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Eye-Popping Op Art

Create the illusion of 3-dimensional space in the Op Art style of Victor Vasarely.

  • Grade 4
    Grade 5
    Grade 6
  • Multiple Lesson Periods
  • Directions

    1. Artist Victor Vasarely, born on April 9, 1908 in Pecs, Hungary, is best known as creator of Op Art, a style that uses geometric forms and color contrast to create the illusion of 3-D space. Another European artist, Josef Albers, experimented with the visual effects of placing one color next to another. Vasarely further uses color and shape to make his paintings seem to leap from the canvas.
    2. Students compare Raphael's School of Athens to Vasarely's Tokyo. Raphael's work, creates a sense of deep space by using linear perspective, an artistic device that creates the illusion of depth on a flat surface by using a vanishing point as a point of reference. Objects seem smaller in the distance, and one object placed in front of another seems larger. Compare this work to Vasarely's work. There is still an illusion of space, but different visual clues are given, and the subject matter is primarily non-objective, containing only geometric shapes.
    3. Students look at Vasarely's Oetvoes or Rivotril. These are 2-D paintings, but the impression is of a 3-D form. Vasarely uses contrast and curved lines to fool the eye. Human beings are used to the effects of light and shadow to inform them of an object's shape. By carefully placing colors, Vasarely creates the optical illusion of 3-D.
    4. To create a painting in the manner of Vasarely, cover a table with recycled newspaper. Students begin by sketching a geometric pattern on a small sheet of paper with Crayola® Colored Pencils. Transfer your sketch in a larger size to poster board. You could use a ruler or straight edge to make clean, straight lines.
    5. To create an optical illusion, use contrasting colors of Crayola Tempera Paints. Choose only three or four colors, and place very bright colors next to very dark colors. Use lighter values (mix white paint with the color to create a tint) to make parts of the painting seem to come forward, and darker values (mix the color with a small amount of black to create a shade) to make parts of the painting recede. Apply the paint with a paintbrush using even, hard-edged strokes. The painting should be very crisp and even like Vasarely's. Dry.
  • Standards

    LA: Read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension.

    LA: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions with diverse partners on grade level topics and texts, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.

    LA: Conduct short research projects that build knowledge through investigation of aspects of a topic.

    LA: Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

    LA: Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience in an organized manner, using appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details to support main ideas or themes; speak clearly at an understandable pace.

    MATH: Draw polygons in the coordinate plane given coordinates for the vertices, use coordinates to find the length of a side joining points with the same first coordinate or the same second coordinate. Apply these techniques in the context of solving real-world and mathematical problems.

    SS: Describe ways in which language, stories, folktales, music, and artistic creations serve as expressions of culture and influence behavior of people living in a particular culture.

    SS: Use appropriate resources, data sources, and geographic tools to generate, manipulate, and interpret information.

    VA: Intentionally take advantage of the qualities and characteristics of art media, techniques, and processes to enhance communication of experiences and ideas.

    VA: Select and use the qualities of structures and functions of art to improve communication of ideas.

  • Adaptations

    Students create a mock-up of their 3-D creation using knowledge of the coordinate plane. Encourage students to also colorize their mock-up. Have students write directions for someone else to re-create their original op art on the coordinate plane.

    Students investigate Vasarely's paintings and seek to identify the shapes used to create the paintings. Teams brainstorm how they could use original mosaic pieces to create similar illusions of depth.

    Encourage students to experiment with color. Draw a square surrounded by a larger square. Repeat this exact drawing on a second sheet of paper. Mix a small amount of a single color of paint. Paint both inner squares with this color. Paint the first outer square with a warm color (red, yellow, orange, or any tint, shade, or mixture of these colors). Paint the outer square of the second painting with a cool color (green, blue, violet, or any tint, shade, or mixture of these colors). Dry, then glue paintings next to each other on white paper. Compare the inner squares. Do these squares seem to be the same color? Why or why not? Investigate The Interaction of Color by Albers.

    Students may choose to conduct further research into how the human eye perceives color and dimension. Check out the visual illusions and other optical wonders of vision in Visual Intelligence by Hoffman.


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  • Creativity.
  • Capacity.
  • Collaboration.
  • Change.
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