An artistic trend, mainly in the USA, repudiating action painting and abstract expressionism.
Minimalists use the minimum of means; favor neutral, blank canvases or mechanically produced unexpressive forms; and are opposed to all forms of illusionism.
A variety of individuals and styles can be termed Minimalist, from certain works by ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987) and CLAES OLDENBURG (1929- ) to the Luminist and kinetic art of JULIO Le PARC (1938- ) and the Zero group; from the undifferentiated canvases of YVES KLEIN (1928-1962) to the sculptures of CARL ANDRe (1935- ), ROBERT MORRIS (1931- ), TONY SMITH and DONALD JUDD.
In visual arts, music, and other media, minimalism is an art movement that began in post–World War II Western art, most strongly with American visual arts in the 1960s and early 1970s. Prominent artists associated with minimalism include Donald Judd, Agnes Martin, Dan Flavin, Carl Andre, Robert Morris, Anne Truitt, and Frank Stella. The movement is often interpreted as a reaction against abstract expressionism and modernism; it anticipated contemporary postminimal art practices, which extend or reflect on minimalism’s original objectives.
Minimalism in music often features repetition and gradual variation, such as the works of La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Julius Eastman, and John Adams. The term minimalist often colloquially refers to anything that is spare or stripped to its essentials. It has accordingly been used to describe the plays and novels of Samuel Beckett, the films of Robert Bresson, the stories of Raymond Carver, and the automobile designs of Colin Chapman.
Minimal art, minimalism in visual art
In a more broad and general sense, one finds European roots of minimalism in the geometric abstractions of painters associated with the Bauhaus, in the works of Kazimir Malevich, Piet Mondrian and other artists associated with the De Stijl movement, and the Russian Constructivist movement, and in the work of the Romanian sculptor Constantin Brâncuși.
In France between 1947 and 1948, Yves Klein conceived his Monotone Symphony (1949, formally The Monotone-Silence Symphony) that consisted of a single 20-minute sustained chord followed by a 20-minute silence – a precedent to both La Monte Young’s drone music and John Cage’s 4′33″. Klein had painted monochromes as early as 1949, and held the first private exhibition of this work in 1950—but his first public showing was the publication of the Artist’s book Yves: Peintures in November 1954.
Minimal art is also inspired in part by the paintings of Barnett Newman, Ad Reinhardt, Josef Albers, and the works of artists as diverse as Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, Giorgio Morandi, and others. Minimalism was also a reaction against the painterly subjectivity of Abstract Expressionism that had been dominant in the New York School during the 1940s and 1950s.
Artist and critic Thomas Lawson noted in his 1981 Artforum essay Last Exit: Painting, minimalism did not reject Clement Greenberg’s claims about modernist painting’s reduction to surface and materials so much as take his claims literally. According to Lawson, minimalism was the result, even though the term “minimalism” was not generally embraced by the artists associated with it, and many practitioners of art designated minimalist by critics did not identify it as a movement as such. Also taking exception to this claim was Clement Greenberg himself; in his 1978 postscript to his essay Modernist Painting he disavowed this interpretation of what he said, writing:
There have been some further constructions of what I wrote that go over into preposterousness: That [sic] I regard flatness and the inclosing of flatness not just as the limiting conditions of pictorial art, but as criteria of aesthetic quality in pictorial art; that the further a work advances the self-definition of an art, the better that work is bound to be. The philosopher or art historian who can envision me—or anyone at all—arriving at aesthetic judgments in this way reads shockingly more into himself or herself than into my article.
In contrast to the previous decade’s more subjective Abstract Expressionists, with the exceptions of Barnett Newman and Ad Reinhardt; minimalists were also influenced by composers John Cage and LaMonte Young, poet William Carlos Williams, and the landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. They very explicitly stated that their art was not about self-expression, and unlike the previous decade’s more subjective philosophy about art making theirs was ‘objective’. In general, minimalism’s features included geometric, often cubic forms purged of much metaphor, equality of parts, repetition, neutral surfaces, and industrial materials.
