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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. In other fields of art, it has been used to describe the novels of Ernest Hemingway, 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

One of Dan Flavin's lighting tube installations One of Dan Flavin's lighting tube installations

Stack by Donald Judd Stack by Donald Judd

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 (see David Smith and Donald Judd). 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 Brāncuşi. 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. Brāncuşi'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 neon 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. Later 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, 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.

Musical minimalism

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!"

Minimalist design

"Pop" (2005) minimalist furniture by the American industrial designer Brad Ascalon. "Pop" (2005) minimalist furniture by the American industrial designer Brad Ascalon.

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.

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Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

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