- Hardcover: 208 pages
- Publisher: Merrell Publishers (March 1, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1858943892
- ISBN-13: 978-1858943893
- Product Dimensions: 9.8 x 0.8 x 11.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 3.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
Amazon Best Sellers Rank:
#278,689 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #1755 in Art History (Books)
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Optic Nerve: Perceptual Art of the 1960s Hardcover – March 1, 2007
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About the Author
Joe Houston is Associate Curator of Contemporary Art at the Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio. Dave Hickey is an award-winning culture and arts critic whose articles have appeared in Artforum, Rolling Stone and The New York Times.
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In a sense Op Art is anti-art in that the artist, instead of helping the viewer to make sense of the painting (which is of course an illusion, as all painting is an illusion), does exactly the opposite by attempting to confuse the eye, and ultimately the mind of the viewer. Instead of expression, in Op Art we have sensation. Dave Hickey, who wrote the introductory chapter entitled "Trying to See What We Can Never Know" believes that "the ramifications of psychedelic drugs, sexual liberation, generational autonomy, optical art, and digital culture have each contributed to a contemporary model of consciousness conceived as a `limited-capacity system.'" (p. 11) In other words, Op Art reminds us that there is lot going on in our heads that we know nothing about. Considering the way our eyes and our mind work together to make sense of the world, this is abundantly true. Op Art seeks to trick the eyes and the mind in such a way as to bring this truth to our consciousness.
While Op Art has its roots in abstract expressionism, and is allied to Pop Art, minimalism, and kinetic art, it differs in many ways. Pop Art emphasizes the mundane aspects of our culture with an eye to satire or at least revelation; but Op Art is only interested in the play between the eye and the mind. Op Art differs from Minimal Art in that it does not emphasize form, and is in fact anti-form. Joe Houston, who wrote the text that accompanies the artwork, says that Op Art differs from kinetic art in that "Op achieved its dynamic impact with potential, not actual, movement, implied primarily in two dimensions." (p. 19)
There are photos of 250 paintings in the book in full color (or black and white as the case may be!) by many artists including the most well known in the movement, including Bridget Riley, Victor Vasarely, Josef Albers, Karl Benjamin, etc., as well as reproductions of some works by allied or precursor artists including Andy Warhol, Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, and even Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Additionally artwork from the covers of Time and Life magazines from the 1960s, photos of women in Op Art dresses, photos of artists, and of the interiors of exhibition halls recall the sixties milieu when Op Art was in full flower--uh, as it were.
As is true with most forms, a true appreciation of the Op paintings presented here cannot be achieved by seeing them in the pages of a book at less--sometimes considerably less--than actual size. Furthermore, the angle at which a painting is viewed and the ambient lighting, can affect the viewer's experience. As I was reading the text on page 19, the two circles, one black and the other blue, of Alexander Liberman's "Continuous on Red" began to flash back and forth distractingly as my eyes inadvertently viewed them from the side. Viewing the painting head on did not have this affect. I suspect that in a gallery, as one walks away from "Continuous on Red" the painting will call the viewer back.
A nice feature of the book is "Manifestos" from various artists in which they express what Op is all about from their unique perspective. Also interesting are the biographies of the artists (some with photos of the artist) beginning on page 175. There is a general bibliography and mentions of works specific to individual artists.
All in all this is an excellent and very attractive book. I have just one small complaint. I wish that more text about the specific paintings had been included. I would like to have read some explanation of what might have been the artist's intent, or something about the effect the artist was trying to achieve in a particular work.
For readers interested in the optical illusions that inspired Op Art, I recommend The Great Book of Optical Illusions (2002) by Al Seckel. See my review at Amazon.