Robert Morris, a theorist and artist, wrote a three part essay, “Notes on Sculpture 1–3”, originally published across three issues of Artforum in 1966. In these essays, Morris attempted to define a conceptual framework and formal elements for himself and one that would embrace the practices of his contemporaries. These essays paid great attention to the idea of the gestalt – “parts… bound together in such a way that they create a maximum resistance to perceptual separation.” Morris later described an art represented by a “marked lateral spread and no regularized units or symmetrical intervals…” in “Notes on Sculpture 4: Beyond Objects”, originally published in Artforum, 1969, continuing on to say that “indeterminacy of arrangement of parts is a literal aspect of the physical existence of the thing.” The general shift in theory of which this essay is an expression suggests the transition into what would later be referred to as postminimalism.
One of the first artists specifically associated with minimalism was the painter Frank Stella, four of whose early “black paintings” were included in the 1959 show, 16 Americans, organized by Dorothy Miller at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The width of the stripes in Frank Stellas’s black paintings were often determined by the dimensions of the lumber he used for stretchers to support the canvas, visible against the canvas as the depth of the painting when viewed from the side. Stella’s decisions about structures on the front surface of the canvas were therefore not entirely subjective, but pre-conditioned by a “given” feature of the physical construction of the support. In the show catalog, Carl Andre noted, “Art excludes the unnecessary. Frank Stella has found it necessary to paint stripes. There is nothing else in his painting.” These reductive works were in sharp contrast to the energy-filled and apparently highly subjective and emotionally charged paintings of Willem de Kooning or Franz Kline and, in terms of precedent among the previous generation of abstract expressionists, leaned more toward the less gestural, often somber, color field paintings of Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko. Stella received immediate attention from the MoMA show, but other artists—including Kenneth Noland, Gene Davis, Robert Motherwell, and Robert Ryman—had also begun to explore stripes, monochromatic and Hard-edge formats from the late 50s through the 1960s.
Because of a tendency in minimal art to exclude the pictorial, illusionistic and fictive in favor of the literal, there was a movement away from painterly and toward sculptural concerns. Donald Judd had started as a painter, and ended as a creator of objects. His seminal essay, “Specific Objects” (published in Arts Yearbook 8, 1965), was a touchstone of theory for the formation of minimalist aesthetics. In this essay, Judd found a starting point for a new territory for American art, and a simultaneous rejection of residual inherited European artistic values. He pointed to evidence of this development in the works of an array of artists active in New York at the time, including Jasper Johns, Dan Flavin and Lee Bontecou. Of “preliminary” importance for Judd was the work of George Earl Ortman, who had concretized and distilled painting’s forms into blunt, tough, philosophically charged geometries. These Specific Objects inhabited a space not then comfortably classifiable as either painting or sculpture. That the categorical identity of such objects was itself in question, and that they avoided easy association with well-worn and over-familiar conventions, was a part of their value for Judd.
This movement was criticized by modernist formalist art critics and historians. Some critics thought minimal art represented a misunderstanding of the modern dialectic of painting and sculpture as defined by critic Clement Greenberg, arguably the dominant American critic of painting in the period leading up to the 1960s. The most notable critique of minimalism was produced by Michael Fried, a formalist critic, who objected to the work on the basis of its “theatricality”. In Art and Objecthood (published in Artforum in June 1967) he declared that the minimal work of art, particularly minimal sculpture, was based on an engagement with the physicality of the spectator. He argued that work like Robert Morris’s transformed the act of viewing into a type of spectacle, in which the artifice of the act observation and the viewer’s participation in the work were unveiled. Fried saw this displacement of the viewer’s experience from an aesthetic engagement within, to an event outside of the artwork as a failure of minimal art. Fried’s essay was immediately challenged by postminimalist and earth artist Robert Smithson in a letter to the editor in the October issue of Artforum. Smithson stated the following: “What Fried fears most is the consciousness of what he is doing—namely being himself theatrical.”
In addition to the already mentioned Robert Morris, Frank Stella, Carl Andre, Robert Ryman and Donald Judd other minimal artists include: Robert Mangold, Larry Bell, Dan Flavin, Sol LeWitt, Charles Hinman, Ronald Bladen, Paul Mogensen, Ronald Davis, David Novros, Brice Marden, Blinky Palermo, Mino Argento, Agnes Martin, Jo Baer, John McCracken, Ad Reinhardt, Fred Sandback, Richard Serra, Tony Smith, Patricia Johanson, and Anne Truitt.
Ad Reinhardt, actually an artist of the Abstract Expressionist generation, but one whose reductive nearly all-black paintings seemed to anticipate minimalism, had this to say about the value of a reductive approach to art:
The more stuff in it, the busier the work of art, the worse it is. More is less. Less is more. The eye is a menace to clear sight. The laying bare of oneself is obscene. Art begins with the getting rid of nature.
Reinhardt’s remark directly addresses and contradicts Hans Hofmann’s regard for nature as the source of his own abstract expressionist paintings. In a famous exchange between Hofmann and Jackson Pollock as told by Lee Krasner in an interview with Dorothy Strickler (1964-11-02) for the Smithsonian Institution Archives of American Art. In Krasner’s words:
When I brought Hofmann up to meet Pollock and see his work which was before we moved here, Hofmann’s reaction was—one of the questions he asked Jackson was, “Do you work from nature?” There were no still lifes around or models around and Jackson’s answer was, “I am nature.” And Hofmann’s reply was, “Ah, but if you work by heart, you will repeat yourself.” To which Jackson did not reply at all. The meeting between Pollock and Hofmann took place in 1942.
Minimalist design and architecture
The reconstruction of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe‘s German Pavilion in Barcelona
The term minimalism is also used to describe a trend in design and architecture, wherein the subject is reduced to its necessary elements. Minimalist architectural designers focus on the connection between two perfect planes, elegant lighting, and the void spaces left by the removal of three-dimensional shapes in an architectural design.[according to whom?]
Minimalistic design has been highly influenced by Japanese traditional design and architecture. The works of De Stijl artists are a major reference: De Stijl expanded the ideas of expression by meticulously organizing basic elements such as lines and planes. With regard to home design, more attractive “minimalistic” designs are not truly minimalistic because they are larger, and use more expensive building materials and finishes.
There are observers who describe the emergence of minimalism as a response to the brashness and chaos of urban life. In Japan, for example, minimalist architecture began to gain traction in the 1980s when its cities experienced rapid expansion and booming population. The design was considered an antidote to the “overpowering presence of traffic, advertising, jumbled building scales, and imposing roadways.” The chaotic environment was not only driven by urbanization, industrialization, and technology but also the Japanese experience of constantly having to demolish structures on account of the destruction wrought by World War II and the earthquakes, including the calamities it entails such as fire. The minimalist design philosophy did not arrive in Japan by way of another country as it was already part of the Japanese culture rooted on the Zen philosophy. There are those who specifically attribute the design movement to Japan’s spirituality and view of nature.
Architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886–1969) adopted the motto “Less is more” to describe his aesthetic.[note 1] His tactic was one of arranging the necessary components of a building to create an impression of extreme simplicity—he enlisted every element and detail to serve multiple visual and functional purposes; for example, designing a floor to also serve as the radiator, or a massive fireplace to also house the bathroom. Designer Buckminster Fuller (1895–1983) adopted the engineer’s goal of “Doing more with less”, but his concerns were oriented toward technology and engineering rather than aesthetics.
Luis Barragán is an exemplary modern minimalist designer.[according to whom?] Other contemporary minimalist architects include Kazuyo Sejima, John Pawson, Eduardo Souto de Moura, Álvaro Siza Vieira, Tadao Ando, Alberto Campo Baeza, Yoshio Taniguchi, Peter Zumthor, Hugh Newell Jacobsen, Vincent Van Duysen, Claudio Silvestrin, Michael Gabellini, and Richard Gluckman.[page needed][verification needed]
Minimalist architecture and space
Minimalist architecture became popular in the late 1980s in London and New York, where architects and fashion designers worked together in the boutiques to achieve simplicity, using white elements, cold lighting, large space with minimum objects and furniture.
