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Geometric Artist

How Sol LeWitt used lines and shapes to take the art world by storm

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #1005 and #900, 2001. Acrylic, dimensions variable. Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, North Adams, Massachusetts. © 2020 The LeWitt Estate / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo by Kevin Kennefick, Courtesy Mass MoCA.

MASS MoCA has 105 of LeWitt’s wall drawings on display in a three-story building.

Your geometry teacher asks you to draw “two asymmetrical pyramids.” What does that mean? What would your drawing look like? Would you and another student draw the same thing? Two Asymmetrical Pyramids isn’t actually a math assignment. It’s the title of a work by American artist Sol LeWitt. LeWitt combined seemingly simple lines and shapes to create eye-catching designs. His most famous works are larger-than-life drawings made directly on museum and gallery walls.

Your geometry teacher asks you to draw “two asymmetrical pyramids.” What does that mean? What would you draw? Would another student draw the same thing? Two Asymmetrical Pyramids isn’t actually a math assignment. It’s the title of a work by American artist Sol LeWitt. LeWitt used seemingly simple lines and shapes in his art. But he combined them into eye-catching designs. His most famous works are enormous drawings. They were made directly on museum and gallery walls.

LeWitt was born in 1928 in Hartford, Connecticut. At age 16, he began studying art at Syracuse University. In the late 1950s, he became interested in the idea that art could be stripped down to basics such as lines, shapes, and colors. “[My] main decision was . . . to simplify things rather than make things more complicated,” he explained.

LeWitt came to believe that the ideas behind a piece of art mattered more than the physical artwork. He saw his job as coming up with those ideas, which other artists could then execute. This made him more like an architect or a musical composer than a traditional painter, says Amanda Tobin of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA). “His work varies so much depending on who is doing the execution,” she adds. “It was a shock to the art world at the time.”

LeWitt was born in 1928 in Hartford, Connecticut. He began studying art at Syracuse University when he was 16. In the late 1950s, he had a new idea for how to make art. He wanted to focus on basic elements like lines, shapes, and colors. “[My] main decision was . . . to simplify things rather than make things more complicated,” he said.

LeWitt thought the ideas behind a piece of art mattered more than the physical artwork. He saw his job as coming up with those ideas. Other artists could then make the work based on his plan. This made him more like an architect or a musical composer than a traditional painter, says Amanda Tobin. She works at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA). “His work varies so much depending on who is doing the execution,” she says. “It was a shock to the art world at the time.”

LeWitt typically provided written instructions and sometimes a small sketch for an artwork. Then he hired other artists to interpret and carry out his design. In 2007, dozens of artists and students helped install 105 of LeWitt’s wall drawings at MASS MoCA. It’s one of the most popular exhibitions at the museum.

Throughout his life, LeWitt shied away from the spotlight. When an Italian magazine asked him for a photo of himself, he sent one of his dog instead. As he grew more famous, LeWitt used his money to support other artists. He hired many female painters at a time when most professional artists were men.

LeWitt typically provided written instructions for an artwork. Sometimes he included a small sketch too. Then he hired other artists to carry out his design. In 2007, 105 of LeWitt’s wall drawings were installed at MASS MoCA. Dozens of artists and students helped draw them. It’s one of the most popular exhibitions at the museum today.

LeWitt didn’t care about being famous. When a magazine asked him for a photo of himself, he sent one of his dog instead! When LeWitt started making more money, he used it to support other artists. He hired many female painters at a time when most professional artists were men.

Sol LeWitt, Wall Drawing #1005 and #900, 2001. Acrylic, dimensions variable. Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, North Adams, Massachusetts. © 2020 The LeWitt Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo by Kevin Kennefick, Courtesy Mass MoCA.

From 2014 through 2018, this LeWitt wall drawing was on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Until his death in 2007, LeWitt worked to make art accessible to everyone. He believed that anybody could make and appreciate art—not just professional artists and critics. Even choosing clothes to wear or arranging furniture in your bedroom could be forms of artistic expression, he once explained. “We’re all making art as we live,” he said.

LeWitt died in 2007. Until then, he worked to make art accessible to everyone. He believed that anybody could make and appreciate art. You didn’t have to be a professional artist to understand it, he thought. Even choosing clothes to wear or arranging furniture in your bedroom could be types of art, he once explained. “We’re all making art as we live,” he said.

Use this information, a ruler, and a protractor to draw designs like Sol LeWitt’s on a sheet of paper. Record your work and answers on our answer sheet.

Use this information, a ruler, and a protractor to draw designs like Sol LeWitt’s on a sheet of paper. Record your work and answers on our answer sheet.

LeWitt often used triangles in his works. Mark an apex, or top point, at the top of your paper. Use it to draw a regular triangle with 60° angles and sides measuring 1 inches.

LeWitt often used triangles in his works. Mark an apex, or top point, at the top of your paper. Use it to draw a regular triangle with 60° angles and sides measuring 1 inches.

A. LeWitt also used shapes that were superimposed, or drawn on top of each other. Draw a square with 90° angles and 2-inch sides.

A. LeWitt also used shapes that were superimposed, or drawn on top of each other. Draw a square with 90° angles and 2-inch sides.

B. Find the midpoint of the top edge of your square. Label this point M.

B. Find the midpoint of the top edge of your square. Label this point M.

C. Draw a straight diagonal line from point M to each corner on the bottom edge of the square to create a triangle superimposed on the square.

C. Draw a straight diagonal line from point M to each corner on the bottom edge of the square to create a triangle superimposed on the square.

D. What are the measurements of the left and right sides and of the bottom angles of the triangle you drew?

D. What are the measurements of the left and right sides and of the bottom angles of the triangle you drew?

A. In 1971, LeWitt had an idea he called Untitled: A square divided horizontally and vertically into four equal parts, each with a different direction of lines. Draw your interpretation of this work.

A. In 1971, LeWitt had an idea he called Untitled: A square divided horizontally and vertically into four equal parts, each with a different direction of lines. Draw your interpretation of this work.

B. Compare your drawing with a friend’s. Did you interpret the instructions the same way or differently? Explain.

B. Compare your drawing with a friend’s. Did you interpret the instructions the same way or differently? Explain.

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