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What Is Concrete Art?

By Debra Barnhart
Updated: May 17, 2024

The ideology of Concrete Art was based in part on the premise that a work of art should not depict reality. Artists participating in this art movement saw themselves as being firmly lodged in the Machine Age, so precision, hard edges and geometric shapes were often components of their art. A logical approach to making art was favored over intuition and feeling by the artists in the Concrete Art movement.

The artists who advocated the Concrete Art felt that a work of art should stand on its own and that its meaning should not be dependent on representing reality. They believed that an artwork’s significance could be understood solely through its design and composition. This focus on abstract art was a hallmark not only of Concrete Art, but of modern art in general.

In addition to being artists, those who were part of the Concrete Art movement saw themselves as being inventors and technicians as well. Most of them supported and promoted technology. They usually favored hard-edged geometric forms and, some artists created works that actually looked like a machine. Their methodology for creating art was systematic and rational. It was the exact opposite of the expressionist approach, which championed intuition, emotion and an almost religious search for deep universal truths about existence.

Many major artists participated in the Concrete Art movement, which started in the 1930s. One of these artists, Wassily Kandinsky, is often credited with being among the founders of non-objective, abstract art. Kandinsky’s first abstract paintings used free-flowing organic forms, but beginning in the 1920s he switched to using the more geometrical straight-edged forms, which would become a hallmark of Concrete Art. His painting On White II, finished in 1923, looks somewhat similar to a self-propelled piece of machinery.

The Concrete art movement flourished well into the 20th century. One artist, Max Bill, might be the quintessential representative of this movement. Bill was a sculptor and painter in addition to being a graphic designer and a product designer. His product designs included watches and furniture.

These interdisciplinary influences are reflected in many of Bill’s sculptures. Endlose Treppe is a good example as it consists of stacked rectangles that are angled to make them look like they are moving or twisting around. Another sculpture, Black Column with Triangular Octogonal Sections also appears to turn. The illusion of movement adds to the machine-like appearance of both of these sculptures.

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Discussion Comments
By jonrss — On Mar 10, 2012

Steam punk has a lot of the machine aesthetic in it. Would this be considered a kind of concrete art?

I am inclined to say no because it is so often rooted in reality. But on the other hand I think the steam punk instinct to create visually stunning and physically boggling machines might appeal to those original concrete artists.

By chivebasil — On Mar 09, 2012
I can appreciate the philosophy of concrete art, but let's be honest, how many of us have really been moved to tears looking at a pile of rectangles? I know that there are big ideas and personal convictions behind the work that these artists did, but I think it just looks flat to the eye.

Give me meaning, give me feeling, give me a little bit of fire. Who wants their art to reflect the machine? I want my art to be a human creation.

By truman12 — On Mar 09, 2012

I have engaged in a very small scale kind of concrete art. Any time I see a piece of wet sidewalk concrete I will stick my hand in it to make a print. There are probably four or five of them in my neighborhood.

I know it is kind of childish but I think it is fun and people get a kick out of seeing the hand prints.

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