The Concept of Minimalist Art

The earlier artists that were regarded as minimalist stood against anyone who tried to brand them as self-expressionists. Indeed, minimalistic art had much contrast to Expressionism. The art revolved around mostly simple geometric figures – uniform and symmetric, often cubic, stripped from their complex surroundings and thrown onto the canvas, using unmixed paint right from the tube.

Minimalism – The Masters of Less

Black Square
One of the earliest art that came to be defined as ‘minimal’ came from Kazimir Malevich, known as the Black Square. The painting describes just that – a black square on a white canvas. Originally derived as a concept in Russian Suprematism, the oil on canvas, as described by Kazimir, depicts the purity of an emotion. The black square represents the feeling, while the white background is the void that lies beyond this feeling, waiting for the feeling to end, to take hold of you once it does.

The Movement
In the words of one of the greatest in the Minimalist Movement, Frank Stella’s, “What you see is what you see” quote can be considered as the way to look at minimalist artworks. Of course, what you deduce from what you see is the result of opinions. His work, “The Marriage of Reason and Squalor, II”(1959) hinted at his commercial influence. Ad Reinhardt explains the Minimalism as, “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”. David Burliuk, a Russian Avant-Garde artist, wrote: ‘Minimalism derives its name from the minimum of operating means. Minimalist painting is purely realistic – the subject being the painting itself.’

A View of the Minimalist Movement, 1960

Origins
The real Minimalist Art Movement can be believed to have originated around the late 60’s in New York City. This can also be considered around the same time as the beginning of Literary Minimalism. The art depicted an extreme form of simplicity, often coming with a bare-all-without-baring-much attitude, giving minimalist artworks the hard-edge look that defines them. The main characteristics of minimalist art are what separate them from expressionist art – no form of cultural gestures, no representation of any strong public opinion, and absolutely no point of self-explanation of the artist through the painting or the sculpture.

The Names
Through time, the art came to be known as “ABC art”, “literalism” and “Reductive art”, with “Minimalistic” as the most prominent. The word was, however, rejected by most artists in the Movement. One of these was Donald Judd, the man famous for his ‘box art’ structures and installations. One of the people on the forefront of the Minimalist Movement of the 1960s, his work featured at “Primary Structures”, a historic group exhibit held at the Jewish Museum in New York, 1966. Alongside him were Carl Andre, Dan Flavin and Sol Lewitt, other important names of the Movement.

Other Art Forms
Although minimalism can be related to other art forms like Pop art or Land art (it may be debated on which is a derivative of which), minimalism holds its own style of headstrong artwork that is simple to see, yet provides a view into the human minds as heavy as (maybe even heavier than) the others. It still adheres to the concept of beauty being in the eyes of the beholder, but it does so in such a simple manner that we can discuss the effect of the work for hours.

The Passing of a Movement
It was at the end of the 1960s that the Minimalist Movement came to a slow and steady pace, if not been disbanded altogether. Artists moved on, critics fangs bared, attacked all minimalism, calling it frugal, confused and sometimes, ‘minimal’ in the derogatory sense. The most noteworthy critical remarks about the Minimalistic Movement can be found in an essay written by Michael Fried, “Art and Objecthood” (1967).

Towards the end of the 60’s, minimalist artists ended up redefining the concept of minimalism, using sculptures and Land art to almost eliminate the difference between object and the art of that object. This includes the “Light and Space” movement influenced by John McLaughlin. The works often included installations with materials like glass and resin. All works that pertained to the idea of minimalism, created after the Movement came to be known as “Post-Minimalism”.

To a minimalistic artist, less will always be more. They would refrain from an object having to share space, along with the viewers interest, with another object in the same canvas. They believe this to be a cause for unwanted confusion. It was, is, and hopefully will still continue to be, the belief that changed Modern Art.