Posts tagged minimalism
Minimalism lied to you.
Minimalism told you that the past was monochrome. That the height of ancient fashion was a plain white robe, that the Enlightenment was the most important art movement of the eighteenth century, that Victorians wore nothing but plain black, white and brown. It told you that Japanese art was its inspiration but stripped away every beautiful detail.
Minimalism told you that the functional must be unadorned. That simplicity is elegance. That plainness is clean. It told you that ornament is clutter. That trim is only used to hide mistakes. It tells you that beautiful things collect dust, that intricacy is dirty.
Minimalism told you your cultural heritage is tacky. It told you vibrant African prints clash. It told you intricate Islamic tiling is fussy. It told you beautiful European embroidery is quaint and old fashioned.
Minimalism told you to limit your vocabulary. It called clever wordplay purple prose. It told you clarity was in short, dull sentences.
Minimalism told you that masculinity is expressed in dull simplicity. It gendered the ornate.
Minimalism told you that nature is only expressed in simple lines. That certain colours shouldn’t appear together.
The truth is, minimalism lied. It’s an ugly 20th century fad that has long overstayed its welcome. It endures for two reasons. 1: It’s easy to mass produce. Flat pack furniture is cheap and easy. Tailoring printed fabrics and adding well-placed trim takes effort. Designing architecture that’s more than just boxes takes time. 2: It allows boring white men to erase the importance of POC, women, and their own heritage in the history of art and design. It keeps influence in the hands of the few and devalues the work of thousands of skilled people.
So fuck minimalism. Embrace ornament. Wear as many accessories as you want. Decorate the space you inhabit. Perform theatre in beautiful places, not in dark boxes. Support artisans and craftspeople. Use the words you found in thesauruses and old literature. Celebrate real history. Make the most of modern synthetic dyes and use colour in everything you can. Enjoy beautiful things.
Less was never more.
The best, pithy argument against minimalism I’ve seen.
cc two recent longer-form pieces from Twitter friend Kyle Chayka:
- Kyle Chayka, New York Times, 26 July, The Oppressive Gospel of ‘Minimalism’
- Kyle Chayka, The Verge, 3 August: WELCOME TO AIRSPACE: How Silicon Valley helps spread the same sterile aesthetic across the world
Like ‘Fuck Nuance’, there’s a rhetorical irony in saying “Fuck Minimalism”. Not least because there are clearly multiple minimalisms - this takes aim at a certain contemporary aesthetic that is minimalist, but does not represent the full potential of ‘minimalism’.
Hence for me the important qualifier: “It told you that Japanese art was its inspiration but stripped away every beautiful detail”. I’m no expert on ‘authentic’ Japanese aesthetics, but there are certain ideas about simplicity, impermanence and, crucially, imperfection that derive from Buddhist thought and which I tend to associate positively with (Zen) ‘minimalism’ - though that’s not to say that I think either term is properly represented in popular Western culture. Minimalism contains multitudes.
The Chayka NYT article, and to a lesser extent the Verge one, left me a bit unsure as to whether ‘minimalism’ itself was being critiqued, or the misapplication of it. (A complexity acknowledged by a detour into art history) In a sense, I think this is correct, or has the potential to be correct:
“These minimalist-arrivistes present it as a logical end to lifestyle, culture and even morality: If we attain only the right things, the perfect things, and forsake all else, then we will be free from the tyranny of our desires.”
The obvious criticism is that the emphasis on “right” and “perfect” fuels consumerist desires, and minimalism turns out to be no such thing - creating waste, excess, and status-seeking. But then where is the idea that some form of ‘minimalism’ - or ‘reductionism’, perhaps - is necessary to manage the transition to a more egalitarian and sustainable economy? (Again, this is more in the form of ideal than practice.) Aesthetically, such minimalism need not be as restrictive or ‘clean’, or as hostile to non-whiteness. Minimalism should be a form of critique, of consumption as well as function:
“There’s an arrogance to today’s minimalism that presumes it provides an answer rather than, as originally intended, a question: What other perspectives are possible when you look at the world in a different way? The fetishized austerity and performative asceticism of minimalism is a kind of ongoing cultural sickness.”
“Performative asceticism” is bad, clearly, when it ignores material and lived realities. But true asceticism is equally performative, in the sense that ascesisis an ‘exercise’ in restriction and denial, a reduction to the essence of necessity -or a reconstruction of that necessity anew.
After apparently abolishing the need for food with a meal-substitute drink, which spawned a $100m startup, Rob Rhinehart had another epiphany: plonk a shipping container on a hill overlooking Los Angeles. The red metal hulk would be his home, an eco-abode with solar panels and panoramic views that would set a new benchmark in hip, minimalist living. The 27-year-old CEO and founder of Soylent bought a patch of scrub in an area known as Flat Top to begin an “experiment in sustainable living” early this year. It has not gone well.
Dieter Rams: As Little Design as Possible SI: Special (via http://www.septemberindustry.co.uk/dieter-rams-as-little-design-as-possible/)