Not music-related per se, but certainly an important figure in the history of artistic movements. Most certainly you've seen some of his works of art, although I personally hadn't been particularly aware of just what he was doing, when, or why. Well, here are the answers, in order:
- What: Neo-Plasticism, a Dutch style that I must only imagine led eventually to the Swede's version: Ikea. Clean colors, shapes, and the full enthusiastic embrace of ideal forms alone -- it was a celebration of Plato, although potentially the founders didn't see it quite that way. On the musical side of things, I tend to think of this as something in the way of 12-tone theory; the artists sought some idealized goal of perfection by deliberately avoiding naturalistic (and thus imperfect) displays of aesthetics, and favoring ideals. Piet came up with his grid-based concept as a framework, and attempted to explore it as completely as he could: a black-grey grid with regions colored in the three primaries -- I'm reminded of Schoenberg's embrace of twelve "primary pitches" -- and hoping to explore the potential artistic relationships and statements that could be made within such confinement.
- When: 1919 - 1931 or so; the Roaring Twenties.
- Why: Abstraction and Cubism had begun to take the place of Impressionistic styles (excellent art history site here.), and Mondrian and his Dutch colleagues began to explore an extrapolation of Cubism (which was already attempting to abstract generalized forms and expressions from literal depiction) into a study of absolute form. This movement was concurrent with an elaborate expansion of jargon and constructs in the field of psychology; one hundred years before, most such scientists were still at work isolating various brain regions and their functions, often through very brutal methods. However, the introduction of a new study of behavioral psychology helped drive this charge toward absolute input and output in discrete scales -- one that would set the basis for an art that attempted to address the absolutes interpreted by the brain.
By placing art within a confined structure, we allow creativity to exist, by craftily manipulating a purposefully limited set of resources. However, in the end, the art will fail to evoke emotion unless the audience is able to fully shift its mindset to match the prerequisite studies undertaken by the artist. And so today, most of the public laugh at this type of art, and cringe at tone rows. I know my heart is unmoved, by my mind is dancing.