Tableau de Yves Klein, monochrome lors d'une exposition à Francfort

HOW DIFFICULT IS SIMPLE? SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT MINIMALISM

portrait de Yves Klein
Portrait of Yves Klein

Right away one could say: to make a simple artwork is indeed easy. Any (so called) artist can draw a black dot on a blank canvas and call it minimalist. I believe however that the choice of minimalism as an artistic style is far from being easy all the more so when it is the result of an honest and knowledgeable thought and choice. I also believe that minimalism is a radical and bold artistic statement when compared with the majority of artists (of which I’m probably part although a minimalist curious painter) creating “complex” – whatever that means – artworks.

AN INTERESTING BACKGROUND FOR MINIMALISM

Each one of us has different references when it comes to minimalism depending on our cultural background. As far as I am concerned, when thinking of ancient minimalist artworks, Japanese Zen paintings, in particular calligraphy, immediately comes to my mind. The view of a “plain” circle or a “simple“ stroke of ink can only be achieved by a genuine artist who’s tried to make it perfect and striking in a single gesture. This gesture has to be mastered both as a spiritual and artistic gesture. Most Zen calligraphic painters used to make hundreds of paintings before their hand and mind could meet to reach perfection (please see beautiful examples in the gallery below). In a way, they painted with their whole body and soul – rather quickly – and that idea can be somewhat compared with contemporary or modern “action painting”.

MINIMALISM AS AN ONGOING FORM OF ART

Unsurprisingly, calligraphic Zen paintings never ceased to be created and many occidental artists can easily be compared with those fine Japanese Zen painters. I’m notably thinking of the wonderful work of Fabienne Verdier or Franz Kline‘s. Those artists followed the same path of Zen painters and no one can imagine the hard work it took them to achieve those striking artworks (please see the gallery below).

Minimalism indeed can take any form and be considered a goal in all kind of works. One must acknowledge the key influence of the Bauhaus style and notably that of Mies van der Rohe (please see the gallery below). His motto “less is more” paved the way to a simplification of architecture, designs and generally in matter of arts. The main idea was to focus on the core of any project setting aside any unnecessary features to stress the beauty of simplicity.

THE GOAL OF MINIMALISM

The core, one could even say the “skeleton” is to be considered the essence of any object, making it purified. From an aesthetic point of view, minimalism allows the viewers to focus on a core feature of an artwork, creating an interesting emotion since their look is not “polluted” by any unnecessary « interference ». I would dare to say that to look at a minimalist paintings or sculptures lets the brain breathe and focus just as looking at an object of meditation. 

As far as the art market is concerned, minimalist artworks are generally valued since they show the mastering and skills of the artist creating not just any simple design but a self-sufficient one, strong enough to be to convey emotion. This is true art and hard work.

MONOCHROMES AS MINIMALIST ARTWORKS

It is indeed the same for monochrome artworks that I also consider a minimalist form of art. One could say it is simple to create a blue Klein monochrome painting. However, looking for example at Yves Klein’s philosophical choices he explained in conferences at the Sorbonne University or in his writings, one must admit that his way was a genuine and honest way. Knowing this, one can guess the amount of work necessary to create a blue color fascinating enough to encompass and absorb the viewer and notably the choice of the format to achieve this emotion.

As a matter of fact, no one can say Klein, as a fraud artist, decided to take the “easiest way” to express himself. It is the same for any true and honest minimalist artist. Kazimir Malevitch, as one of the founders of abstraction, but also a great figurative artist, chose the minimalist way for his abstract work, again making a strong statement as to the strength of apparent simplicity. The artistic evolution of Malevitch*or for example Mondrian (which I admit may not be considered « minimalist » is thrilling and shows true artistic boldness (please see the gallery below).

As a conclusion, I believe any artist or viewer should look at minimalist artwork as the result of an artistic evolution, hard work and a radical choice worth being admired.

*Although Malevitch came back to figurative at the end of his life creating incredible self portraits.

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