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To understand Victor Vasarely (1906-1997) and the Optical Art. 
The relativity explained to the children.

27.06.2016.

See also : Optical illusions.



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To understand Victor Vasarely (1906-1997) and the Optical Art. 

The relativity explained to the children.

The first convincing attempts to carry out one of the oldest dreams of Western art, that to put art moving, 
occur in the work of Van Gogh who manages to make vibrate his dab and his colours so much so that the 
spectator wonders whether work is really motionless. 

Then the futuristic movements (Giacomo Balla, Fortunato Depero, Bruno Munari) and constructivists 
(Naum Gabo, Aleksandr Rodtchenko, László Moholy-Nagy), speak in praise of the modern world and its 
demonstrations more seizing : the movement and speed, the nature of materials and their constructive 
properties, art becomes exact then and the work of the artist is connected with the work of the engineer. 
The kinetic art for its part results in the invention of suspended structures, motorized constructions or devices 
of luminous projections (Thomas Wilfred, Vladimir Baranoff-Rosine, Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack…).

Victor Vasarely, inventor of the Op Art, abbreviation of the English optical art, explores the virtual movement 
by the only means of the optical dynamism of the forms and the colours. Optical art is based on the knowledge 
of certain extreme perceptive phenomena, tested as of the end of the year twenty by Josef Albers and its 
students of Bauhaus and per Victor Vasarely in his work of pre-war period. It is around the latter and of the 
Denise-Rene gallery that the first artists of this tendency gather, with Jesús Raphael Soto, Yaacov Agam, 
Carlos Cruz-Diez, Luis Tomasello, Julio the Park, Yvaral. Bridget Riley and Jeffrey Steele in Great Britain, 
Richard Anuszkiewicz in the United States, the members of the groups “ N ” and “ T ” in Italy, of the group “ Zero ” 
in Germany, take part fully of this tendency. Their research has jointly not to leave the plan or the relief in weak 
projection, on which they try out the phenomena of retinal instability generated by the superposition of screens, 
the programmed repetition of small modular units, and contrasts of values violent one, in particular that of the 
white and the black. Works often claim the active participation of the spectator, would be this only by its simple 
displacement.

One, a long time, tried to standardize the Op Art and to treat it like a gadget or an expression without much 
importance. But to standardize a movement which is based on laws of physics and scientific discoveries can 
quickly become an aberration or a nonsense. 

As opposed to what one can believe the artists of the Op Art do not seek to cause optical illusions but rather 
to define a new completely optical space using purely visual means (without real movement), this while using 
a whole of geometrical forms, combinations of colours which creates in the eye of the spectator a movement 
while playing on simultaneous contrast, the shift and the optical mixture of the colours. 
Which is the reason of this step ?

Born in Hungary, Victor Vasarely in 1925, after his General Certificate of Education, undertakes studies of 
medicine at the university of Budapest, they will last 3 years. From this period, Vasarely keeps a will of method, 
objectivity, thirst for knowledge close to the scientific world. 

At that time Between 1915 and 1930, physics is dominated by a new design of the fundamental character of the 
matter, the quantum theory. This theory uses the concept of duality wave-particle, already advanced by Einstein 
in an article of 1917, exhibitor that the light presents the properties of a particle but also those of a wave. 
It is based moreover on the principle of uncertainty, worked out by the German physicist Heisenberg, 
stipulating that it is impossible to know at the same time certain physical quantities, for example the position 
and the speed of a particle. 

The quantum theory, which calls into question the concept of causality in physics, never will be completely 
accepted by Einstein, which refuses to give up any determinism : “ God does not play dice with the world ”, 
affirms it. However, it contributes its share to this theory by studying the behavior of the photons, making 
publish in 1924 an article of the Indian physicist Satyendranath Bose on this subject. Collaborating with this last, 
it works out the statistical theory of Bump-Einstein, which makes it possible to describe the quantum behavior 
of the particles of whole spin called bosons.

