Minimalism has been defined and referred to in various ways. A 20th century art movement identified with simple forms and basic geometric shapes; a design principle which encourages clean composition; a way of lifestyle which is based on simplicity to achieve joy and happiness. However, all of the belief systems have one thing in common, and that is getting rid of unnecessary excess.
History of Minimalism
Minimalism is an art movement that began as a result of artists dissatisfaction with Abstract Expressionism, which was prevalent in the 1950s. They began to question the overly expressive work in Abstract Expressionism and believed that a work of art should refer only to itself rather than draw parallels to outside realities. They rejected Abstract Expressionism and turned to Abstract Geometric Forms seeking an art that had its own reality without the burden of representation. Artists like Donald Judd showed that stacked monochromatic shapes could be beautiful and Dan Flavin that light could shape a space as well as any structure.
Untitled (Stack) is one of most famous works of Judd who is also known as one the founding fathers of minimalism. It's a vertical column of boxes fixed at one end marching up a wall, defining space in alternating positive and negative volumes of equal size.
Dan Flavin, a pioneer of Minimalism, was known for creating iconic installations and sculptural objects from fluorescent lights and arranging them into into differing geometric arrays that creates a visual sensation for the viewer by changing the form of interior spaces.
With Minimalism, the piece wasn’t meant to reflect the personal expressions of an individual but was meant to express only that which was integral to the piece itself. The artists started experimenting with simple geometric forms and started to connect the work with the space they occupy. One of the most iconic figure among these artists was Frank Stella, who attempted to get rid of any external meaning from his paintings and reduced his work to geometric forms. He famously remarked, “What you see is what you see,” a statement which became the symbol of minimal art and practice.
All I want anyone to get out of my [works] and all I ever get out of them is the fact that you can see the whole idea without any confusion. What you see is what you see.” – Frank Stella, 1964.
Die Fahne Hoch! by Frank Stella is a key monument in modern art and a bold counter-movement against Abstract Expressionist painters as it used basic geometric systems. It is often regarded as the precursor to minimalism.
Minimal art focused on the use of forms, order, simplicity and harmony while getting rid of any extra visual response. Artistic minimalism reached its heights in the late sixties and early seventies. At that time, minimalism was meant for the masses and had very little to do with sustainability and anti-materialism. It had more to with keeping things in order.
Black square was one of the first piece of art to be called minimalist.
Minimalism was in fact one of the most dominant art movements in the history of modern art propelled further and inspired by the likes of De Stijl group, Constructivism and the German Bauhaus movement.
Peter Mondrian, one of the founder of dutch movement De Stijl, was known for his use of asymmetrical balance, pure abstraction and pared down abstract works which remain influential to this day.
Minimal Art and Minimalism
Minimalism is style or technique characterised by simplicity. The approach to simplicity is based on the sense of amalgamating form and function. It lays emphasis on reducing the visual clutter and differentiating between things which are needed versus things which just takes space.
Robert Morris’s set of four mirror boxes consist of rigorously pared down geometric forms. It offers a somatic experience to the viewer where ‘one is aware of one’s own body at the same time that one is aware of the piece.’ Morris pioneered process art and was influential in the Minimalist movement.
Minimalism in the 60s was a rejection of what came before, the abstract expression form of art. The new artists wanted to remove expression, emotion and the work of idiosyncratic gesture. The hard-edged, basic shapes and forms avoided allusion, metaphor and overt symbolism.
Tony Smith was a pioneering figure in minimalism and known for his large geometric and modular sculptures. His monumental geometric black sculpture Tau is constructed of tetrahedral steel volumes with acute and oblique angles resembling the letter T and finished in semi-gloss black paint.
The forms were often repeated one thing after the other in regular, non-hierarchical arrangements and thereby rejecting compositional balancing. The objects were fabricated from new and industrial materials. Due to this emphasis on basic elements, Minimal Art is also known as ABC Art.
Carl Andre was a key figure in minimal art movement. His groundbreaking linear and grid structures are based on arithmetic and geometry. Each work in Andre’s Equivalent consisted of 120 firebricks. They all have the same mass but a unique shape. They blend in, blurring the border between art and environment.
With minimalism, meaning doesn’t rest inside the object, waiting to be unlocked but in the context and in your interaction with it. It encourages observation, but doesn’t draw you in and never tries to. Minimalist art imparts a feeling for space, light and you notice that your position in the room shapes your perception of the thing.
Sol LeWitt was one of the most influential artist and original thinker associated with Minimalism and Conceptual Art. He is known for his large-scale wall drawings, methodical array of designs, shapes, grids and colors.
Ellsworth Kelly’s painting and sculptures laid the foundations to develop Minimalism as a whole. His seminal work in hard-edge and color field paintings emphasizing bright colors and geometric blocks had a profound impact on the next generation of Minimalists.
Agnes Martin blended Minimalism and Colour Field using grids to organize elements in her work and creating variations of soothing canvases with subtle colors.
Minimalism and Architecture
Minimal architecture uses simple geometric shapes, clean lines, flat roofs, huge windows, natural lighting, balanced colors, basic materials, neat components and soul soothing negative spaces. The early minimalist architecture can be found in the works of Le Corbusier in the 1920s, who created innovative buildings with striking geometrical designs.
Le Corbusier was a pioneer of minimal modern architecture. He used elemental geometric forms, proportion, modularity and proclaimed that the base principal for design is that “it must be beautiful.”
Architect John Pawson famously remarked: “The minimum could be defined as the perfection that an artefact achieves when it is no longer possible to improve on it by subtraction.” The architects and designers looked to attain simplicity with the help of elegant lighting and huge spaces with very less objects and furniture. The main idea was to strip everything to its essential element to a point where nothing could be removed further to improve the design.
The rise of minimalism in architecture was also a result of rapid expansion and chaotic environment of urban life. It is hugely inspired by Zen influenced Japanese minimalist design. The Zen idea of simplicity conveys the nature of freedom in a way that simplicity is much more than aesthetics, it's also about our relationship with innate qualities of materials and objects.
One of the iconic figure in the field of architecture is the Japanese minimalist architect Tadao Ando who is known for his minimal designs which revolved around geometry, materials and nature. He would normally use basic natural structural forms and materials like natural wood to achieve simplicty. He creates a discourse between the site and nature to set up a relationship and order with the buildings.
Tadao Andos’ style is known as Critical Regionalism, utlizing aspects of Modernism and Post Modernism. Known for balancing concrete with weightlessness of light, his work involves a masterful use of elements from his Japanese heritage where light enters the interiors at the right angles to create a visually rich modern aesthetic.
Minimalist architecture find its roots not only in the Japanese culture but also in movements like De Stilj and Bauhaus. Infact, minimalism is often referred to as the pared down product of the Bauhaus era. Bauhaus was a German school of art and architecture which redefined the effect of design in the Modernist age. It laid emphasis on functionality and their famous line ‘form follows function’ is hugely popular even today. They used clean lines, white space and simple color themes. The Bauhaus designs were not only functional but also beautiful.
The Bauhaus building, designed by Walter Gropius in 1925 in Dessau, Germany was the school’s second headquarter.
One of key figure in popularity of minimalism and the third director of Bauhaus art school is the German architect, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Also know as the father of modern architecture, he gave the slogan “Less is more” to define his design aesthetic and used new materials like glass and steel over concrete. His method was to place the required component of the building in a way that it gives a sense of simplicity and made sure that his work serves both visual and functional elements.
Completed in 1956, Crown Hall is regarded as a masterpiece in modern architecture. It shows Mies van der Rohe's steel-and-glass construction technique and personification of his statement "less is more”.
Minimalism in Product and Scandinavian Interior Design
Minimalism in product and interior design is a trend where a subject is brought down to its essential elements. Clean lines, solid neutral tones, natural materials, symmetry, visual balance and elegant lighting are key components of minimalist design.
Minimalist product design picked up the lead from art and architecture movements. Max Bill, a former Bauhaus art school student co-founded Ulm School of Design in Germany. It worked closely with Braun, whose design head Dieter Rams designed products which influenced Jony Ive, the former chief design officer of Apple and who’s responsible for designing products like iPhone, iPod and iPad. Companies like Apple have successfully used the minimal design concepts into their products.
In Interior design, Scandinavian design is a design movement inspired by minimalism. It thrived in the 50s across Nordic countries combining elements like geometric patterns, natural materials like wood, stone, pops of color and functionality. Scandinavian design takes inspiration from the natural world and only those components of design are considered which are natural. At the same time, functionality is equally important in Scandinavian interiors.
What We Can Learn From Minimalism
1. RESTRAINT INSPIRES CREATION
Minimalism is an approach to see beauty in the simplest of forms. Although it might seem like a basic design principle, it requires a great amount of creativity when you have to reduce the creation to its essential elements with the help of simple forms and produce works which are in harmony with space.
2. EMBRACE SIMPLICITY
Minimalism embraces the philosophy of less is more at every level. It asks us to reflect on what is really essential in our lives and get rid of the daily clutter. It also reminds us that the absence of something can be even more beautiful than the thing itself. Embracing a minimalist lifestyle helps us to question what are the things that really bring joy in our lives so we can lead a more fulfilled life.
3. WHAT YOU SEE IS WHAT YOU SEE
Minimalism is present in almost every part of our lives. Although it doesn’t convey any emotional symbolism yet the aesthetics of it is quite rewarding for the viewer. It doesn’t try to replicate outside reality and the focus is only on what is in front of the viewer. It tells us that pieces or objects doesn’t express anything but themselves. This means the art is reduced to its truest form.