Understanding Minimalist Art: Why Less Is More

23/01/2016 12:57 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
Buyenlarge via Getty Images
UNITED STATES - MARCH 22: Untitled box-like art, sometimes called Judd cubes, by Minimalist artist Donald Judd, though he detested the minimalist description, on the grounds of the Chinati Foundation, or La Fundacion Chinati, a contemporary art museum in Marfa, a surprisingly sophisticated town in the Texas high desert (Photo by Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images)

More is not always better. This lies at the core of the minimalist concept.

The general public tends to be unimpressed by minimalism, yet there are many artists who insist on introducing this style in their works. This growing sea of sculptors and painters keeps showing us that sometimes it's possible to represent the inherent intricacy and complexity of an idea with very few elements, and that this is exactly what makes the work of art so powerful. These artists show us there is still beauty in simplicity. The main idea here is that you can represent the idea without shrouding it in mystery by using many different elements. As the unattributed quote goes, "Minimalism is not subtraction for the sake of subtraction. Minimalism is subtraction for the sake of focus."

As the unattributed quote goes, "Minimalism is not subtraction for the sake of subtraction. Minimalism is subtraction for the sake of focus."

Minimalism has always been a part of art, ever since ancient times, though it's often treated as a relatively new concept today.

The origin. The rise

The art world saw a renaissance of contemporary minimalism in 1958, when Frank Stella started working on a series of art highlighted by black enamel stripe painting. In 1959, his Black Paintings started gaining popularity and were exhibited in different high-profile places, eventually gaining an inclusion in the prestigious Museum of Modern Art's "Sixteen Americans". Soon after, artists like Donald Judd and Robert Morris began crafting their own minimalist art works on sculptures and other art mediums.

Since the 60s the concept of minimalism continued to expand with several exhibitions that included works by Morris, Judd, and Carl Andre, Series such as "Shape and Structure" in the Tibor de Nagy Gallery pushed the envelope of minimalist art even further. Mainstream media quickly stepped in to cover the rebirth of the minimalist art movement, making it a conversation point for art enthusiasts across the world. It wouldn't take long before one of the country's leading art publications, Art in America coined a term for this movement -- the new "cool art".


Despite criticisms from the leading art critics of the era, the traction gained by the minimalist art movement snowballed to influence more artists and reach a wider audience, leading up to the modern day art world's sustained fascination with minimalism.

The concept

Minimal art is abstract and the subject and techniques used are kept to a minimum.

The resulting work is characterised by extreme simplicity of form and a deliberate lack of expressive content. The overall concept is to produce artworks devoid of unnecessary elements, but still produce an outcome with essential art quality.

The objective of minimalistic art is to reduce its content to rigorous clarity. It focuses on the most essential and elemental aspects of an object and not so much on the personal expression of the artist.

Artists are known to use heterogeneous objects, forms and platforms. For example, in performance art, artists use varied materials such as the human voice, body, light, music, sounds, languages and stage props. In minimalist art, all of these are simplified. This makes it tougher for the artist to accomplish the desired effect but if done successfully the audience appreciates the simplicity yet overflowing artistry of a minimalist artwork.

It focuses on the most essential and elemental aspects of an object and not so much on the personal expression of the artist.

The most accepted literalism of minimalist art is the fact that an artist doesn't have to create a visual fairy tale. An artist can achieve total artistic freedom unchained to the idea that an art piece should comprise voluminous visual elements, instead relying on talent to create an art work from the barest of resources and materials. This is the biggest reason why the art crowd nowadays pays more attention to minimalist art

The philosophy

Art critics like Michael Fried point out the simplicity of minimalism and think that it shreds the value of art. They say that art as a medium of expression should display "exorbitant visual essence, symbolism or spiritual transcendence" in order to make itself unique.

Defenders of the minimalist art suggest otherwise, arguing that creating art by mere simplified shapes and lines is by no means an easy feat and does not diminish art. In fact, it is a very challenging ordeal that brings out the best in every artist. This assumption, which is being confirmed by many artists today, makes minimalist art more appealing and compelling.


Minimalism is not about creating something complicated designed to make viewers think deeply about the artist's message. No, in minimalism the message is quite clear and because only a few elements are used, this makes this style a lot more difficult than one would initially think. Imagine you had a hundred words to explain a concept to someone. Now imagine you only had 10 words to explain the same concept. It's not that easy, is it? This is one of the main reasons minimalism is such an important art style.

Sometimes (or mostly) less is more.

Some advice

To all young artists out there looking for an identity, remember you don't have to wade through the waters of grand art - the dramatic and ostentatious visuals.

Minimalism is difficult but it's very rewarding, both for the audience and the artist. Bear in mind the contributions made by minimalist artists such as Frank Stella, for they have shown that art, even in its simplest form can evoke an emotional response and interact better with audiences. Now, let your imaginations run free and start creating minimalist art that transcends barriers, knocks down obstacles and knows no limitations.

Simple is beautiful

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