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Author: Ian McConnell

Identify the influences of the development of Minimalism.

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Video Transcription

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Hello. I'd like to welcome you to this episode of Exploring Art History with Ian. My name is Ian McConnell. And today's lesson is about Minimalism. As you're watching the video, feel free to pause, move forward, or rewind as often as you feel is necessary. And as soon as you're ready, we can begin.

Today's objectives, or the things you're going to learn today, are listed below. By the end of the lesson today, you'll be able to identify and define today's key terms, identify the influences of Minimalism, and identify examples of Minimalist art work.

Key terms, as always, are listed in yellow throughout the lesson. First key term is Minimalism, a movement in postwar art that seeks to reduce forms down to their most basic elements, usually emphasizing rectilinear shapes such as cubes; and seriality, an art movement, style, or technique that uses modules or systems.

Big idea for today is that Minimalism was a reaction against what was seen at the time as the overly fussy and emotional content of Abstract Expressionism. And the art that we're going to look at today dates from between 1962 and 2008. We'll be traveling to Marfa, Texas, where Donald Judd's Concrete Blocks are located; Washington, DC, where Tony Smith's Die sculpture is located; and New York City, where Carl Andre's 3 by 11 Hollow Rectangle is located.

So as its name implies, Minimalism is a reduction of form to its absolute essentials. Now stylistically, in a nutshell, Minimalism is stark simplicity. It was influenced by Japanese, de Stijl, and the International Style. And there's an emphasis on rectilinear lines.

Now, as artwork becomes more and more Minimalistic, it becomes even more important that the concept behind the work of art as expressed in the artist's writings becomes clear. The experience of the work also becomes important for the same reason. This idea of concept over form eventually becomes the defining characteristic of the conceptual art movement.

Minimalist artists of the 1960s were reacting against what they thought was an excessive extension of the artist's personality in the works of abstract expressionists. Their approach was to make art non-representational, neutral in color, geometric, and stripped of traces of motion or meaning.

A great example of this is Tony Smith's Die. It's a six by six foot cube of steel. And its dimensions were supposedly based on the human body a la Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man. It demonstrates a balance in which the work of art is smaller than a monument but larger than what would be considered a simple object. It was intended to be interacted with, in that viewers can move around it, touch it, and a reference point by which viewers can experience themselves and their surroundings by the relativity to the sculpture. Not too bad for a large metal cube.

Now again, it's important to reiterate that the idea behind Minimalist art is quite often essential to understanding it. Minimalism's influence on architecture or in Scandinavian furniture design, for example, results in buildings and objects that can be appreciated for their simplicity and adherence to form following function, which is an idea that found traction with the International Style in architecture. But art for appreciation doesn't have that functional quality to it.

What makes a concrete block a work of art, for example, is in how it relates to the idea that inspired it. Now, Donald Judd's Concrete Blocks, like Smith's Die sculpture, undermine the myth, in their view, of artistic originality by the fact that they contracted foundries to produce these works, rather than create them themselves. For Judd's blocks, their location is important as well, as they reflect the starkness of the Marfa, Texas, countryside. So to move their location or to move the objects from their location would be to change their meaning. Once again, this idea of concept and experience is very important with Minimalistic art.

Now within Judd's work that we just saw and that of Carl Andre's there's also this idea of seriality, or repetition of form, in which the importance of each discrete element is made manifest by its relationship to the corresponding parts. Now, this particular piece of art is composed of multiple identical for the sake of argument pieces of lumber. But they're arranged in such a way that they're collectively significant but independently meaningless. Now the ratio and repetitive harmony of this artwork only works because it contains exactly the right number of elements and each element is the correct size. To lose one would result in a complete lack of cohesion.

So that brings us to the end of our lesson today. Let's take a look at our objectives again to see if we met them. Now that you've seen the lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms? Can you identify the influences of Minimalism? And can you identify examples of Minimalist artwork? And once again, the big idea for today is that Minimalism was a reaction against what was seen at the time as the overly fussy and emotional content of Abstract Expressionism.

And there you go. Thank you very much for joining me today. I'll see you next time.

Terms to Know

A movement in postwar art that seeks to reduce forms down to their most basic elements, usually emphasizing rectilinear shapes such as cubes.


An art movement, style or technique that uses modules or systems.