Many think of sculpture as a static, ever-constant work of three-dimensional art such as classical figurative works in stone. Kinetic sculpture is a far cry from these weighty forms. Kinetic sculpture is made up of light, flowing, free-moving parts that create an ever-changing combination of forms. Any art form made of free-moving components can be called a kinetic sculpture.
Alexander Calder: The Inventor of the Kinetic Sculpture Mobile
The first widely-recognized kinetic sculpture was created by artist, Alexander Calder around 1930. Calder created much of his earlier work using wire and focusing on linear forms. He would create sculptures of animals and people, forming their features and creating the illusion of mass with the linear wire. After creating a series of these sculptures, his work started to evolve toward simpler, but more interactive works of art.
Inspired by Modernist artist Piet Mondrian, Calder combined simple geometric shapes in bold colors with his linear wire to create hanging artworks. These artworks were created by suspending a series of wire branches, that would hang from a pivot point, from one main suspension point on the ceiling. These series of wires and shapes would hang and slowly swivel back and forth from their varying suspention points.
After witnessing some of Calder’s kinetic sculptures, French Dadaist artist Marcel Duchamp gave them the name mobiles, which indicated that they were made for motion. This term caught on and Calder’s sculptures were, from then on, known as mobiles. Calder continued to create large, free-moving mobiles, some of which extended as far as 20 feet long.
Teaching Kinetic Sculpture in the Art Classroom
Students can learn to use movable elements to enhance a work of art. They can do this by adding a kinetic element to a sculpture project or by creating an entirely kinetic work of art like a mobile.
To add a kinetic element to a work of art, the art teacher can ask that the students to attach an element using one pivoting point, one suspended line, or a hinge that allows the item to flip. This attachment could be incorporated into metals projects, wood projects, or even those projects made from matte board. Student could use wire, string and fasteners to attach these kinetic elements. To keep the work meaningful, the teacher could have the students write a justification or an artist’s statement about the use of their kinetic element.
To create a mobile based on Calder’s work, the students could use wire, string and matte board. Spray paint could be used to color the pieces of matte board. The teacher could require the students to start with a horizontal wire that would suspend three different kinetic elements. Students could use a limited color palette of three to four colors and use varying sizes of the same shape to create a harmonized look.
Appreciating Kinetic Sculpture
Though kinetic sculpture does not attempt to realisticly depict a figure, its beauty comes from the poetic grace of its movement and color. Art viewers can appreciate the simple charm in its form and construction. Kinetic art will constantly transform and engage an art viewer.By appreciating this type of kinetic sculpture, art viewers can expand their cultural horizons and experience something purely beautiful.