't figured out the logistics of using semiconductor diodes through the entire energy and color spectrum. This meant that the artistic options for LEDs were extremely limited and that the light produced from the LEDs wasn't significant enough to make a major impact.

As technology advanced, scientists and electronic workers learned how to create a broad variety of LEDs suitable for many different settings and purposes. Subsequently, LED artists gained an enormous color and size palette. How an artist decides to use that palette depends on his individual vision. Similar to any other art, LED artists often develop their own styles that differentiate them from other artists and which eventually stand as their identifiable signatures.

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Discussion Comments

By Fa5t3r — On Feb 04, 2015

@bythewell - Most of the examples of LED art I've seen have been water features, like fountains with patterns of lights under the water.

Although I've also seen artworks where a picture or painting was placed on a screen in front of an LED light so that the light shone through it. I'm not sure if that strictly counts as LED art though, since it isn't really the lights that make up the art so much as that they just enhance it.

By bythewell — On Feb 03, 2015

@umbra21 - Well, it doesn't really have to be original as long as it's beautiful, in my opinion. LEDs are wonderful but they don't really do anything extraordinarily different from what previous light technology could do, at least in terms of being an artistic medium.

They are more portable and affordable and easier to use but those are all points on a continuum, rather than original qualities.

I have to confess that the thing I get most excited about when it comes to LEDs is how useful they can be in arranging a reef tank. That's an art in itself and LEDs can really help to make it easier to adjust the light quality and temperature so that you can build a healthy, beautiful mini-ecosystem. I guess being easily waterproofed also helped a large amount.

By umbra21 — On Feb 02, 2015

I particularly like the photographs I've seen recently where artists have "painted with light" using LED lights attached to dancers or runners or even kayak paddles in use. They can set up the lights to change colors over time and then use long exposure photography to capture the lights as they move through space as a single line.

It's something I'd like to try, but haven't had the time to really investigate how I would do it. I think it would be difficult to be really original.

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