The More Simple, the More Complex: Is De Stijl Good Art?

When it comes to art, people tend to have different opinions about the meaning, technique, beauty, or value of those pieces. “I could have made that” is probably one of the most used phrases in contemporary art museums, and De Stijl is probably one of the biggest receivers of these types of thoughts. De Stijl, or Neoplasticism, is a movement that began in 1917 in Leiden, The Netherlands. After the World War I, there was a desire for change and an order which profoundly influenced De Stijl. This style had its largest representations in architecture and art, with its prominent figures such as Theo Van Doesburg, Jean Gorin, Frederick John Kiesler, and probably the most recognized founder, Piet Mondrian. Even though this art style continues to be created by multiple artists nowadays, the main period it encompassed lies between 1917 and 1931.

De Stijl means “The Style” in Dutch. It introduced a type of abstraction that had not been explored before – which was distinctive due to the geometry, lines, colors, and visual orders. This was very innovative for the art of that time, not because those features had not been used before, but because of its structure. There is a specific emphasis in the colors, which do not vary from the primary yellow, red, blue, white, and black. Simplicity of its components are supposed to reflect a much more profound and complex idea, according to its creators: “All painting – the painting of the past as well as of the present – shows us that its essential plastic means were only line and color.” (Piet Mondrian). The fundamental reasoning for the creation of this style was the simplification of art to fundamental and universal ideas.

Neoplasticism challenges realism, and it looks for a different representation of things. Additionally, it was a different take on abstract art: “De Stijl proposes a rational ideal of abstract art and design. The real glory of abstract art, however, is to explore regions of feeling beyond words.” (Jones, 2017). Rather than visuals, it would focus on sensations by channeling the most basic elements into the creation. This does not mean that the piece is not visually appealing, but rather that, that is not its ultimate purpose. By analyzing the pieces in this manner, it is possible to appreciate the art beyond its optical components. However, it could be argued that abstract art does not always fit the pieces that were created in the De Stijl movement. Even some of their founders would refer to the opposition between these types of art: “We speak of concrete and not abstract painting, because nothing is more concrete, more real than a line, a color, a surface.” (Theo Van Doesburg). The main differentiation that De Stijl had with its previous abstract creations was its seeming objectivity and functionalism. Thus, it becomes visible that De Stijl might be in its own individual category of art.

Neoplasticism has definitely not been everyone’s style, and it often receives mixed opinions from its public. This art form has not been short of criticism since its foundation. General art enthusiasts and critics discussed its feebleness, its staticness, its narrowed audience, and its inability to evolve in the long run. Many people believe that this style is too simplistic and plain and its possible alterations continue to be too similar to make an impact or develop. However, this has proven to not be the case due to the modification of De Stijl for other art forms that work mainly on geometry such as architecture, design, and typography. Additionally, it was challenged through the creation of Piet Mondrian himself called “Broadway Boogie-Woogie,” which included a lot of variation to previous pieces. It could be affirmed that, in fact, De Stijl has had a great impact in modern design as a whole.

Perhaps De Stijl is not one of the most beloved art styles that has existed. As much as one can say that Neoplasticism is boring and static, it is undeniable that it has had a great impact in this sphere, that being from generating a conversation about its interpretation to creating strong feelings to contributing to modern design: “Out of the rebellion towards the past and the pure desire for a better future, the artists of this movement reshaped not only their time but helped to define the art we know today.” (Widewalls Editorial, 2016). Thus, it can be asserted that De Stilj is by all means good art.

Cvetković, D. (2021). The De Stijl Art Movement Explained Through 3 Artists. The Collector. 

Fastow, M. (2018). Eden on Earth: An Analysis of Piet Mondrian’s Later Works. Tortoiseshell.

Jones, J. (2017). De Stijl turns 100 – but still cannot touch the greats of abstract act. The Guardian.


Piet Mondrian. Piet Mondrian Quotes.

White, M. (6 January 2015). The Influence of De Stijl, Mondrian and Dutch Modernism. University of York.

Widewalls Editorial. (4 July 2016). De Stijl – The Modern Plastic Art Movement.

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