If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

The Case for Minimalism

You've probably seen a few cubes sitting in an art gallery and questioned why they were there. How could cubes be important? How did we get here? This is the case for Minimalism. Subscribe for new episodes of The Art Assignment every Thursday! -- Follow us elsewhere for the full Art Assignment experience: Tumblr: http://theartassignment.com Response Tumblr: http://all.theartassignment.com Twitter: http://twitter.com/artassignment Instagram: http://instagram.com/theartassignment/ Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/theartassignment and don't forget Reddit!: http://www.reddit.com/r/TheArtAssignment. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

Want to join the conversation?

  • piceratops seed style avatar for user Chris Hite
    How did Fried affirm the miminalist position with his critique? Being radical and providing an instant of aethestic experience are still different? This quick glossing over of Fried's comments does not "make the case" in my view.
    (3 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user

Video transcript

so you see a few cubes sitting in an art gallery and you think to yourself this is the greatest hoax that anyone has ever pulled off you immediately walk away discouraged by the wide gulf between what you hope for when you walk into a museum and what they've presented to you how did we get here how could these cubes that the artists didn't even make with their own hands be important this is the case for minimalism first off we're not talking about minimalism as a general sense ability or the life-changing magic of tidying up we're talking about the art of a particular moment in time namely the 1960s when all of a sudden there was a lot of geometric abstract art some of it was painting by artists like Frank Stella and Ellsworth Kelly but most of it was sculpture by artists like Donald Judd Carl Andre Dan Flavin and Truett Robert Morris Tony Smith runs Ladin and Sol LeWitt art critics called it ABC art object art primary structures and cool art but the term minimalism prevailed these artists never called their art minimalist by the way nor did they like the term or the implication that the work was so reductive that it was minimally art but minimalism was a rejection of what came before specifically Abstract Expressionism which dominated the art market in the 1950s these new artists wanted to remove expression completely remove emotion empty the work of idiosyncratic gesture make it resistant to biographical reading they're hard edged basic shapes and forms avoided illusion metaphor and overt symbolism the forms were often repeated one thing after another in regular non-hierarchical arrangements rejecting compositional balancing no artist hemming and hawing over the canvas here the objects were impersonal many of them machine made fabricated from new and industrial materials sometimes this entailed ready-made units like Andres bricks or Flavin's fluorescent tubes they didn't want you to win awe or admire the handling of paint as LeWitt once said it is best that the basic unit be deliberately uninteresting Robert Morris wrote that he could hear a resounding no at the time no to transcendence and spiritual values heroic scale anguish decisions historicizing narrative valuable artifact intelligent structure interesting visual experience but what they were saying yes to was a new and startling realness abandoning the pedestal to dismantle the separation between you and the art Jed claimed these works are neither painting nor sculpture but instead specific objects occupying real space these objects aren't pointing to anything or referencing anything andre called his work a kind of plastic poetry in which elements are combined to produce space so there is no illusion of space it just is space minimalism habits haters from the start in 1967 art critic michael freed attacked the work for being theatrical for him it was an object in a room that had presence before a viewer but it did not have what good art has which is present or an instant of aesthetic experience which occurs in no real space or time at all but freed really just ended up affirming exactly what the artists we're trying to do proving how radical it really was despite its detractors minimalism became all the rage this geometric unadorned style flowed throughout the worlds of fashion theatre and design in short it was cool and then because these artists were never trying to be minimalist to begin with they moved on to other things and other kinds of art had its day but minimalism changed things for centuries art has been trying to trick you convince you that the hunk of rock was something other than a hunk of rock but not this you feel like there's got to be some secret to it but there isn't there's nothing to interpret this is what it is it wasn't supposed to look like art of the past and it wasn't supposed to function like it either with minimalism meaning doesn't rest inside the object waiting to be unlocked the meaning is in the context and exists in your interaction with it but minimalism is a resistant lover it's just not that into you it encourages observation but doesn't draw you in and it was never trying to remember these objects were supposed to be emptied of pretension of mastery of the usual seduction between art and viewer and of the grand glorious traditions that preceded them but the fetishization and commodification of minimalist art too complicated and polluted these ideas what's less real than million-dollar plywood boxes and yet for me at least minimalist art can still impart a strong feeling a feeling for space light for presence and absence you're aware of your own body in the gallery is you've never been before you notice that your position in the room shapes your perception of the thing you appreciate the architecture and the spareness and in a world filled with complexity and information and lots and lots of stuff this is a balm this is a world more simplified than the actual world is and that I can appreciate you [Music]