Image by Natalia Y
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VOLUME 7

MINIMALISM: IS IT ART OR IS IT SOMETHING ELSE?

BY M ARY M ACK

Minimalism exposes only the essential; a pure, abstract expression of form. But is minimalism art in the true sense? Or is minimalism something else entirely, an expression which belies the traditional parameters of "art" for a definition all its own?


The original minimalism movement emerged out of the crowded, diverse modern art movement of the 1950s and 1960s. It was a youth-led movement, a stark statement-making movement which tore away the chaotic, emotive abstract expressionist works that held firm in the modern art niche in the previous two decades.

 
Minimalism was--and still is--a rejection of a style which embodied emotion and self. 

 

Where abstract expressionism is messy, minimalism is sleek. Where abstract expressionism is active and deeply personal, minimalism removes emotions, removes self-expression and yes, even removes the sense of the individual. 


At its core, minimalism is about truth and simplicity. Objects are what they are; a canvas is what it is; and what alterations are made are done with the intention to expose that truth for all to see.


Yet the question remains: should minimalism be called art? Or does it never quite cross 
the threshold from material manipulation (regardless of the intention of that manipulation) into artistic expression? 


Some artists may reject the concept of minimalism as art due to its rejection of self-expression and individuality. Art must contain something of the artist, they argue; without self-expression, without the injection of individuality onto the canvas, without an actual message behind it, then minimalism is merely expressionless lines, colors, blocks and shapes. 

They would argue that minimalism is no more art than a chair on a patio or a fire hydrant on the street. 


On the other hand, some artists argue that minimalism is an artistic expression because it seeks to reduce expression to the essentials. Minimalism, they argue, expresses through that lack of expression. It expresses through simpler, pure forms: textures, materials, lines and grooves. Minimalism emphasizes shapes, materials, while paring down everything but the most essential aspects of any given canvas, material or form. The deliberate lack of traditional thematic artistic expressions is therefore, itself, an artistic choice.


It is entirely possible that neither argument is the entire truth. Minimalism may not be traditional art, but that does not mean it is not an artistic expression. Perhaps minimalism has created its own unique category of expression, something that falls into an area that neither artists nor consumers can quite pin down.


If minimalism seeks to expose the truth rather than inject artistic moralities or individual messages into lines and forms, then perhaps it is not an expression from the artist… but an expression of the art itself. 


Minimalism may have made its first objective waves in the 1950s and 1960s, when abstract artists and the like rebuked the idea of a shockingly simple, thematically emotionless piece of art. Yet there is no denying that minimalism remains an incredibly popular ideal for those today who seek to pare down their lives--or their personal spaces--into the purest abstract forms. It is in the lives of these collectors, these homeowners, these consumers of art and expression, where minimalism continues to thrive.