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De Stijl
No human event has a greater effect upon mankind than a war. During the war, of course, there is killing and bloodshed. There is destruction--physical, human, and emotional. Art and war are antithetical. Art is about creation. War is about destruction. War always wins. But wars, fortunately, end. Art does not. In fact, it is in the aftermath of war that art often flourishes like never before. But even after a war is all over, it's not all over. War influences art. The Civil War resulted in heroic, sculptural monuments springing up all across America like fresh grass on a battlefield. The Second World War was largely responsible for the congregation in this country of American and European art genius that came to be known as the New York School. And the First World War brought such chaos to Europe that in its aftermath, artists like Dutch painter Piet Mondrian searched only for order, harmony, and formalism.

Mondrian was born in 1872. In his early years, he painted naturalistic landscapes bending toward a sort of restrained Fauvism until he stumbled upon Picasso in Paris. There he discovered Analytic Cubism. After 1911, and up until the war, he tended toward abstraction in his painting, a sort of elegant, cubistic approach to his landscapes. During the war, in the Netherlands, he met another painter, Theo van Doesburg. Together they started De Stijl (pronounced De Still, meaning The Style), a magazine designed to propagate their views on not just painting but art in general. It became a leading influence especially among sculptors, architects, and designers in the years after the war.

De Stijl promoted the belief that there were two kinds of beauty, sensual (traditionally subjective) beauty and a higher rational, objective, Universal Beauty. It was this Universal Beauty that they sought to promote. Discarding representation subject matter and its emotional baggage, they explored a dynamic symmetry as seen in Mondrian's Composition with Red, Blue, and Yellow, painted in 1930. The architect Gerrit Rietveld applied Mondrian's squares and rectangles of these three primary colours along with black lines and white negative spaces in his Schroder house in Utrecht, the Netherlands. De Stijl wished to redecorate the entire world. Mondrian hoped to be the last artist. Earlier art, he felt, provided man with something lacking in his life. He reasoned that if we all lived in a world designed in line with his principles of Universal Beauty there would be no further need for art.

Contributed by Lane, Jim
7 August 1998


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