You are saying to you: “Ooops ! That will become complicated, even tedious ! ”. At all ! We will simplify the 
things and will explain you simply what it occurs while respecting a thing : the scientific truth. 

When you look at a painting of Vasarely you have the impression that it moves and yet it is not the case. 

What seeks to tell us the artist ? 

In this moment when you read these lines that you move or are this that you are motionless ? 

If you see your pet or your children to run in the garden, your spouse to move in the house, you said yourselves : 
“ they move, me I do not move ”.

You are sure? 

Reflect… 

Leave eyes one moment this screen and look at your feet. They do not move, they are static, therefore you do 
not move. 

You believe ?

Your feet rest on the ground of your dwelling which itself rests on the earth's crust. We know that the earth's 
crust floats on magma in fusion which constitutes the essence of what composes our planet. This explains the 
continental drift, the earthquakes, the volcanic activity and many real phenomena that your know perfectly.

Our planet rotates what explains why the sun rises the morning and lie down the evening, therefore the day 
and the night. Moreover the earth turns around the sun according to an orbit which resembles an ellipse. 
When your hemisphere is close to the sun it is the summer, when it is further it is the winter. 

The solar system made up of the sun, which is a star and of nine planets, whose Earth is not motionless 
in our galaxy, it is located in edge of the Milky Way, our galaxy, but it was not always there, it moves and 
it moves away from the center of the galaxy. Our galaxy itself moves quickly, we know that the galaxies 
move away to each other at a phenomenal speed and we also know that this speed accelerates.

Thus let us reconsider the problem. You currently you move or you do not move? 

Let us suppose that I am located beside you. I am ready to testify under oath before a court of justice to say : 
“ this person in this moment does not move ”. And yet ? 

So instead of being beside you I was located in space I would see the earth's crust moving, the earth to rotate, 
to turn around the sun, the solar system which moves and our galaxy to sink in the universe and at this time 
my opinion would be different. All is relative.

And all is relative compared to the place where one observes. In a n a train at high speed which moves to 
220 feet/h you can be motionless if I am the passenger located beside you. On the other hand if I look at 
passing the train in edge of the railway you move very quickly. 

Here ! You understood relativity and nobody used any mathematical formula. 

Let us return in Vasarely to postulate that the artist seeks to say to us that the things move without we 
realizing there, quite simply because the movement is one of the fundamental laws of the universe.

Let us not forget that Vasarely made studies of medicine and if you are informed some in biology you know 
that if the things move in the infinitely great that also moves in the infinitely small. In this moment in your 
body blood circulates, it occurs cellular divisions everywhere, neurons die and others are born… 
The forms which one finds in the paintings of the Op Art, circles and squares are found in the infinitely great 
and the infinitely small. The galaxies often have the shapes in spiral and the cells are round.

The principle of symmetry present in practically all works of the Op Art exists at the beginning of the life when 
a cell divides by the process of mitosis which consists of the division of a cell in two cells girls. Those are 
genetically identical between them, and identical to the starting cell, the mitosis produces clones of cells. 
The meiosis is the process of cellular division necessary to the sexual reproduction. Starting from diploids cells. 
Cells containing two sets of chromosomes, it makes it possible to form haploid cells (container only one set of 
chromosomes). Moreover, during the meiosis new gene combinations occur, fundamental phenomenon which 
contributes to the variety of the characters among the members of the same species.

Many paintings of the Op art contain circles (female symbol) and squares (male symbol) which combine to give 
rise to the center with new forms moving. These paintings can symbolize the reproduction or the evolution of 
the species. 

Then starting from today you will look at the paintings of Vasarely and the Op Art like the visual representation 
of the laws of physics and what it occurs in the infinitely great and the infinitely small, and undoubtedly you will 
not want any more any to standardize this movement and to think that it does not have any importance. 

You to simply will say you : “there are things which I had not understood well because nobody had clearly 
explained them to me…. ”