Artistic Expression The Arts and Lifelong Learning

What’s the Point?

Pointillism is an artistic technique that allows the viewer or listener to step back and see how individual points can come together to create a whole. The term is most closely associated with Georges Seurat and particularly his most famous work, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.

A Sunday on La Grande Jatte Georges Seurat 1884
Georges Seurat, 1884-1886 (PD via Wikimedia Commons)

The 10-foot-wide painting, which was the inspiration for Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George, took two years to complete. In Pointillism, the artist expresses himself using small distinct dots of color that are applied in patterns to form an image. The technique allows you as a viewer not only to use your eye and mind to blend dots of color together into one image of the work as a whole, but to actually blend two or more different colors next to each other into a new solid color.

Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.

~ Vincent van Gogh

When you’re up close to a painting that uses Pointillism, you see hundreds, thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of little dots; yet as you back further away, the entire full color image of the painting emerges. Branching from Impressionism, Georges Seurat and Paul Signac developed the technique in sharp contrast to the traditional method of blending pigments on a palette. The dots of color visually mix to form lines, shapes, and entire scenes within a composition.

The influence of Pointillism is seen in the work of other artists such as Vincent van Gogh, who used the technique with less disciplined constraint—using dabs and strokes instead of dots of color.

Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait
Vincent van Gogh Self Portrait, 1887 (PD via Wikimedia Commons)


When you step back and view the finished painting as a whole, the clarity of the image is remarkable. All of the individual dots, dabs, or strokes come together as a single meaningful and impactful expression.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
~ Aristotle

In many ways, we’re all pointillists of one sort or another in today’s world.

  • Every day we view pixels as the smallest elements used to create images that are displayed on computer monitors, televisions, printers, and digital cameras.
  • With our busy lives, each day is filled with individual moments that are really part of a larger picture. The complexity of these individual points in our lives is often enormous.
  • As we move through each day, the days, months, and years become points themselves, continually creating a bigger image of points in time.


Every situation—nay, every moment—is of infinite worth;

for it is the representative of a whole eternity.

~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Stepping back to look at the points of time in our lives is an excellent way to see the whole picture more clearly. Every day, month, and year, we’re painstakingly creating the moments that come together to shape and define the whole of our lives through relationships, family, work, and private activities and thoughts.  Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte is a masterpiece of pointillist style and aesthetic. Painting the work required a disciplined creative process, and in the end this is exactly the artistic awareness we can use to make masterpieces out of our lives.

— Pat

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