Concepts and design elements
The concept of minimalist architecture is to strip everything down to its essential quality and achieve simplicity. The idea is not completely without ornamentation, but that all parts, details, and joinery are considered as reduced to a stage where no one can remove anything further to improve the design.
The considerations for ‘essences’ are light, form, detail of material, space, place, and human condition. Minimalist architects not only consider the physical qualities of the building. They consider the spiritual dimension and the invisible, by listening to the figure and paying attention to details, people, space, nature, and materials., believing this reveals the abstract quality of something that is invisible and aids the search for the essence of those invisible qualities—such as natural light, sky, earth, and air. In addition, they “open a dialogue” with the surrounding environment to decide the most essential materials for the construction and create relationships between buildings and sites.
In minimalist architecture, design elements strive to convey the message of simplicity. The basic geometric forms, elements without decoration, simple materials and the repetitions of structures represent a sense of order and essential quality. The movement of natural light in buildings reveals simple and clean spaces. In the late 19th century as the arts and crafts movement became popular in Britain, people valued the attitude of ‘truth to materials’ with respect to the profound and innate characteristics of materials. Minimalist architects humbly ‘listen to figure,’ seeking essence and simplicity by rediscovering the valuable qualities in simple and common materials.
Influences from Japanese tradition
The idea of simplicity appears in many cultures, especially the Japanese traditional culture of Zen Philosophy. Japanese manipulate the Zen culture into aesthetic and design elements for their buildings. This idea of architecture has influenced Western Society, especially in America since the mid 18th century. Moreover, it inspired the minimalist architecture in the 19th century.
Zen concepts of simplicity transmit the ideas of freedom and essence of living. Simplicity is not only aesthetic value, it has a moral perception that looks into the nature of truth and reveals the inner qualities and essence of materials and objects. For example, the sand garden in Ryoanji temple demonstrates the concepts of simplicity and the essentiality from the considered setting of a few stones and a huge empty space.
The Japanese aesthetic principle of Ma refers to empty or open space. It removes all the unnecessary internal walls and opens up the space. The emptiness of spatial arrangement reduces everything down to the most essential quality.
The Japanese aesthetic of Wabi-sabi values the quality of simple and plain objects. It appreciates the absence of unnecessary features, treasures a life in quietness and aims to reveal the innate character of materials. For example, the Japanese floral art, also known as Ikebana, has the central principle of letting the flower express itself. People cut off the branches, leaves and blossoms from the plants and only retain the essential part of the plant. This conveys the idea of essential quality and innate character in nature.
However, far from being just a spatial concept, Ma is present in all aspects of Japanese daily life, as it applies to time as well as to daily tasks.
Minimalist architects and their works
The Japanese minimalist architect Tadao Ando conveys the Japanese traditional spirit and his own perception of nature in his works. His design concepts are materials, pure geometry and nature. He normally uses concrete or natural wood and basic structural form to achieve austerity and rays of light in space. He also sets up dialogue between the site and nature to create relationship and order with the buildings. Ando’s works and the translation of Japanese aesthetic principles are highly influential on Japanese architecture.
Another Japanese minimalist architect, Kazuyo Sejima, works on her own and in conjunction with Ryue Nishizawa, as SANAA, producing iconic Japanese Minimalist buildings. Credited with creating and influencing a particular genre of Japanese Minimalism, Sejimas delicate, intelligent designs may use white color, thin construction sections and transparent elements to create the phenomenal building type often associated with minimalism. Works include New Museum(2010) New York City, Small House (2000) Tokyo, House surrounded By Plum Trees (2003) Tokyo.
In Vitra Conference Pavilion, Weil am Rhein, 1993, the concepts are to bring together the relationships between building, human movement, site and nature. Which as one main point of minimalism ideology that establish dialogue between the building and site. The building uses the simple forms of circle and rectangle to contrast the filled and void space of the interior and nature. In the foyer, there is a large landscape window that looks out to the exterior. This achieves the simple and silence of architecture and enhances the light, wind, time and nature in space.
