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The New Minimalism part I

Posted 24 February 2015 3:50 PM by admin

Was one of your New Year’s resolutions to declutter? Maybe you’ve been thinking about opening an Ebay account to start selling off possessions, old books, record albums, dated technology, furniture etc. For every weekend tag sale scavenger there are folks looking to pare down, cut back, even unload their accumulation of stuff. If you’ve been canceling hard copy magazine subscriptions, forgoing the purchase of real books in favor of ebooks on a Kindle or an iPad, or streaming music on Spotify, Pandora or Beats instead of buying CDs - you may be a budding minimalist.

Over the past few years we have heard about or maybe seen on reality TV, the bizarre and often sad lives of those we refer to as hoarders. We have heard less about those looking to minimize the “things” in their lives. For those looking to live a “minimalist” life, a whole culture has sprung up to support, encourage and assist you. Books, magazines, blogs and more tout the virtues of a simple life devoid of possessions. But Minimalism is more than just a lifestyle choice, it as an aesthetic, a creed. If not a religion, then perhaps a spiritual practice based on the premise that an uncluttered room reflects an uncluttered mind.

It is no wonder that such a movement would have great appeal today. After all, our lives are nothing less than cluttered with gadgets and information. For more and more individuals the minimalist lifestyle is an oasis in the midst of the constant barrage of inputs and stimuli that accost us on a daily basis.

The old minimalism
According to wikipedia Minimalism “in the visual arts and music is a style that uses pared-down design elements. The word was first used in English in the early 20th century to describe a 1913 composition by the Russian painter Kasimir Malevich of a black square on a white ground.” The term has been applied to all the fine arts. In the 1950’s and 60’s the simple paintings of Mark Rothko and Frank Stella provided a space of calm and quiet in stark contrast to Jackson Pollock and the other Abstract Expressionists making noise in the modern art world.
The same was true in the world of serious music. Classical music audiences found the modern and often dissonant music of Arnold Schoenberg and Pierre Boulez difficult to understand and even sit through. By the late 60’s composers like Terry Riley, Steve Reich and Phillip Glass offered a minimalist alternative. A simpler aesthetic of things stripped down to bare essentials would gain favor in literature in the 70’s and 80’s as well, with the short story writer Raymond Carver as a good example. His stories were brief, detail was less important than an authentic voice. Carver’s stories ended almost as abruptly as they started, but seemed to resonate - the truth laid bare. Robert Altman captured Carver’s voice and applied a minimalist technique of sorts to film in his 1993 adaptations of a number of Carver’s stories called “Short Cuts.”

No design for design’s sake
But it is early minimalism in design and architecture that seems to speak directly to today’s new minimalists. It was the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe who used the motto “less is more” to describe his approach to building design. Dieter Rams, the legendary German industrial designer who’s now iconic designs for Braun have influenced Steve Jobs, and Apple’s Senior Vice President of Design, Sir Jony Ives, modified van der Rohe's statement to read “less is better.” Rams advocated an aesthetic that had at it’s heart innovation, usefulness, quality and simplicity. Products should be unobtrusive and honest as well as long lasting. “Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the consumer.” Products should be environmentally friendly, but most of all they should concentrate on essential aspects, no design for design sake. It is this return to purity and simplicity that new minimalists embraces.

Over the coming months we will take a closer look at the minimalist aesthetic and its impact on architectural, interior and industrial design as well as it’s impact on our consumer culture at large.

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