Science in Art. Seurat’s Pointillism.

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A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat

Georges Seurat was never a party animal. In fact his friends usually never saw him anywhere but behind his easel.  He worked compulsively and never cut corners in the process of creating. I mean, the man spent two years perfecting his black and white drawings. And then it took him two years to finish the painting featured above. Two years and only one painting. Not very prolific, right? But if it was not for his works who knows when the future generation artists could start implementing optical illusion in art.

Seurat was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, not all artists are that lucky. His parents were able to pay for his school and thankfully their money was well spent as their son opened new horizons in art that we now perceive as obvious but in his time not yet realized.

You see, that all came from Seurat’s fascination not just with painting but with science, as well. He had this idea of using many different colored dots to create one color because you do not just see with just your eyes; to be honest, your brain does most of the work. And the brain blends the colors for you, so you can enjoy the works of neo-impressionists* without confusion (that’s who Seurat actually was).

*Neo-Impressionism is a term coined by French art critic Félix Fénéon in 1886 to describe an art movement founded by Georges Seurat. Seurat’s greatest masterpiece, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, marked the beginning of this movement when it first made its appearance at an exhibition of the Société des Artistes Indépendants (Salon des Indépendants) in Paris.[1]  (from

fragment of a Paul Signac’s painting

When you look at such a painting closely, all you can see is thousands of dots but when you  walk further and look from a distance it will make sense.

same painting, same cup but further away.

By the way, Paul Signac was so impressed by Georges Seraut’s work that he immediately became friends with him… In reality, this is not how it happened but he was a friend and a follower, that’s for sure.

There is also a beautiful artwork done by Christian Faur which shows exactly how pointillism works. It is done with hand cast crayons. To compare, look at it a few feet away.


Christian Faur. Melodie 02, 2011

Now, let me ask you a question: what is faster:  mix colors on a palette and then paint with them or paint individual dots of different colors?  Right, that was easy. Then, another question: why bother? The fact is the pointillism technique works this way to make paintings look brighter. Actually, the first Seraut’s painting was rejected as “too bright”… Hmm… As usual, first we reject them and then use the same method in, for example, a printing process. And TV screens and computer monitors work the same way.  Seurat could not even imagine.

At this point I started to notice that my students got tired of all the scientific stuff and wanted to dive into action.

‘Of course, of course’- I agreed, – ‘but don’t you want to see the flag of Japan? There is a magic in it’.

‘What? That is crazy!’ -my students answered.

‘That is not crazy! That is a perfect example of optical illusion. If you look at the red dot for a while you will see a green halo around it because your brain is creating a missing color.’

(If your child does not know what compliment color is, now it might be a good time to discuss it).

After this experiment, we turned on the music and went on with work. Georges Bizet’s Carmen gave us enough inspiration but you can listen to anything of Bizet for that purpose.


To create our amazing paintings:

It was kinda boring to do and I am glad I came prepared with optical illusions like this one and a couple of episodes from a wonderful educational video on the topic of Pointillism and Seraut.

The kids did such a wonderful job, I was amazed.

Valeria, 5
Sasha, 9
Anna, 5
Maria, 10
Nicholas, 5
Nicholas, 9

The scientific part of the class might be a little confusing for small kids therefore we watched a short video that pointed out how your eyes blend small dots into an image. I made them guess and no-one did who was on the picture. 🙂

If you would like to read more about pointillism or Seraut, please follow this link.

If you had enough of the theory and just want to paint, go ahead and have fun!


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20 thoughts on “Science in Art. Seurat’s Pointillism.

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