John Pawson is a British minimalist architect; his design concepts are soul, light, and order. He believes that though reduced clutter and simplification of the interior to a point that gets beyond the idea of essential quality, there is a sense of clarity and richness of simplicity instead of emptiness. The materials in his design reveal the perception toward space, surface, and volume. Moreover, he likes to use natural materials because of their aliveness, sense of depth and quality of an individual. He is also attracted by the important influences from Japanese Zen Philosophy.
Calvin Klein Madison Avenue, New York, 1995–96, is a boutique that conveys Calvin Klein’s ideas of fashion. John Pawson’s interior design concepts for this project are to create simple, peaceful and orderly spatial arrangements. He used stone floors and white walls to achieve simplicity and harmony for space. He also emphasises reduction and eliminates the visual distortions, such as the air conditioning and lamps to achieve a sense of purity for interior.
Alberto Campo Baeza is a Spanish architect and describes his work as essential architecture. He values the concepts of light, idea and space. Light is essential and achieves the relationship between inhabitants and the building. Ideas are to meet the function and context of space, forms, and construction. Space is shaped by the minimal geometric forms to avoid decoration that is not essential.
Gasper House, Zahora, 1992 is a residence that the client wanted to be independent. High walls create the enclosed space and the stone floors used in house and courtyard show the continuality of interior and exterior. The white colour of the walls reveals the simplicity and unity of the building. The feature of the structure make lines to form the continuously horizontal house, therefore natural light projects horizontally through the building.
Literary minimalism is characterized by an economy with words and a focus on surface description. Minimalist writers eschew adverbs and prefer allowing context to dictate meaning. Readers are expected to take an active role in creating the story, to “choose sides” based on oblique hints and innuendo, rather than react to directions from the writer.
Some 1940s-era crime fiction of writers such as James M. Cain and Jim Thompson adopted a stripped-down, matter-of-fact prose style to considerable effect; some classify this prose style as minimalism.[weasel words]
Another strand of literary minimalism arose in response to the metafiction trend of the 1960s and early 1970s (John Barth, Robert Coover, and William H. Gass). These writers were also sparse with prose and kept a psychological distance from their subject matter.
Minimalist writers, or those who are identified with minimalism during certain periods of their writing careers, include the following: Raymond Carver, Ann Beattie, Bret Easton Ellis, Charles Bukowski, Ernest Hemingway, K. J. Stevens, Amy Hempel, Bobbie Ann Mason, Tobias Wolff, Grace Paley, Sandra Cisneros, Mary Robison, Frederick Barthelme, Richard Ford, Patrick Holland, Cormac McCarthy, and Alicia Erian.
American poets such as Stephen Crane, William Carlos Williams, early Ezra Pound, Robert Creeley, Robert Grenier, and Aram Saroyan are sometimes identified with their minimalist style. The term “minimalism” is also sometimes associated with the briefest of poetic genres, haiku, which originated in Japan, but has been domesticated in English literature by poets such as Nick Virgilio, Raymond Roseliep, and George Swede.
The Irish writer Samuel Beckett is well known for his minimalist plays and prose, as is the Norwegian writer Jon Fosse.
Dimitris Lyacos’s With the People from the Bridge, combining elliptical monologues with a pared-down prose narrative is a contemporary example of minimalist playwrighting.
In his novel The Easy Chain, Evan Dara includes a 60-page section written in the style of musical minimalism, in particular inspired by composer Steve Reich. Intending to represent the psychological state (agitation) of the novel’s main character, the section’s successive lines of text are built on repetitive and developing phrases.
The term “minimal music” was derived around 1970 by Michael Nyman from the concept of minimalism, which was earlier applied to the visual arts. More precisely, it was in a 1968 review in The Spectator that Nyman first used the term, to describe a ten-minute piano composition by the Danish composer Henning Christiansen, along with several other unnamed pieces played by Charlotte Moorman and Nam June Paik at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London.
