Updated: Apr 20
Let’s talk about minimalism. I watched this Youtube video the other day, and don’t worry it’s linked, and its goal was to explain why certain all white canvases are famous and why not just anyone can do them. This was an obvious foray into the subject of minimalism and discussing why it’s a valid art form. Now, I’m not a fan of minimalism, it’s gotten really far away from what it was meant to be and I’ll explain why as we go along. Minimalism rose to prominence in the late 50’s and into the early 60’s as a step for artists to move away from Abstract Expressionism. Abstract Expressionism dominated the scene in the post World War II era and it seemed like artists didn’t rise unless they were adhering to this style but it also seemed like the art was getting away from an idea or meaning and becoming more of a battle to see who could make the wackiest image. So artists wanted to return to the idea, the basis of art and portray it in the simplest way they could, a showing that art didn’t need to be some wild and crazy image with 1,000 colors slapped on a canvas but it could be something that’s seemingly nothing, an idea materialized in a way not previously seen. Suddenly, Minimalist art was rising, canvases of just 2 or 3 colored squares, maybe just blank white, were dominating the gallery scene; less was more in art and the idea of it dominated. But a rising art style will always inspire young artists to follow its path and Minimalism has this quality that sets itself up for destruction: it’s just not that hard.
While the original idea of Minimalism was pure, the concept of art as an "idea" has crippled the artist community. I’ve said it a million times and I’ll say it a million more, but as artists we need a foundation and we need to understand what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. The fact that the object or image of minimalism isn’t that hard to create inspired the decision by young artists to just do that. No longer were they making this simple image as a response to another movement, or putting any merit behind their work. They just took a concept they liked, made a thing, and set out to try and convince us that the two are related. Or, the arguably worse move, they just made a thing and say it’s art because they think it’s art, because anything is art, much like the classic Duchamp Fountain conversation. The acceptance of, "I think it's art, so it's art," paired with people using a concept to rationalize their poorly crafted material thoughts has bred a generation of artists who don't understand art and rather than make an effort to understand it, they put their life towards rationalizing why their tired, overdone shit is art. That’s why I love the title of this article so much, it’s actually from one of the comments on that video I watched, because Minimalism quickly became like mumble rap, a few people started doing it, it’s definitely not as good as other variations of the medium, but it’s different so it gained some popularity and suddenly everyone was doing it.
I think modern art inspires this rage in so many people, especially the average viewer, because when it became more about the idea than the object/image, minimalist artists marketed that and were able to do less and less while still convincing galleries and collectors it was brilliant thus, and unfortunately, assigning value to what at its core is nothingness. “I feel like I could do that,” is what you hear a lot when showing people who don’t really know about art see Minimalist art and guess what. They probably can, but they’re not good at marketing the idea or why their crappy little canvas is worth a damn, so no one cares about it. I’m a huge fan of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and they have an episode where they try and pass Charlie’s crappy doodles off as modern art because he has a really terrible life, but when he starts acting like his life is awesome (he’s doing a Grieco thing) it fails and no one cares, then Frank buys a painting of stick figures for a crazy amount of money because of some story behind it. Now, this is super goofy but it’s not that far off and the difference between the “crappy doodles” and the “fine art painting” is that someone was willing to buy one and that’s kind of how modern art is and it’s become a big factor in driving the minimalist movement. The only people that have to be convinced are the gallery owners or collectors, once they fall for some lazily assigned value to a stick that someone decided is art, they’ll take care of the rest. No artist would ever try to convince the average viewer that their canvas of flat white is worth anything because they know they can convince the collector or curator and that person will then use their faux understanding of it to make the viewer feel unintelligent (refer back to my topic on art trying to make itself super exclusive), when in actuality we're all just being scammed. People “understanding” a lot of modern Minimalism is often just a flexing of intellectual muscles, trying to make someone feel stupid for not assigning some totally off the wall meaning to some random object.
Now, this article isn’t to say it’s all bad, I know that’s hard to believe, but there are and were a lot of good minimalists, but they worked hard, strived to do something new, and understood why they were doing what they were doing. But it unfortunately inspired a lot of flat white canvases that were just a vessel for someone to pass off some poorly related concept and it worked, it’s worked a lot. Why wouldn’t it work? They only have to convince the big people that it means anything. Those characters will then capitalize on the opportunity to justify some new art that no one has seen or understood yet and by showing it, reviewing it positively, or buying it, they get to assign its value, which often just means they’re going to try and make you feel like a peasant for not getting it. This Youtube video references Robert Ryman’s Bridge, which is just a white canvas that sold for $20.6 million and you’re crazy if you think that guy would ever waste his breath on explaining to me why that painting is worth a damn, and why would he? Someone just spent $20 million on it! He’ll just let that sucker explain what it means and why I’m an idiot for not getting it. Minimalism started out as a pure artistic idea and turned into a marketing tactic for bad art and the people silly enough to buy that bad art promote it and put it on a pedestal to try and justify their decision.
Here's that Youtube video I referenced: