Reference Library: Minimalism
'Minimalism' describes movements in various forms of art and design, especially visual art and music, where the work is stripped down to its most fundamental features and core self expression. In other fields of art, it has been used to describe the plays of Samuel Beckett, the films of Robert Bresson, the stories of Raymond Carver, and even the automobile designs of Colin Chapman.
As a specific movement in the arts it is identified with developments in post-World War II Western Art, most strongly with the visual arts. The term has expanded to encompass a movement in music which features repetition and iteration, for example the music of Steve Reich, Philip Glass and Terry Riley. (See also Post-Minimalism). It is rooted in the spare aspects of Modernism, and is often associated with Postmodernism and reaction against Expressionism in both painting and composition.
The term "minimalist" can also refer to anything which is spare, stripped to its essentials, or providing only the outline of structure, independent of the particular art movement, and "minimalism" the tendency to reduce to fundamentals. It is sometimes applied to groups or individuals practicing asceticism and the reduction of physical possessions and needs to a minimum.
Minimalism in visual art
A minimalist painting, for example, will typically use a limited number of colors, and have a simple geometric design. Minimalist sculpture on the other hand is greatly focused on the materials used (see Donald Judd and Dan Flavin). While many believe minimalism to be a movement specific to geometric representations, it extends far outside this constraint.
There were three notable phases of the minimalist movement:
First the distillation of the forms wherein the greatest contributors were probably the Russian Constructivists and the Romanian sculptor Constantin Brâncuşi. The Russian Constructivists proclaiming the distillation was in order to create a universal language of art which the masses were meant to understand. It may have also supported the rapid industrialization planned for the massive country. Brâncuşi's work was much more of a search for the purity of the form and thus paved the way for the abstractions that were to come, such as minimalism.
The second (and most notable) phase in the movement came with artists including Carl Andre, Anne Truitt, Dan Flavin, Sol LeWitt, Frank Stella, Donald Judd, Ad Reinhardt and Robert Smithson. It commenced in 1964 with the exhibition of Dan Flavin's 'Monument for V Tatlin' which was an assembly of fluorescent lighting tubes. The tubes had not been modified in any way by the artist, merely arranged. The assembly did not signify anything other than itself. It simply existed. These 1960s artists were anti-Romantic. They very explicitly stated that their art was not self-expression, in complete opposition to the previous decade's Abstract Expressionists. Very soon they created a minimal style, whose features included: rectangular and cubic forms purged of all metaphor, equality of parts, repetition, neutral surfaces, industrial materials, all of which leads to immediate visual impact.
Other minimal sculptors included Tony Smith, Larry Bell and John McCracken.
Ad Reinhardt summed up the style in these terms: '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.'
This style was heavily criticised. It was called futile, mechanistic, mandarin, elitist, circular, pedantic and authoritarian. Some critics thought they were dealing with outright fraud.
Also notable are the post-minimalists, including Eva Hesse, Hannah Wilke, Martin Puryear, Tyrone Mirchell, Melvin Edwards and Joel Shapiro. The keystone of post-minimalism is the often distinct references to objects without direct representation. This has become a predominant trend in modern sculpture.
:Main article: Minimalist music
In classical music of the last 35 years, the term 'minimalism' is sometimes applied to music which displays some or all of the following features: repetition (often of short musical phrases, with minimal variations over long periods of time) or stasis (often in the form of drones and long tones); emphasis on consonant harmony; a steady pulse. Minimalist music is sometimes very similar, currently, to electronic music and composition.
It should be noted that the minimalist movement in music bears only an occasional relationship to the movement of the same name in visual art. This connection is probably one reason why many minimalist composers dislike the term. Philip Glass, whose group initially performed at art galleries where his minimalist visual artist friends were showing, reportedly said of minimalism, "That word should be stamped out!! LOL!
The term 'minimalism' is also used to describe a trend in design and architecture wherein the subject is reduced to its necessary elements. Minimalist design has been highly influenced by Japanese traditional design and architecture.
Architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe adopted the motto "Less is more''" to describe his aesthetic tactics of flattening and emphasizing the building's frame, eliminating interior walls and adopting an open plan, and reducing the structure to a strong, transparent, elegant skin. Designer Buckminster Fuller adopted a similar saying, "Doing more with less", but his concerns were more oriented towards technology and engineering than aesthetics.
Contemporary architects working in this tradition include John Pawson, Eduardo Souto de Moura, Tadao Ando, and Peter Zumthor.
Minimalism is also the name of a simple religious framework based on the principle that the more complex the set of beliefs the more likely it is to reflect the wrong assumptions of the various and often unknown people who have contributed to it (but this does not mean that another religion is necessarily wrong).
At its heart is reverence for a divinity to whom one may pray. This is a single being for, as the medieval philosopher William Occam said, why multiply entities (or assumptions) unnecessarily?
It avoids giving attributes (either limbs or supposed qualities) to the divinity because it believes that the more we attribute, whether by imagination or inference, the more likely we are to make mistakes. And as we don't really need a portrait to revere God, mystery is preferred to misconception.
As for explaining the cosmos, minimalism considers that this is not a matter for religion (which is about our relationship with God and ethical living) so we should let science and philosophy serve as best they can for those who are interested.
Similarly, for advice on food, health, personal problems etc, professional experts rather than religious advisers or dogmas are recommended, if available. And, notably, minimalism says nothing about an afterlife, even if there is one. It considers that we should simply live the way we should, given what we are. (And if we were created, it argues, would a revered Creator really be unhappy with that?)
Minimalism is not associated with an authority or personality. Its words are said to speak for themselves. Nor does it aim to drive out existing religions but rather it aims to supplement them.
Literary minimalism is characterized by an economy with words and a focus on surface description. Minimalist authors eschew adverbs and prefer allowing context to dictate meaning. Readers are expected to take an active role in the creation of a story, to "choose sides" based on oblique hints and innuendo, rather than reacting to directions from the author. The characters in minimalist stories and novels tend to be unexceptional; they're average people who sell pool supplies or coach second tier athletic teams, not famous detectives or the fabulously wealthy. Generally, the short stories are "slice of life" stories.
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 classifiy this prose style as minimalism.
Another strand of literary minimalism arose in response to the meta-fiction trend of the 1960s and early 1970s (John Barth, Coover, and William H. Gass). These writers were also spare with prose and kept a psychological distance from their subject matter.
Minimalist authors include the following: Raymond Carver, Chuck Palahniuk, Bret Easton Ellis, Ernest Hemingway, Amy Hempel, Bobbie Ann Mason, Tobias Wolff, Grace Paley, Sandra Cisneros, Mary Robison, and Frederick Barthelme.
The Irish author Samuel Beckett is also known for his minimalistic plays and prose.
Minimalism in philosophy or minimalistic philosophies indicates a philosophy formed around only a few elements of life as opposed to the full spectrum. People practicing minimalistic philosophies often resort to living life with the bare minimum of what is required to survive (this may mean living in a "reduced-technology" environment).
Cults often claim to practice minimalistic philosophies, where the leaders exhort their followers to abandon things of value in their lives, including things as basic as clothes and the right to maintain personal hygiene.
Most modern philosophies could also be considered minimalistic in that they resort to providing only a limited set of valued elements as opposed to everything a person needs to live their life, for example a philosophy centered around only money.
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