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What Is Kinetic Art?

Britt Archer
Britt Archer

Kinetic art is artwork, especially sculpture, that features movement. This type of art, invented in the 20th century, has components that can be set in motion by something external, such as wind, or by different types of internal mechanics. Alexander Calder and Marcel Duchamp are two pioneers of kinetic art. A mechanical engineer who turned to art, Alexander Calder created large mobiles that move in the wind, while one of Marcel Duchamp’s famous pieces features a bicycle wheel implanted in the wooden seat of a stool.

The popularity of kinetic art grew following a popular exhibit in the mid-1950s in Paris that featured both Duchamp and Calder, plus works by Pol Bury, Jean Tinguely, Yaacov Agam, Victor Vasarely and Jesus Rafael Soto. Alexander Calder saw the art form as a composition of motions, similar to the way painters present a composition of colors. The new art form brought forth a new way of thinking about art, with artists showing beauty could be found in motion or in the illusion of motion.

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Kinetic art remained popular throughout the 1960s and mid-1970s. An offshoot, lumino kinetic art, incorporates light with motion. Movement can be induced in kinetic art in a number of different ways. Sound waves, wind, solar power, steam, water, electricity, clockwork, springs and even human touch have all been relied on by artists to put their pieces in motion.

Four threads within the kinetic art movement became established by 1970. One thread consisted of the mobile as created by Alexander Calder and his followers, and a second thread consisted of pieces dubbed junk art, encompassing some of the works of Marcel Duchamp. A third, op art, is a type of visual illusion of movement. The fourth thread encompasses artistic creations based on light.

Op art became popular in the 1960s. Unlike a three-dimensional mobile or sculpture, op art is only two dimensions yet it still gives the perception of movement through visual illusions. The artist’s use of pattern, lines and colors can trick the eye into seeing movement when none is present.

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Discussion Comments


@pastanaga - I think it's also quite cool when the line between art and prototype is blurred. I was lucky enough to get in to see the Da Vinci Machines show when it was still going and some of the models they had there were gorgeous, and definitely works of art, but also, in theory, had practical applications.


@pleonasm - One of the most beautiful art installations I ever saw was based around kinetics and interaction with people, and I think that kind of thing will attract grants if not sales.

It was a room full of flowers made from glass and wire, hanging from the ceiling, and they would sing or move if you did certain things, like clapping or touching them gently.

I've seen some amazing kinetic sculptures as well, as they seem to be a popular choice for my town. Most of them work with the wind and will twist and turn in strange ways, or even light up when powered by wind energy.

Kinetic art is just so cool, because it requires a whole other dimension of skill and observation.


A friend of a friend of mine was really into putting mechanical components into his art work. Apparently one of the things he did for a show was creating teddy bears with sensors so that they would flash their eyes red and make spooky movements if they saw someone approaching.

I guess the downside of doing fun things like that is that kind of eclectic installation art would be difficult to sell and therefore difficult to build a reputation on.

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