Minimalism in film
The term usually is associated with filmmakers such as Robert Bresson, Carl Theodor Dreyer, and Yasujirō Ozu. Their films typically tell a simple story with straightforward camera usage and minimal use of score. Paul Schrader named their kind of cinema: “transcendental cinema”. In the present, a commitment to minimalist filmmaking can be seen in low-budget film movements such as Dogme 95 and mumblecore. Abbas Kiarostami and Elia Suleiman are also considered creators of minimalistic films.
Joshua Fields Millburn, Ryan Nicodemus, and Matt D’Avella directed and produced a movie called Minimalism: A Documentary. that showcased the idea of minimal living in the modern world.
Software and UI design
In software and user interface design, minimalism describes the usage of fewer design elements, flat design, fewer options and features, and tendencially less occupied screen space.
- Galaxy S6
One example is the user interface of the Samsung Galaxy S6, where many options and items from menus and settings were pruned.
- Samsung 2015 stand-by menu
The update to Android Lollipop removed the shortcuts to “Silent”, “Vibration only”, and “Sound on” in the stand-by menu.
- iOS 7 and Android Lollipop update
The Android Lollipop update (late 2014 – 2015) applied to both stock Android and TouchWiz UI devices changes the appearance of the user interface, especially the setting menus of which the use of icons, border lines, edges, and contrast elements have been reduced to a minimum.
Furthermore, the remaining icons have become less skeumorphistic and more abstract, adapting to flat design language.
The density of the elements on the user interface has decreased. There is more whitespace, or unoccupied screen space.
Similar changes happened with the update from iOS 6 to iOS 7.
- Context menu icons
Furthermore, in 2014, the icons from context menus of Samsung’s TouchWiz applications (Samsung Gallery, S Browser, telephone app, etc.) were pruned.
- Unavailable options
Prior to Samsung’s TouchWiz Nature UX 3.0, menu options that are currently unavailable (e.g. “Search for text in page” in the Internet browser during a page load) were shown, but grayed out, which has the advantage of informing the user about their existence but that the option is unavailable. Since then, unavailable options are hidden completely, which makes the context menu occupy less screen space, but it might cause the user to not realize immediately that the feature is unavailable.
- Browser’s URL bar only shows domain name
Started in Safari browser for iOS and adapted by Samsung’s “S Browser”, some browsers only show the domain name instead of the full URL, even if there is spare space in the URL bar.
- Instagram website redesign
In June 2015, the layout of Instagram’s website was fully redesigned to resemble the mobile application and mobile website, pruning many user interface elements, for example, the slideshow banner.
- Skype design overhaul
Another example is the Skype redesign[when?], where many icons from context menus were removed, colour gradients were replaced with flat colors, and the density of user interface elements was decreased.
Minimalism in other fields
Breaking from the complex, hearty dishes established as orthodox haute cuisine, nouvelle cuisine was a culinary movement that consciously drew from minimalism and conceptualism. It emphasized more basic flavors, careful presentation, and a less involved preparation process. The movement was mainly in vogue during the 1960s and 1970s, after which it once again gave way to more traditional haute cuisine, retroactively titled cuisine classique. However, the influence of nouvelle cuisine can still be felt through the techniques it introduced.
The capsule wardrobe is an example of minimalism in fashion. Constructed of only a few staple pieces that do not go out of style, and generally dominated by only one or two colors, capsule wardrobes are meant to be light, flexible and adaptable, and can be paired with seasonal pieces when the situation calls for them. The modern idea of a capsule wardrobe dates back to the 1970s, and is credited to London boutique owner Susie Faux. The concept was further popularized in the next decade by American fashion designer Donna Karan, who designed a seminal collection of capsule workwear pieces in 1985.
In science communication
To portray global warming to non-scientists, in 2018 British climate scientist Ed Hawkins developed warming stripes graphics that are deliberately devoid of scientific or technical indicia. Hawkins explained that “our visual system will do the interpretation of the stripes without us even thinking about it”.
Warming stripe graphics resemble color field paintings in stripping out all distractions and using only color to convey meaning. Color field pioneer artist Barnett Newman said he was “creating images whose reality is self-evident”, an ethos that Hawkins is said to have applied to the problem of climate change and leading one commentator to remark that the graphics are “fit for the Museum of Modern Art or the Getty.”