Now Reading: Is Minimalist Art Pretentious Or Does It Have Artistic Meaning?


Is Minimalist Art Pretentious Or Does It Have Artistic Meaning?

April 18, 20194 min read

At face value, minimalist art seems incredibly devoid of emotion and the very definition of bare bones. Indeed, much of the public tends to take one look at the square or circle sitting all lonesome on a blank canvas and scoff. However, a considerable amount of actual artists are insistent upon the value of minimalist art beyond its appearance. They claim that minimalist art requires a nuanced, focused skillset capable of expressing complexity within simplicity, which is what makes it so impactful and difficult.

Minimalist art. Courtesy of DYAStudio

Action painting. Courtesy of Robert Miskines



Minimalism began as an American movement from New York City in the 1960s that was brought on in opposition to Action painting, a style that reigned during the ’50s. Action painting was a wild style characterized by bright colors and startling contrasts, often appearing as if someone just flung multicolored splotches of paint on a canvas.

Minimalists thought that Action painting was too superfluous and personal, and they decided to cut down on unnecessary details. They wanted to provide people with a clear-cut experience that focused on linear elements, two-dimensional shapes, and complete objectivity. Minimalism was intended to project heart through simple, unidentifiable forms, reflecting the less-is-more philosophy.

From then on, minimalism continued to spread its wings into other fields such as music and photography. Even today, minimalism exists in many parts of American culture. Mansions are beginning to adopt the geometric sleekness of minimalism and moving away from Victorian houses. Instagram poetry, which is usually written in short verses and modern vernacular, has risen to new heights, especially with the success of Rupi Kaur and Amanda Lovelace.

“Bridge” by Robert Ryman (1980) sold for $20.6 million at an auction in 2015. Courtesy of Christie’s

However, minimalistic artwork is still looked down upon, especially when Minimalist artists are selling their paintings for millions of dollars. This calls into question the true value behind minimalistic art: Is all the praise surrounding this style of art actually worth listening to? Or are they just words from the artistic community to excuse the selling of overpriced, ridiculous paintings? Many have labeled minimalist art as pretentious and lazy, especially when there is artwork out there that took days to complete but still doesn’t receive the same amount of appreciation.

However, nothing is always how it seems. Despite the negative reactions to minimalist art, there certainly is a rich history and some strong motivations to explain all the sparseness and empty space. Minimalist art may not be incredibly stimulating or interesting to look at, but it is necessary to know that its sole purpose isn’t to be anything, but rather to just be. This debate may continue to rage for a long time, and, in the meanwhile, minimalism will likely continue to exert its influence on American culture.

Photo Courtesy of Joanna Kosinska

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Phyllis Feng

Phyllis Feng is an Ohio-based writer who loves venturing into a diverse array of topics, from literature and music to mental health. She always seeks to emphasize honesty and empathy in her work. In her free time, you'll usually find her with a book and a mug of tea in her hands.