The Rise of Minimalism
Abstract expressionism dominated the US art scene throughout the 1950s as artists sought, in true Romantic fashion, to express their personal emotions through their art. As with any large art movement in American culture (or elsewhere), there were fringe groups that did not adopt the style and / or developed oppositional styles over time, drawing from but also subverting whichever dominant art movement one cares to name. Minimalist art, like many art movements around the world, arose in direct opposition to the art movement that preceded it. To the minimalists, abstract expressionism was deemed pretentious and sentimental. The minimalists believed that a work of art should not refer to anything outside of itself. In other words, minimalist art was created only as art, ideally stripped of any external messages, motives, or meanings, as well as being as detached as possible from its creator’s emotional state.
When it came to art criticism, the works of minimalist artists like Frank Stella, Anne Truitt, and Donald Judd featured pared-down design elements: simple color palettes and straightforward techniques. Again, this was in direct reaction to abstract expressionism, which encouraged Romantic flourish and spontaneity in pursuit of artistic expression. Art critics of the 1950s perhaps felt more justification in commenting on the personal lives of abstract expressionist artists, due to the movement itself encouraging personal details in the artists’ work. It’s no question that minimalist art was more difficult to critique in that sense, as artists worked to purge their pieces of external messages. At the same time, such pursuits freed the artists from the pressure of social commentary, a pressure which many felt bound to at one time or another in their career. Likewise, art critics were freed from examining such commentary, instead evaluating each piece wholly as a piece of art and nothing more.
Minimalist art gradually had a larger and larger impact on American culture, eventually spawning a movement similar to the reductive, simplified lifestyles of earlier Transcendentalists like Henry David Thoreau. Much like in art, those who live minimalist lifestyles seek to vastly reduce the number or material possessions they need to live their daily lives. Oftentimes this means freeing up larger amounts of space in the home and / or living in a considerably smaller space. The minimalist movement in the home features the living space as a kind of art that enables the home’s inhabitants to function free from the constraints of distraction. Minimalist living has also become considerably more popular as a result of the worldwide economic downturn of the early 2010s, and looks to retain a following, especially in major metropolitan areas where space is at an absolute premium.
Keywords: minimalist art, minimalism, American culture, abstract expressionism, art criticism, art movement, artists