Light Art: The Art of Capturing the Invisible

Mary Corse, Untitled (Space + Electric Light), 1968
(Light Art: The Art of Capturing the Invisible - dans le gris)

What is Light Art?

Light art is a form of art that involves the use of light as the primary medium for artistic expression, whether as a source of illumination, a visual effect, or a combination of both. The symbolism of light and its representation can be discovered throughout the history of art, and artists have employed a diverse range of techniques to incorporate illumination into their works over time. It can take many forms, from installations and sculptures to projections and performances. Light artists use different types of light sources, such as LEDs, incandescent bulbs, fluorescent tubes, lasers, and projections, to create visual effects and manipulate light in various ways. 

Gerhard Auer made a statement in 2004 that the term "Light Art" had become common without being suitable as a genre or style. He explained that light played too many roles in symbiotic relationships and artificial light had only become a source of inspiration rather than being named in the various isms that draw on it. As per his definition, any artwork containing something that emits light can be classified as an artwork of light in a broad sense.

The utilization of light is vital to both the creation and appreciation of art. As humans are naturally drawn to light, it can be utilized in art to create depth, detail, and ambiance, as well as to communicate emotions or express a particular message. One of the key features of light art is its ability to transform the way we see and experience space. By playing with light and shadow, color and form, light artists can create immersive environments that transport viewers into other worlds or challenge their perceptions of reality. They may use light to create illusions, animate objects, or create dynamic patterns and movement. Below, we are going to explore the evolution of light art and also share the light artists who could have inspired you. 

(Light Art: The Art of Capturing the Invisible - dans le gris) 

(Light Art: The Art of Capturing the Invisible - dans le gris) 

The History and Evolution of Light Art

Light art has a long history, dating back to the use of fire and torches in ancient rituals and celebrations. Today, light art is a vibrant and dynamic field, encompassing a wide range of styles and approaches. Some artists focus on the aesthetic qualities of light itself, while others use light to explore social, political, or environmental themes.

Historically, light was primarily viewed as a utilitarian aspect of daily life. However, as time passed, artists started to examine its unique properties and its ability to enhance shapes and textures. Eventually, in the 20th century, light evolved into its own distinct element in various art forms, such as architecture, theater, and performance art. It gained recognition as an important component of artistic expression, providing artists with a new tool to explore and manipulate.

Modern light art emerged following the introduction of electric lighting, which made safe and affordable long-term illumination possible in the late 19th century. However, it wasn't until the late 20th century that light art became a distinct and dedicated form of art, largely thanks to the pioneering work of Robert Irwin and James Turrell. This work began in 1969 as part of an experimental program at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Throughout human history, light has been utilized to create architectural effects. However, the modern idea of light art developed with the advent of artificial electric incandescent lighting and the experimentation of modern artists belonging to the Constructivist and Bauhaus movements. Many art historians believe that El Lissitzky is the first to have used the electric light bulb in the artwork; The first object-based light sculpture was László Moholy-Nagy's Light-Space Modulator.

In the 1960s, when minimalism and light art were at their peak, critics and art commentators frequently attempted to uncover deeper meanings in light art installations. The illumination produced by these works was often seen as forging a seamless connection between the avant-garde of the 20th century and the depiction of the light of God found in Renaissance art. However, artists such as Dan Flavin and James Turrell, who were compared to Renaissance artists, went to great lengths to refute these interpretations. In fact, light artists began making their installations more transparent by ensuring that cables and power outlets were visible to gallery attendees. This led light art to a new and more humanistic conceptual phase. 

In the 1980s, neon became the center of the light art scene as electric neon lights experienced a resurgence in popularity. Artists began incorporating neon into interior design and sculpture to expand the boundaries of the art form. The latest trend in light art is projection mapping, which involves projecting video onto an object or wall. When projected against three-dimensional objects, the video employs color, light, and movement to create the illusion of a static object transforming into something almost lifelike. The origins of these types of light art can be traced back to new media-based art forms such as video art and photography. These art forms are occasionally classified as light art because the use of light and movement is crucial to the work.
(Light Art: The Art of Capturing the Invisible - dans le gris)

Light Painting

Light painting, light drawing, painting with light, or light art performance photography are all terms that refer to photographic techniques that involve moving a light source during a long-exposure photograph. The light source can either be moved to illuminate a subject or space or to create a light trail in the photo by shining light at the camera. Another variation of the technique involves moving the camera itself during exposure of light sources.

This technique has been used since the 1880s for both scientific and artistic purposes, as well as in commercial photography. Additionally, light painting can also refer to a technique where an image is created using light directly, such as by using LEDs on a projective surface, similar to how a painter approaches a canvas.

Pablo Picasso as he created a light drawing, 1949

(Light Art: The Art of Capturing the Invisible - dans le gris)

Light Artists and Artworks

Light art can be discovered in a variety of locations, including galleries, museums, public spaces, and even on the streets, where it can be accessible to anyone. Numerous artists have gained recognition for utilizing light as a medium for their art. Light art provides an opportunity to express an experience, idea, or emotion through everyday encounters, from public space exhibitions to museum installations. Some notable artists who use light in their work include:

(Light Art: The Art of Capturing the Invisible - dans le gris)

Dan Flavin

Light Art: The Art of Capturing the Invisible

Dan Flavin, an exposition of cool white and warm white circular fluorescent light, 1972

Dan Flavin is best known for working with fluorescent light beams and pioneering minimalism with his radical and innovative sculptures. Like the work of his fellow Minimalists, Flavin’s art is clean, industrially produced, and serially repeating. Dan Flavin is one of the first minimalists who were concerned with real space as a formal device, industrial materials, and simplified forms. (Further Reading: Minimalism: The Minimalist Art Movement)

(Light Art: The Art of Capturing the Invisible - dans le gris)

James Turrell

Light Art: The Art of Capturing the Invisible

An interior scene at the Roden Crater complex, on which James Turrell has been working since 1979

James Turrell, American artist known for work that explored the relationship of light and space. His installations are based on the pure experience of artificial and natural light. Ranging in scale from single rooms to the vast Roden Crater project in Arizona, this work has established him as an original and visionary artist. 

(Light Art: The Art of Capturing the Invisible - dans le gris)

Olafur Eliasson

Light Art: The Art of Capturing the Invisible

Olafur Eliasson, Sometimes the river is the bridge, Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, 2020

Olafur Eliasson is an Icelandic–Danish artist known for sculptured and large-scale installation art employing elemental materials such as light, water, and air temperature to enhance the viewer's experience. Eliasson makes clear the importance of viewers and their presence, often addressing them directly in the titles of his works. 

(Light Art: The Art of Capturing the Invisible - dans le gris)

Keith Sonnier

Light Art: The Art of Capturing the Invisible

Installation view, Keith Sonnier, 420 WEST BROADWAY

Keith Sonnier, an artist in the postminimalist movement, was renowned for his work in sculpture, performance, video, and light art. He was among the earliest to incorporate light into his sculpture in the 1960s, using neon to draw lines and create colors that interacted with the surrounding architecture. His use of neon in combination with ephemeral materials earned him global acclaim.

(Light Art: The Art of Capturing the Invisible - dans le gris)

Light art
Light Art and Profiles of Renowned Light Artists
The Use Of Light In Art - History Of Capturing Light

(Light Art: The Art of Capturing the Invisible - dans le gris)

↪ Follow us for more updates:  YouTube | Instagram


March 10, 2023

Leave a comment

Please note: comments must be approved before they are published.