A Look at the Minimalist Art Movement

Minimalist art is a style of art characterized by the pairing down of visual elements. This style began in the New York and became and important part of the American visual arts of the early 1960s. Minimalist art is a reaction to abstract expressionism and attempts to remove the elements of self expression, illusion, metaphor and emotion from the art. The goal was to create art that was solely a visual experience. Abstract geometric shapes are the main feature of minimalist art. Inspiration for minimalist art comes from a variety of artists including Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso and Georgio Morandi. Minimalism itself, is largely derived from 18th century Zen Philosophy. Freedom, simplicity and the essence of living are foundational principals of Zen Philosophy.


Die Fahne Hoch! By Frank Stella (1959)



Frank Stella was the first painter and print maker associated with the minimalist style. His work in the late 1950s and early 1960s followed his belief that a painting was nothing more than flat surface with paint on it. This philosophy is evident in his painting titled “Die Fahne Hoch!” The painting was made by dividing the canvas into equal parts from each edge. Black enamel covers the entire canvas except for the thin lines dividing it. The title, “Die Fahne Hoch!,” is a reference to the anthem of the Nazi party. His purpose in applying an emotional title to this work of abstract geometry was to challenge the idea of meaning. This piece is housed in the Whitney Museum of American Art.



Voice of Fire by Barrett Newman (1967)



Barrett Newman was not a minimalist artist by definition, but some of his work qualifies as minimalism. “Voice of Fire” by Barnett Neuman is an example of minimalist art from 1967. The “Voice of Fire” consists of a vertical red stripe centered on a canvas in portrait orientation with vertical blue stripes on either side of it. This piece is housed in the National Gallery of Canada.

Color field painting is another form of minimalist painting. The purpose of color field painting is to reject the illusions of depth and gestural brushwork that are coveted in traditional painting. The paint in a color field painting is applied in large swathes and sometimes all at once. This eliminates the distinction between subject and background and emphasizes the flatness of the canvas. Color field painting has also been called Post-Painterly Abstraction and Hard-Edge painting.



IKB 191 by Yves Klein (1962)

Yves Klein painted “IKB 191” in 1962. This painting is a canvas in portrait orientation that is evenly painted royal blue.



Composition of Red, Blue, Yellow and White: Nom II by Piet Mondrian (1939)

Composition of Red, Blue, Yellow and White: Nom II was made before the official start of the minimalist art moment in the late 1950s. It is the beginning of the non figurative style of painting that grows into the minimalist movement. This painting contains the geometric forms, lack of depth and fields of color associated with minimalism.







Minimalist art is heavily represented in the genre of sculpture. Repetitive geometric forms and processed materials are characteristic of minimalist sculpture. Minimalist sculpture can be found in public spaces around the world.


Bronze Gate by Robert Morris (2005)

Robert Morris is a famous minimalist sculptor. One of his recent minimalist sculptures is titled “Bronze Gate.” This sculpture was finished in 2005 and is a steel arch in the dialysis garden of the hospital of Pistoia in Italy.


Untitled by Donald Judd (2005)

Donald Judd is another American artist that is associated with minimalist sculpture. The philosophy of his work was to create an environment of autonomy and clarity for constructed objects. His untitled 1977 piece in Munster, Germany consists of two concentric circular walls of concrete. The inner circle is a little taller than the outer one.


Mirror/Mirror-Table/Table by Richard Artschwager (1964)

Mirror/Mirror-Table/Table is a minimalist sculpture made of synthetic laminate Formica. Richard Artschwager chose this material for Mirror/Mirror-Table/Table because its fake quality intrigued him. It is similar to the visual paradox of vinyl wood grain. The dark parts of the sculpture are made from a mahogany Formica and the light colored sections are bright Formica. The contrast between the “mirror” and “table” elements of this sculpture are an analogy of the differences between picture and object.





The minimalist art movement also affected the music genre. Michael Nyman coined the term “minimal music” in 1970. Minimalist music features repetition and iteration. Yves Klein, a French composer, created the “Monotone-Silence Symphony.” This piece consists of a single sustained chord for 20 minutes followed by 20 silent minutes.


Philip Glass

Philip Glass is a famous, American, composer. He doesn’t agree with the classification of his music as minimalist. His music contains the elements associated with minimalism regardless of classification. His violin solo, “Strung Out,” is an example of his minimalist composition.







Steve Reich performing clapping music.

Steve Reich is a famous minimalist composer. His work titled “Piano Phase” is an example of a minimalist music composition. The composition utilized two pianos that begin playing the same notes and over time one of the players begins to speed up their playing. The pianos are heard in phase at the beginning of the composition and out of phase by the end.

Literary minimalism began before minimalism in the visual arts. Literary minimalism is based on surface description and forces the reader to take sides through the use of hints or clues. The author leads the reader through the story in other forms of literature. Writers who have written in the minimalist style include Ernest Hemingway, Charles Bukowski, Amy Hempel and Mary Robison. “For Whom The Bell Tolls” is an example of Hemingway’s minimalist style.

Ernest Hemingway is considered a literary minimalist for several reasons. He writes in a direct and rigid style called hard-boiled. His writing was efficient and to the point. His truthful writing style is also associated with minimalism. These characteristics are also present in the minimalist literature of other writers.

The themes of austerity and simplicity are the foundation of the minimalist art movement. These themes can be found in a plethora of arts from painting to music. This indicates the vast influence of minimalist art on the world, its importance in art history and its continued influence today.

Minimalist Art


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