Op art, short for Optical art, is an artistic movement that materialised in the 1950s. It is an abstract style that employs optical illusions to confuse and fascinate the viewer, and engage our sense of reality. The op art movement began in the 1950s, perhaps being deemed by many as the ideal aesthetic for an age defined by huge advances in science and technology. Unfortunately, the movement was never hugely successful, often being dismissed by art critics as gimmicky – a reputation that still follows it today.
Op artists aimed to explore a variety of effects with perception and vision. It was partly an experimental art genre, yet some op artists hoped to attract a wide following with the style and establish it as part of societal culture. It seemed, like the geometric art from which it had been developed, to have an aesthetic that suited contemporary society.
Many people think of op art as an extension of geometric art, however, because it focuses more on perception and illusion, some believe it was inspired by other, older movements. Another theory is that op art is a reaction, or continuation, of modern decoration.
One could say the label of ‘op artist’ was bestowed rather liberally on the art world during its heyday in the mid-1960s. Joseph Albers, for example, was labelled as an op artist, but did not accept it. It is interesting to consider why the label has been so freely cast upon so many artists – perhaps the visual effects the movement employs are more important to modern art than people realise. Some critics would disagree and dismiss these effects as nothing more than “retinal titillations”; others might argue that in fact op art is an abstract branch of Pop art, only unlike the likes of Andy Warhol, its leading artists are less celebrated.