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It's an illusion!

In the 1960s, an art movement known as Op Art (or Optical Art) became widely popular. Usually distinguished by repetition of shapes, patterns, and colors that seem to vibrate or move, Op Art plays tricks upon the visual perception of viewers. The work of British artist Bridget Riley and Hungarian artist Victor Vasarely grew to be exemplars of Op Art.

Because the success of this art relies upon the use of geometry and measurement, Op Art is highly suited for meaningful connections between the visual arts and math. This lesson shows one way to make those connections.


Students will:

* Carefully consider characteristics that define Op Art

* Make meaningful connections between the visual arts and mathematics.

Essential Questions

What is Op Art? How are math concepts used to create optical illusions?


12 x 18" (31 x 46 cm) construction paper, pencils, rulers, scissors, and glue


* Introduce Op Art vocabulary and apply it to masterworks by Riley, Vasarely, or other Op artists.

* Show Op Art images to students. Point out characteristics of Op Art that can be found in each image. Ask students to try to determine how the optical illusions are created.

* Ask students to develop a definition for Op Art based upon the characteristics discussed.


This production problem is based upon the simple concept of repeating a color and line pattern. The completed design will appear to include four colors although only three colors have been used.

The design begins with a quarter-size geometric that progressively enlarges until it no longer fits onto a 12 x 18" (31 x 46 cm) paper. It is imperative to follow the repeating pattern, maintain the same width for all frames, and take care that the edges of each frame are parallel.

1. Provide an assortment of dark and light colors of 12 x 18" (31 x 46 cm) construction paper.

2. Ask students to select two colors from the dark range and one color from the light range.

3. Label one of the dark colors "A," the other dark color "B," and the light color "C." Write these letters very small in one corner of each paper. The letters will assist students in a repeating pattern.

4. Instruct students to follow a repeating pattern of color. It is a good idea to write the pattern in a place where students can continually refer to it.

The pattern is:




B-A-B-A and so on.

The most successful optical illusions will conclude with a dark color (A or B) and will use the light color (C) at least three times.

5. Start with paper "A." Cut a small geometric shape from one corner. The shape should be small enough to fit onto the face of a quarter (or smaller).

6. Next, use paper "B." Place the geometric shape near one corner of paper "B" (about a thumb's width from the corner edges). Glue the geometric shape to paper "B."

7. Measure and mark a 1/8" wide frame completely around the shape. The frame should be the exact shape as the original design.

8. Cut out the shape.

9. Repeat this measure-glue-measure-cut process, alternating between papers "A" and "B," until the original shape has been repeated six times (three times for each dark color). Refer to the repeating pattern to check that the papers are assembled A-B-A-B-A-B order.

10. Use paper "C"--the light color--to complete the first repeating color set.

11. After color "C" has been used, return to the dark colors, but reverse the pattern to B-A-B-A-B-A. By reversing the pattern, paper "C" will be framed on both its edges by paper "B."

12. Continue gluing and cutting in the B-A pattern until each dark color is alternately repeated three times then glue the design onto color "C."

13. Reverse the pattern again to A-B-A-B-A-B-C.

14. Conclude the design with the B-A pattern, continuing until it will no longer fit onto the sheets of dark colors.


Ask students to explain how their optical illusions cause the viewer to see four colors. How are the student-made optical illusions similar or different to masterworks?


Besides using math concepts, Op Art also relies upon certain scientific properties. How do the optical illusions created by artists use scientific concepts?

Look at other kinds of art styles. What other kinds of optical illusions do artists create?


Students describe the ways in which the principles and subject matter of other disciplines taught in the school are interrelated with the visual arts.

Pamela Geiger Stephens is an art specialist in the Hurst-Euless-Bedford Independent School District in Bedford, Texas.
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Article Details
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Author:Stephens, Pamela Geiger
Publication:School Arts
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2003
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