Minimalist Art – Classic Style and the Artists Behind It

Minimalist art is unique in that beauty is expressed through simplicity.  This artwork can be photographs, drawings, paintings, or even sculptures-and just like with minimalism the focus is in the essentials.

Minimalist art can be created through paintings, sculptures, photography and more. Originating in the 1950s, minimalist art is in stark contrast from abstract expressionism, characterized by basic element focus, geometric forms, few colors and lines, and basically devoid of any emotion.

Have you ever wondered what is the appeal of minimalist art, given its nature?  What do you think inspires artists to create the minimalist works of art that are sought after?

What Is Minimalist Art?

Minimalist art is a type of art that includes photography, paintings, drawings, sculpture, and more.  It is defined by simple and clean lines, a little color, and beautiful designs.  Minimalist art exists as its own reality, not imitation of something else.  Everything in minimalist art is essential in concepts, forms, and features.

Minimalist art is a visual art movement that came about in the mid-20th century. It focuses on simplicity, a less is more philosophy, and fundamental geometric shapes, colors, and materials. Minimalism art tries to remove extra clutter and create art that is simple and pure.

Minimal digital art - Minimalist Art - Gone Minimal
Minimal digital art

History of Minimalist Art

Minimalist art came about around the 1950s, in response to the feeling that art had become too academic and boring.  This was a movement to get away from abstract expressionists as well as fine art in order to create geometric, sleek and purposeful art.  New York City was the origin of this movement and became the overarching theme in art in America as well as Europe by 1980, thanks to the work of art dealers, museum curators, and the support of patrons.

Characteristics of Minimalist Art

Minimalist art is very unique in its focus on the essentials and beauty in simplicity.  Characteristics of minimalist art include:

  • Focuses on the basic elements
  • Repetition of geometric forms and images
  • Minimal lines and forms
  • Finished and smooth without visible brushstrokes
  • Monochromatic or fewer colors
  • Devoid of emotion
  • Relaxing and contemplative

This is in stark contrast to abstract expressionism, which consists of personal expression, varied colors and shapes, texture, as well as the absence of objects that can be recognized.  Where minimalist art is devoid of emotion, abstract expressionism is highly emotional and expressive.

White and black minimal abstract painting - Minimalist Art - Gone Minimal
White and black minimal abstract painting

The Appeal of Minimalist Art

So, what is the appeal of minimalist art?  It’s the appreciation of art in its simplest, most essential form.  There’s nothing excess, it’s purely visual, and it’s all about what you observe.  There is no hidden meaning, no symbolism, no emotion, nothing non-essential.  You don’t have to interpret anything in minimalist art-it is simply what it is.  And that is a beautiful thing.

Abstract Minimalist Art

Abstract minimalist art emerged in the 1960s and is a radical type of abstract art.  This style of art usually consists of squares, rectangles, and simple shapes as well as minimal colors.  True to the minimalist name, abstract minimalist art is known for its purified beauty, simplicity, and truth to form.  Many of the creations of this art form in the 1960s are characterized by the use of straight, black lines, which is very different from the abstract minimalist art of today.

Famous Minimalist Artists

At this point it’s important to look at some of the most famous minimalist artists and what they sought to create through their art.

Donald Judd (1928-1994) was an artist from America who was seen as minimalist, although he rejected this notion.  His works are characterized by bright colors, boxes and rectangular shapes, as well as simple line drawings.  Judd’s career came into public knowledge in the 1960s in New York as part of the group exhibition “Primary Structures”.  His works in the late 1980s were all black, which progressed to add bright colors in the early 1990s, in contrast from his earliest works.

Colorful paint - Minimalist Art - Gone Minimal
Colorful paint

Frank Stella (1936- ) is an American artist whose black stripes in paintings gained him immediate recognition in 1959.  Stella’s work has become more complicated and dynamic over the years, and he is known for his experimentation in his art.  His minimalist art has the viewer seeing a 3D space through his 2D paintings.  Stella focuses on basic elements and colors to create optical effects and symmetrical patterns.

Minimalist art exists as its own reality, not imitation of something else.

Yayoi Kusama (1929- ) is a Japanese artist whose works can be found in painting, film, fashion, and sculpture.  Inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe as a child, Kusama painted in watercolors and eventually became part of pop art through her creations that often were covered in polka dots.  She is very expressive in her work and boldly creates sculptures, fashion, and paintings that link minimalism and pop art.

Ellsworth Kelly (1923-2015) was an American sculptor and painter whose works emphasized the importance of form, line, and color through his minimalist techniques.  His first art exhibition was in New York City in 1956 which set him apart from other American artists through his European-style paintings.  Kelly’s works were unique in that he used gridwork and reductive art with canvases with irregular angles.  Some of his works showcase the shape of the canvas as the composition and not the paint, using a technique of finding pictures rather than composing them.

Minimalist sculpture art - Minimalist Art - Gone Minimal
Minimalist sculpture art

 Vija Celmins (1938- ) is an American painter who is known for her photo-realistic works of natural elements and monochromatic paintings.  Her minimalist artist technique of portraying stones, spider webs, and the insides of shells inspired many from the 1960s to 2010, either through photographs, paints, or graphite pencils.  Celmins sees her work as translations of what she sees in nature through part fiction and part invention.

Famous Examples of Minimalist Art

The best way to understand minimalist art is to actually learn about the art.  Let’s take a look at some famous examples of minimalist art to help you see what they’re all about.

Red Circle on Black (Jiro Yoshihara – 1965) This is an excellent example of abstract minimalist art.  Simply a free-form red-painted circle on a black background, this piece is part of a collection of painted circles of different colors on varied background colors.  Yoshihara was never satisfied with his paintings of circles, and continued to pursue this until his death.

Ifafa II (Frank Stella – 1967) Here is another great example of minimalist art.  It appears to be two pinstriped capital Vs, attached at the side, one in green and the other in black.  Painted with acrylic and metallic powder, this piece is part of the V series that is iconic from the 1960s and derived from historic ships. 

Make some of your own minimalist wall art in this informative video.

Red Yellow Blue III (Ellsworth Kelly – 1969) This is a colorful example of just that-brightly colored panels in red, yellow, and blue.  This minimalist piece is considered abstract, presenting only color and created to focus on the panels rather than the paint marks.

Cardinations (Jo Baer – 1974) This creation is a series of 9 pieces with abstract symbols in black, one on each panel.  With only a natural background on handmade paper, these minimalist screen prints demonstrate Baer’s interest in signs.  Each symbol is a cardinal number in a circular array, each seeming to connect to but are very different from the other.

Pasadena Lifesavers Red Series #2 (Judy Chicago – 1970) This is a more colorful example of abstract minimalism through four circles, or lifesavers.  Each lifesaver consists of equal blocks of color-orange, red, green, and blue in various shades but the same and rotated in each lifesaver.  It’s a beautiful piece of acrylic, representative of feminist art and the women’s movement in the 1970s.

Minimalist photograph of a wall - Minimalist Art - Gone Minimal
Minimalist photograph of a wall

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Minimalist artists create beauty through simplicity, painting a picture for exactly what it is-nothing more.  This is the honesty and simplicity that is minimalism in art.  There’s nothing to translate, nothing more than what meets the eye.  Some pieces are more representative than others of feelings or movements, but they are all simply unique in their minimalist artist style.

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