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What Is Neoplasticism?

By Debra Barnhart
Updated May 23, 2024
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Neoplasticism was a 20th century modern art movement whose proponents emphasized the basics of art in a search for new forms of expression that represented the Machine Age. Also known as the De Stijl movement, which is Dutch for the style, this art theory favored a type of abstract art that avoided realism and emotional content. Piet Mondrian is probably the best-known artist associated with Neoplasticism.

The artists who practiced Neoplasticism favored the simple elements and principles of visual art, such as line, shape, color, balance and unity. Their artwork was non-objective, meaning that it did not depict anything in the known world. This interest in pure aesthetics was shared by many modern art movements. Neoplastic artists believed their work should express universal truth and harmony, which was in part a reaction to world turmoil. The Neoplasticisim movement developed around 1916 or 1917 during World War I.

Piet Mondrian is sometimes credited with being the major force behind Neoplasticism, but the start of this movement in the Netherlands seems to have been more the result of a collaboration. Theo van Doesburg, another artist, as well as several architects and sculptors who engaged the principles of Neoplasticism, heavily influenced Mondrian's work. Mondrian is, nevertheless, the best known artist in the movement. In his maturity, his spare painting compositions were largely restricted to the three primary colors — red, yellow and blue — plus black and white. Though he sometimes deviated from primary colors, horizontal and vertical lines, right angles, and geometric shapes were the hallmarks of his style.

In 1919 Mondrian published "Neo-Plasticism in Pictorial Art", an essay that summarized his thoughts about the aesthetics of modern art. Mondrian went on to enjoy a long and productive artistic life. He lived in Paris and for a short time in London. In 1938, Mondrian moved to New York City to escape the turmoil of World War II. There he joined the artistic community and was extremely influential among a younger group of artists who started the Abstract Expressionist movement during the 1940s.

Like Mondrian, the Abstract Expressionists were impacted by the devastations of war. Many of these artists adopted Mondrian’s artistic principles, particularly the quest for universal truth and harmony through the creation of non-objective art. While much of their work was markedly different from Mondrian's, the Abstract Expressionists still focused on the basic elements and principles of visual art.

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