The Power of Design Through the Lens of Ellsworth Kelly


Ellsworth Kelly, Red Relief, 2009. Private collection. Photo: Jerry L. Thompson, courtesy the artist. © Ellsworth Kelly.

As an educator, I find lessons of modern-day simplicity to be a great starting point for fine arts students. The field of design revolves around how art interacts with the tasks and perceptions of everyday life. Design isn’t just aesthetically pleasing; it also serves an everyday purpose. I believe art should be people-focused and design should serve as a platform for which dialogue and discussion is facilitated. Perceptions of light, color, and space aid in constructing a design and in developing visual literacy. In addition to written/verbal literacy, I think visual literacy is an integral skill one should possess.

The work of Ellsworth Kelly, currently on view in the Panel Paintings 2004-2009  is interesting to consider in relation to the subject of design and human interaction. Kelly, whose works I see as brushing between minimalism and post-painterly abstraction, has a clear and calibrated eye for design. Having formerly been a graphic designer, and currently an art educator, I see elements of two-dimensional and three-dimensional design as imperative when understanding Kelly’s artistic process. Design in itself best communicates with the viewer when clarity is achieved, an element Kelly has mastered. Formations of line, symmetry, and composition aid in developing a clear message within his pieces–these messages, however simple in design, evoke a tapestry of complexity within their meaning and interpretation.

It is this eye for simplicity in design that I hope future learners adapt and refer to throughout their art making process. Artistic intelligence lies in being able to condense such rich information into its purest, simplest form–to capture it, and still be able to communicate it to the audience.

Who are some other artists you believe share Kelly’s approach to aesthetic simplicity?

Is visual literacy an important skill for all learners to possess, not solely art students?


Fatima Elgarch, K12 Education Intern

Light and Art: A Glimpse of the Future

Leo Villareal, Scramble, 2011. Light-emitting diodes, Mac mini, custom software, circuitry, wood, Plexiglas 60 x 60 x 8 in. Ed. 2/3, The Drier Fund for Acquisitions, 2012. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. © Leo Villareal, Courtesy of Conner Contemporary. Photo: James Ewing

Leo Villareal, Scramble, 2011. Light-emitting diodes, Mac mini, custom software, circuitry, wood, Plexiglas 60 x 60 x 8 in. Ed. 2/3, The Drier Fund for Acquisitions, 2012. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. © Leo Villareal, Courtesy of Conner Contemporary. Photo: James Ewing

As an intern in the Phillips’s education department, I have handled a variety of tasks, most of which allow for a creative approach or solution. When my supervisor asked me to write about something that interested me for this blog, I saw it as an opportunity to connect my interest in art and museums with my interest in interior design. As I walked through the galleries, Leo Villareal’s Scramble (2011) caught my attention–I stood in front of it, captivated by the changing lights.  As I researched Villareal’s intent and inspiration, I made a connection between his work and a lighting design class I’m currently taking. I was inspired to look at LED lights from both an artist’s and an interior designer’s point of view and became curious about how LED lights affect the art world.

LED (light emitting diode) lights, were created over 50 years ago. What makes this light source different from halogen and incandescent lights is that it is more energy efficient and has a longer lamp life. Therefore, it is a very sustainable product. This is crucial today, when every industry is beginning to strive to be as sustainable and environmentally conscious as possible. At first LED lights were only available in warm colors, such as yellow, red, and orange, but with time new colors were developed, making LED an extremely versatile light source.

So where will this technology go from here? How is it going to affect art and museums? In most art museums, halogen lights are used in gallery spaces, but with the improvement of LED lights and their energy efficiency, long lamp life, and high color rendering index, LED lighting has been tested and is being considered as an alternative source for museum lighting. One of the biggest concerns in changing lighting in the gallery spaces of museums is the effects it will have on the artwork and the number of hours the art can be exposed to the light before it begins to deteriorate. The Getty Conservation Institute has concluded that LED lights perform slightly better than halogens and will therefore be beneficial in art museums.

Even though these changes are forthcoming, LED lights can already be seen in the work of artists such as Jenny Holzer, Liu Dao, and Leo Villareal. All of these works are installation pieces that cause a sense of awe in the viewer. When asked why he chose to work with light, Villareal explained that while he was getting his master’s degree from NYU in Interactive Telecommunications Programming he realized that he could incorporate light into his work and create an interesting piece with a small amount of information. Scramble pays homage to the work of Frank Stella, who Villareal met at The Phillips Collection. The work is composed of a light box that rapidly changes colors, mimicking the colors found in Frank Stella’s Scramble. Therefore, Villareal’s piece can be understood as a contemporary take on Stella’s work.

LED lights are a new technology that has affected both the medium and the display of art while at the same time adding a sustainable aspect to both.

 Veronica Sesana, Education Undergraduate Intern