Modular art is a type of contemporary art known for the use of one repeating image or unit to create a larger picture or three-dimensional piece. This type of conceptual art has a basis in architecture for its mathematically precise applications of proportion. The visual or sculptural building blocks used in modular art can be as simple as colored squares or as complex as a series of carved marble columns. Artists who create this kind of generative art often have goals of making an image or object that is quite different from the individual pieces that comprise it.
The generative art units used in repetitive patterns are often known as modules. A module for a two-dimensional piece of modular art is usually selected according to certain laws of mathematics such as congruence and equivalence. Knowledge of number theory is usually important for correctly fitting visual elements together so they have balanced proportions of color and shape. Some modular artists begin formulating these patterns by assigning a specific number to each interlocking shape and then piecing the artwork together according to a chosen number order. The resulting patterns in some pieces can be changed around without disturbing this balance, although others are not as structurally or visually flexible.
Some art movements include the use of modular art construction designed to create optical illusions of movement when viewers look at a stationary image. Precise placement of repeating curves in a uniform pattern can create this visual effect for instance. Artists who have created these types of works often have goals of demonstrating that art is fluid and evolving rather than static and unchangeable. Many of these pieces are also created according to certain principles of serial art that give meaning to the whole unit rather than its individual building blocks.
The minimalist art movement of the 1960s included some kinds of modular art as a collective expression of the visual possibilities of endless repetition. Some of the earlier art pieces from this time period consisted of simple colored panels interlocked together in a way that suggested the same pattern could keep regenerating itself into infinity. Similar principles were incorporated into large scale sculptural works that artists would sketch out on paper but then assign to others for the actual construction process. These forms of modular art often reflected the attitudes of postmodernism towards the mass production and uniformity found in many areas of contemporary life.