Pointillism is a painting technique which involves adding very small dots or dashes of color to a canvas. The term “pointillism” was actually a pejorative coined by critics of this style of painting in the 1880s; technically, pointillist artworks are considered to be in the Neo-Impressionist school of painting. One of the most famous examples of pointillism can be found in the painting Sunday Afternoon on the Island La Grande Jatte, painted by Georges Seurat in the late 1880s. Pointillist works are quite distinctive, and optically they are very interesting because they rely on tricks of the eye and mind.
By separating paint into small dots of color, artists break their paints into their most basic elements. Up close, a pointillist painting can look slightly confusing, but as the viewer backs away, the picture comes into focus. This is because the eyes and mind work together to blend the dots of color into a smooth picture, much like people interpret pixels on a computer screen as a single image. In fact, Pointillism is very similar to the Cyan Magenta Yellow Key, or Black (CMYK) printing process used to produce many printed materials; this can be seen by magnifying a page in a magazine to see the individual dots of color which the eyes and brain smooth over.
Besides Georges Seurat, the Neo-Impressionist movement was spearheaded by Henri-Edmond Cross and Paul Signac, two artists who worked in the late 19th century. This school of art may have been derived from the school, but it expanded radically upon the concepts that the Impressionists dealt with. Neo-Impressionist works are marked by unusual and interesting uses of color, shapes, and lines which make them very recognizable to students of art history. The groundbreaking work of the Impressionist movement in terms of the use of light, subject matter, and color certainly laid a path for the Neo-Impressionists to follow, but they took it further, pushing the boundaries of painting.
Pointillism may also sometimes be called Divisionism or Chromoluminarism, referring to the terms that Seurat himself used. Seurat believed that painting and art could be approached scientifically, relying on the rules of optics and perception to bring dynamism and feeling to his work. The painter also realized that the use of warm colors could make a piece feel more friendly and happy, while dark colors and jagged lines could completely change the mood of a piece.