Minimalist Art: A Quick Intro

The term “minimalist art” can sometimes simply mean art that is uncomplicated and fits into minimalist interior design, but the phrase has a more specific meaning within the art community.

It that refers to a particular movement that began in the 1950s, gained popularity and followers in the 1960s and continued into the 1970s and beyond.

The minimalist art movement strips away many of the elements viewers consider when looking at art to leave something more raw and unobstructed. For some, this simplest of art styles becomes boring, lifeless and uninteresting. For others, this kind of art without the distraction of theme or recognizable representations allows works to become whatever they wants to see.

Most often, minimalist art involves only lines, colors, simple shapes, textures and perhaps patterns. Minimalist artists would argue that nothing more is needed to make their points.

Minimalist Art And Related Artists In History

Some works by Mondrian, Reinhardt and Malevich can be described as minimalist as well.

Obviously, while a movement may or may not begin with the specific intention of taking art into unexplored areas, there is no type of artistic expression that hasn’t been seen in at least small glimpses throughout history. Still, a movement’s significance can be measured by the number of followers who create similar works around the same time, the intentionality of the expression and the impact the movement has on the art world in general.

Minimalist art has similarities to some kinds of pop art, land art and abstract expressionism. While works in these other fields are often as stark and simple as works from minimalism, the kind of minimalism in art expressed by Donald Judd, Frank Stella, Robert Morris, Dan Flavin and Carl Andre, for example, is something precise that deserves its own characterization.

Other Names For Minimalist Art

Because artistic movement often spring up organically, the term to best describe them doesn’t always present itself at the beginning of the movement — or, in fact, ever.

A number of names came forth to describe what we now know as minimalist art, but most faded away. A few persist as alternative descriptions for the movement.

Two of the more appealing of these monikers are “reductive art” and “systemic painting”. Some called this new movement “ABC art”, but it’s hard to see how this could be interpreted as anything but derogatory. While minimalist art may be as simple as A-B-C, that name is far from flattering from any point of view.

Some even tried to call this art form “literalism”, but in the end, it’s hard to see how that is appropriate.

A number of distinct offshoots of minimalist art carry unique names. Among these is the “Light and Space” movement from California started by Robert Irwin.

Minimalist Artists

Most artists associated with minimalism are American-born sculptors and painters born in the 1930s. Among them are sculptors Carl Andre, Larry Bell, Donald Judd, John McCracken and Robert Morris.

American painters linked to minimalism include Jo Baer, Robert Mangold, Agnes Martin and Robert Ryman. Frank Stella earned praise as both a painter and a sculptor.

Other important names include the installation artists Dan Flavin, Sol LeWitt and Fred Sandback. Tony Smith, born in 1912, is considered the originator of minimalist sculpture.

Final Thoughts

It’s easy to see how some would be unimpressed with minimalist art. At first glance, it appears to be so simple even a child could have done it.

Perhaps that’s the point.

Part of living a minimalist life is stripping away pretense to reach a kind of cleanness and clarity that so many adults have lost to cynicism.

Minimalist art is simple. Perhaps it even seems simplistic to some. If it does, that’s just as it should be.

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