What is minimalism in art?

Posted by Robert Lange on

Empty space can speak volumes.

Imagine a canvas with nothing but a single black square, or a room filled with just a few perfectly aligned white boxes. In a time when "more" is often seen as "better," minimalist artists dared to challenge our perceptions and invited us to find beauty in simplicity. What is minimalism in art, exactly? Let us show you.

Table of Contents

What is Minimalism In Art? Definition

Let's start by answering the quite common question: what is minimalism in art?

Minimalism. Definition In Art

Minimalism started in the late 1950s and gained prominence in the 1960s, but its influence on modern art is still evident today. 

Minimalist paintings or sculptures can be recognized by their focus on simplicity and clarity, the use of basic geometric forms, and limited color palettes. Minimalist artists strive to strip art down to its fundamental features, often removing any personal expression or narrative content.

The movement emphasizes the importance of the artwork's physical properties, such as shape, color, and materials. Minimalism seeks to create a direct and unadorned experience for the viewer, highlighting the medium's essence. 

Key figures in the movement include:

  • Donald Judd, Agnes Martin,
  • Sol LeWitt,
  • Robert Morris,
  • Dan Flavin,
  • Carl Andre,
  • Richard Serra

 – all fantastic artists who created works that strived to achieve order, precision, and an economy of form. We'll tell you more about them in a moment, so stay tuned.

Minimalism in Art: Get to Know The History (& Theory!)

Minimalism in art started in the late 1950s and became more prominent in the 1960s. It emerged as a reaction against the more complex and expressive styles of art that were popular at the time, like abstract expressionism. Minimalist artists wanted to create art that was simple and straightforward. 

What's Minimalism In Art All About?

Generally, minimalism refers to works with a significantly simplified, economical form. Minimal art usually consists of simple geometric shapes, and uniform surfaces. To put it briefly, minimalism in art is all about simplicity. But what does it mean, exactly? We chose five distinguishing features that will help you recognize minimalist art whenever you come across it.

  1. Less is More. Minimalist art uses the fewest possible elements to create an effect. It gives up all that's unnecessary.
  2. Simple Shapes and Even Simpler Lines. The artwork often features basic shapes like squares, rectangles, circles, and straight lines.
  3. Limited Color Palette. Minimalist artists usually use a small range of colors, often sticking to black, white, and primary colors (red, blue, and yellow).
  4. No Big or Hidden Meaning. Unlike some other art styles, minimalism isn't usually about hidden messages or complex themes. What you see is what you get. The artists managed even to add an unusual sense of anonymity to their works.
  5. Calm and Order. Due to its simplicity and clean design, minimalist art often evokes a sense of calm and order, peace and contemplation, meditation and stillness, and even silence. And not by mere accident! The artist has thought it through. 

In short, minimalism is about keeping things simple, clear, and clutter-free.


minimalism in art

More Than Paintings: Minimalism In Fine Arts

Minimalism spans across various forms of art, consistently prioritizing simplicity, clarity, and the essential elements of the medium – whatever it may be.

  • Donald Judd is known for his simple, box-like structures made from industrial materials like steel and Plexiglas. His works are distinct because of their clean lines and geometric shapes. To see his works, visit the Museum of Modern Art – famous New York's MoMA.
  • Agnes Martin. Her paintings often feature grid patterns and subtle, monochromatic colors, creating a sense of tranquility and even discipline. Do you remember when we said minimalism stood opposite movements, such as abstract expressionism? Well, with Agnes Martin, the situation is a little bit complicated: she was considered a minimalist artist, but she saw herself as a representative of abstract expressionism. Doesn't it show how complex the art movements are?
  • Richard Serra was an American sculptor known for his series of pieces, such as Splash or Prop. You can see (and experience!) one of his most famous sculptures at the Toronto airport.
  • Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was a renowned German architect and a leading representative of the International Style. Although he's not officially connected to the minimalism movement, his designs, such as the Barcelona Pavilion and the Seagram Building, are perfect examples of minimalist buildings with open spaces, simple forms, and modern materials, such as glass and steel. 
  • Tadao Ando is known for his minimalist buildings, which blend with their natural surroundings. They use simple geometric shapes and concrete, as seen in the Church of the Light.

If you want to learn more about the various art styles, how about performance art?

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