Hartal emigrated to Israel in 1957 and on to Montréal, Québec in 1973. He earned a B.A. from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1964, an M.A. from Concordia University in 1977, and a Ph.D. in Education and Art from Columbia Pacific University, San Rafael, California in 1986. In 1987 Hartal founded the Centre for Art, Science, and Technology in Montréal, Québec, which he directs. He is an honorary curator of the Israel Museum.
Hartal paints in an expressionistic style with additional elements such as photographs.
Paul Hartal has published books of poetry, a book outlining his manifesto, and a novel. He has had solo exhibitions in Germany, New York, Montréal, and Montreux. His work is in the Guggenheim Museum in New York, the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, and other galleries in Italy, Israel, and Korea.
Lyco art, or lyrical conceptualism, is a term coined by Hartal.
In 1975, Hartal published A Manifesto on Lyrical Conceptualism, introducing Lycoism as a new art idea on the “periodic table of art.” In this work, Hartal proposes a theory of art which runs contrary to what he claims is the traditional belief, that emotion and intellect are at odds with each other.
Hartal maintains that throughout history, art has alternated between the opposing poles of the Apollonian and the Dionysian, the rational and the emotional, swinging on the pendulum of the creative process. Thus he proposes that the aesthetic styles of the Greco-Roman world and of the Renaissance are basically harmonious, both valuing the geometrical and conceptual, while both Gothic and Baroque art are characterized by sinuosity, passion, and lyricism. Similarly, regarding Modern Art movements, he theorizes that Impressionism, Fauvism, Dada, and Surrealism all derive from the irrational impulses of the human psyche, whereas movements such as Cubism, De Stijl, Constructivism, and Geometric Abstraction are more closely related to the rational realm of creativity.
In Mazes for the Mind, Clifford Pickover draws attention to Hartal's view that we need the imagination, the insight, and the lateral reasoning faculty, as well as human values, which are excluded from the rigid methodology of science but are intrinsic to art: "The present human condition calls for the rise of a new, inclusive form of culture in which art should play a most prominent role.
The art critic Balint Szombathy notes that lyrical conceptualism encapsulates no less a fusion of polarities than the term-amalgams of lyrical expressionism, or lyrical abstraction. It is possible to characterize these diametrically opposed juxtapositions, he says, as attempts to equalize incompatible elements for the sake of synthesis.
However, in introducing the notion of Lycoism, Hartal did not intend to form a new post-conceptualist splinter-trend; instead, his intention was the creation of a new philosophy of art in which the tearing down of the boundaries between art and science, the interlacement of the intuitive and the exact, and incorporation of the lyrical and the geometrical play a central role.
Lyco Art creates a conscious bridge between the impulsive, intuitional, and planned elements of the creative process, thereby moving along the whole continuum of formative energies. This creative process represents the interaction of emotion and intellect, wherein the passion of logic and the logic of passion are inexorably interwoven through the voyage of aesthetic consciousness.
In applying theory to practice in design and painting, Lycoism finds its expression in coded colors and forms. Accordingly, warm hues and amorphous shapes might correspond to emotion and the irrational, while cold colors and geometric forms might express the rational and the logical.
In addition, since science and technology impact so much of modern lifestyle during the electronic age, Lycoism views the relationship of art, science, and technology as a pivotal concern. Lycoism refuses to polarize science and art; instead, it seeks to unify aesthetics and ethics in works which involve the use of science and technology by the artist in the creation of beauty.
In accordance with these premises, Hartal formed The Centre for Art, Science and Technology in Montreal during the 1980s. The Centre has implemented a variety of interdisciplinary projects exploring the connections between several branches of arts and sciences, including painting, poetry, music, architecture, communication, artificial intelligence, mathematics, cosmology, and space exploration.