Exploring Minimalist Art – All you need to know

There’s something about minimalist art that makes it so captivating. Perhaps it’s the clean lines and simple shapes. Whatever the reason, minimalist art has a certain appeal that can’t be denied. If you’re interested in learning more about minimalist art, this guide is for you.

We’ll explore the history of this type of art, as well as how it influenced to art world today. We’ll also take a look at some of the most famous minimalist artworks. So whether you’re an artist yourself or just appreciate the beauty of simplicity, read on to learn all about minimalist art.

The development of minimalist art

The art movement originated in the 1950s and 1960s in the United States of America and is defined as a style that uses simple, clean forms and lines. The goal of minimalism is to strip down the work to its essentials, to create a work that is free of distractions and superfluous elements.

Minimalist art by Anne Truitt
Anne Truitt, Sumi Drawing, 1966, Truitt made these drawings while living in Japan. They have precise vertical stripes, but are also soft because they are made with Sumi ink, which is traditionally used in East Asian calligraphy © Image via MoMA under Fair Use
Lucio Fontana, Concetto spaziale, Attesa, 1960. “Concetto spaziale”, literally meaning “spatial concept”.
Destruction of the monochrome canvas by using of sharp knife cuts. © Image via Ketterer Kunst under Fair Use

Minimalism can be applied to many different types of art, including painting, sculpture, architecture, photography and even music. While it is often associated with the art of the 1960s, minimalist aesthetics have its roots in earlier movements such as De Stijl and Bauhaus. Some of the pioneers of this movement where Donald Judd, Robert Morris, Carl Andre, Agnes Martin and many more.

What you see is what you see

Quote on minimalist art by Frank Stella

The movement was a reaction against the excesses of Abstract Expressionism, the dominant artistic movement of the time, which was focused on symbolism and drama. Well-known representatives were, for example, Jackson Pollock or Franz Kline. 

And although the movement was a rejection of the abstract expressionist movement, the Russian avant-garde of the 1910s and 1920s, such as Constructivism and Suprematism, were very influential to the development of minimalist art.

Kazimir Malevich, Black Square, 1915, The first time someone made a painting that wasn’t of something, Malevich wanted to invent a new world of shapes and forms instead of depicting reality. Oil on canvas, 79.5 x 79.5 cm, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. Image Public Domain
Kazimir Malevich, Suprematist Composition: White on White, 1918. © Image via Hugh Marwood under Fair Use

Artists, such as Kazimir Malevich (the founder of Suprematism, which advocated reduction to the simplest geometric forms in the service of illustrating ‘highest’ human cognitive principles) were creating artworks reduced to the essentials as early as the 1915s.

The rise of a movement

But it was not until the end of the 1950s when a group of artists sought to create art that was more grounded, more rational, and more ordered. They believed that by simplifying their work, they could create a more powerful visual impact.

It was about getting viewers to have an immediate and pure visual response to their art, without thinking about what it might represent. The artists believed that this would create a personal connection with the art and that viewers would engage with its qualities more.

Frank Stella for example, an artist who was once part of the abstract expressionist movement, is most well-known for his Black Paintings – For some viewers, his monochromatic paintings still define the artist as a minimalist. He was only 23 when he first displayed four of his Black Paintings at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1959 (see picture below right).

Minimalist Art Guide  | Carl Andre
Carl Andre – Magnesium-Steel Couplet, Size: 1 x 30 x 60cm. In the early 1960s Andre’s arrangements created what would later be known as minimalism. © Image via Van Ham under Fair Use
Minimalist Art | Frank Stella
The Marriage of Reason and Squalor, II
1959
Frank Stella The Marriage of Reason and Squalor, II 1959. From the Black Paintings series by Stella. It debuted at The Museum of Modern Art in December 1959. © Image via MoMA under Fair Use
Robert Morris – Mirror and Glas. Originally installed 1971. Morris’ sculptures are very basic and geometric. He would often arrange these sculptures into groups. As the viewer walks around the four cubes, they see the reflections of the gallery and themselves shift and change. Size per cube: 91,4 x 91,4 x 91,4 cm, Tate Collection, London © 2020 The Estate of Robert Morris / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ Adagp, Paris, photo: A. Mole/MAMC via MAMC under Fair Use

In 1962, a book on the Russian avant-garde, The Great Experiment in Art was published by Camilla Gray. This book brought the concerns of the Russian avant-garde movements to a wider audience and helped inspire more and more artists¹.

Furthermore the 1966 exhibition „Primary Structures“ at the Jewish Museum in New York inspired the movement. In 1968, works of American Minimal Art were shown for the first time in Europe in an exhibition tour entitled minimal art.

How Minimalist Art influenced the art world

Even though there were many controversies about the art movement, Minimalism has had a profound impact on the art world, and its influence can still be seen in many contemporary artists. 

Minimalist art has been influential in both the fine art world and the world of design. In the fine art world, it has led to the popularity of abstract and conceptual art. In design, it has influenced everything from architecture to fashion. The impact of minimalist art can be seen everywhere in our modern world. It is a style that has been embraced by many and has become an integral part of our visual culture.

My favorite books* on minimalist art

My thoughts

Minimalist art has had a major impact on the art world. Today, minimalist art is still being made, and its simplicity continues to resonate with viewers. If you want to see how artists are creating minimalist art these days, feel free to check out my art category.

While minimalism is often associated with cold and impersonal art, the best works of minimalism are actually quite engaging and thought-provoking. By stripping away all the distractions, minimalism allows the viewer to focus on the essentials of the work, and to see it in a new and different light. 

The best minimalistic works are those that are able to say more with less, and that can convey a powerful message with simplicity.

Further reading

¹ https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/m/minimalism
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minimalism
https://www.moma.org/collection/terms/minimalism

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Aesence is a creative studio and digital design magazine with a high curatorial approach. Founded by Sarah Dorweiler, a creative mind and entrepreneur from Berlin, her goal is to capture the feeling of harmony, balance and inner peace in her curatorial work and photography.