Minimalism says less is more.

Funny, because I’ve never heard a poor person with barely a pot to piss in say, “Less is more.”  Have you?

I mean, we could revisit the origin and history of minimalism as a movement and we can talk about how less of THIS can mean more of THAT, but I’ll spare you the additional words.

Having said that, I LOVE minimalist art and design.  There’s something so elegant and monastic about seeing a single brushstroke on canvas or a chair made from one simple, zig-zag of wood or metal … or a single color dominate a landscape.

Nothing puts you at peace faster or more efficiently than minimalism. Some people think it’s just boring. At first and perhaps second glance, there’s just not much to it.

I love to look at people while they’re looking at minimalist art in galleries or museums.  I remember looking at an Agnes Martin painting in New York once and hearing a very colorful and dramatic guy next to me saying to his friend …

“Isn’t it AMAZING how she …” 

BLAH, BLAH, BLAH.  Oh, sorry Mel.

Anyway, I’ll spare you the additional words.  I was amazed by how that guy was using all of these words to describe a painting that was nearly invisible against the white wall. 

If you think about it for a moment, minimalism is like a blank page.  If we REALLY want to adhere to it, you wouldn’t be reading these words right now.

In fact, I did indeed have the idea to just title this essay, “Minimalism Is A Blank Page” and leave this entire page blank.  But I decided against it. It’s too gimmicky and I’m a writer for God’s sake.

I couldn’t even stick with “Minimalism” or “Merely Minimalism.” Wanna know why?

Because THAT would be like … SO pretentious.

I think that a strong case can be made for minimalism being pretentious.  I mean, I love it when my artists create minimalists works, but believe me, THEY are not being pretentious when they do this.  Well … not most of them.  I think that when people look at the completed works, that’s where the pretense comes in.

I recall years ago, I was visiting LACMA with an artist friend.  We were looking at a tall red canvas painting that had sort of a fiberglass sheen to it.  I won’t reveal the artist who created it because I don’t want to be mean.  But it was so funny because when my artist friend looked at it, he looked back at me and while pointing at the painting he uttered …

“Come on!  Really?”  We both laughed. 

In other words, he was saying that it was pretentious to think that you can get away with painting something fire engine red without even subtle nuances and think you can call it art.  However, it was art indeed.

Here’s the thing.  I think minimalism works as a concept in contemporary art and design and it looks fantastic in interiors, but living that way and adhering to it would require the discipline of a monk.  I mean WHO can really live that way?

Could you live in a house with ONLY a black sofa and white walls and THAT’S IT?

And here’s another funny thing.  So many artists and designers who create minimalist works don’t actually LIVE that way.  In some cases, it’s the exact opposite.  It’s almost like a scam. 

Also, there’s this website that I adore called “Minimalissimo.” Check it out.  It’s a beautiful site. I love it, but again, could you actually LIVE that way?

I know.  I know.  Now that I’ve said all this, I’m going to be flooded with comments from people who say, “Well … I LIVE that way and I LOVE it!”

Goodie for you.

Here’s my real point. Everyday people travel and mill about and pick up rocks in the forest and sea shells on the beach and they bring them home and put them on their fireplace mantels … or at least I do.

Everyday people collect knick-knacks and what-nots and they display them on their coffee tables or in their armoires.  Even poor folks are packrats. Perhaps mainly poor folks are packrats.

As I’m chatting with you right now, I’m sitting here at my desk in my sunroom.  This desk has three, African baskets in one corner and a burning candle is right next to me and over to my left is a vintage, brass lamp.  In front of the lamp sits a lovely wooden box with a brass emblem on it.  There’s also a painting sitting on the table and leaning against the wall.

I won’t even get into what the rest of the sunroom looks like.  Suffice to say, it’s very calm and it’s a total, elegant man cave, but it’s definitely NOT minimal.  I would LOVE for it to be minimal, but I just can’t do it.

Call me crazy, but when I look at blank walls, I think they should be filled with art.  Maybe that’s what makes me an art collector.  Also, when I look at blank pages, I think they should be filled with words that matter.  Maybe that’s what makes me a writer. When I look at blank expressions on the faces of people, I wonder what they’re thinking. Maybe that’s what makes me a society watcher … I don’t know.

Again, I LOVE minimalism, but do you know what I think makes it pretentious?  Religious adherence to it.  Sure, minimalism is a movement and can certainly be a cool way to live.  However, I think some people almost worship it.  Not quite, but almost.  I think that’s where the pretense kicks in. 

Look … at the end of the day, minimalism is a lifestyle choice.  It’s about lifestyle, not livelihood.  It’s about how you choose to live and not about whether you can live at all. 

Can we be honest enough to admit that minimalism is usually a reaction against clutter and entitlement?  Nothing wrong with that, but the point is that at one point practitioners of minimalism actually had the means to buy a lot of “things.” Those things became attachments and as time went on, their values changed.  Great.  Life is a learning experience for all of us.

In order for someone to even say, “Less is more,” they would’ve had to have had a lot of stuff at some point to discern the difference.  Do you know what I mean?

I say all of that because I’m actually finding that as I’m getting older, I need fewer and fewer “things.”  Looking at this room around me, I can’t believe I just said that, but I THINK it’s true.  Maybe I’m lying to myself.  After all, I am an art collector.

I don’t know. I must be lying because if I truly believed that I could do with less, I’d be sitting in a room filled only with this computer and a chair.  That definitely is not the case. 

If I truly believed that I could do with less, I would’ve left this entire page blank with just the title, “Minimalism.”  No essay … just the title … and a blank page.  True minimalism is a blank page.

Although I must say, minimalism doesn’t mean, “nothing.”  It doesn’t mean, “Zero.”  It just means “minimal” … having few attachments ... lots of space and air and room to breathe.

But if you have lots of anything - including minimalism itself - isn’t that the opposite of minimal?

Again, I love minimalism.  I really do.  But I just can’t.  I mean, let’s get real.  Have you ever heard a poor person say … “Less is more”?

As you can see, minimalism really gets me going.  But I’m far from being one. I said all of this in far more words than I intended.  Do I need an editor?  I know!  I’ll call Frank Stella.

Mr. Stella, are you reading this?

“Sorry Michael, I’m not doing much of anything right now.”




Gray Is A Workhorse