The Case for Minimalism | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios

So you see a few cubes sitting in an art gallery, and you think to yourself, “This is the greatest hoax that anyone has ever pulled off.” You immediately walk away, discouraged by the wide gulf between what you hope for when you walk into a museum and what they’ve presented to you. How did we get here? How could these cubes that the artist didn’t even make with their own hands be important? This is the case for minimalism. First off, we’re not talking about minimalism as a general sensibility
or the life-changing magic of tidying up. We’re talking about the art of a particular moment in time. Namely, the 1960s, when all of a sudden,
there was a lot of geometric, abstract art. Some of it was painting by artists
like Frank Stella and Ellsworth Kelly, but most of it was sculpture by artists like Donald Judd, Carl Andre, Dan Flavin, Anne Truitt, Robert Morris, Tony Smith,
Ronald Bladen, and Sol LeWitt. Art critics called it ABC art, object art, primary structures, and cool art, but the term minimalism prevailed. These artists never called their art minimalist, by the way, nor did they like the term, or the implication that the work
was so reductive that it was minimally art. But minimalism was a rejection of what came before. Specifically, abstract expressionism, which dominated the art market in the 1950s. These new artists wanted to remove expression completely, remove emotion, empty the work of idiosyncratic gesture, make it resistant to biographical reading. Their hard-edged, basic shapes and forms avoided allusion, metaphor, and overt symbolism. The forms were often repeated, one thing after another in regular, non-hierarchical arrangements, rejecting compositional balancing. No artist hemming and hawing over the canvas here. The objects were impersonal, many of them machine-made, fabricated from new and industrial materials. Sometimes this entailed ready-made units, like Andre’s bricks, or Flavin’s fluorescent tubes. They didn’t want you to ooh and ah,
or admire the handling of paint. As LeWitt once said, “It is best that the basic unit “be deliberately uninteresting.” Robert Morris wrote that he could
hear a resounding no at the time. “No to transcendence and spiritual values, “heroic scale, anguished decisions, “historicizing narrative, valuable artifact, “intelligent structure, interesting visual experience.” But what they were saying yes to
was a new and startling realness. Abandoning the pedestal to dismantle
the separation between you and the art. Judd claimed these works are neither painting nor sculpture, but instead specific objects occupying real space. These objects aren’t pointing to anything
or referencing anything. Andre called his work a kind of plastic poetry, in which elements are combined to produce space. So there is no illusion of space, it just is space. Minimalism had its haters from the start. In 1967, art critic Michael Fried
attacked the work for being theatrical. For him it was an object in a room
that had presence before a viewer, but it did not have what good art has, which is presentness, or, “an instant of aesthetic experience “which occurs in no real space or time at all.” But Fried really just ended up affirming
exactly what the artists were trying to do: proving how radical it really was. Despite its detractors, minimalism became all the rage. This geometric, unadorned style flowed throughout the worlds of fashion, theater, and design. In short, it was cool. And then because these artists were never trying to be minimalist to begin with, they moved on to other things
and other kinds of art had its day. But minimalism changed things. For centuries, art had been trying to trick you, convince you that the hunk of rock
was something other than a hunk of rock. But not this. You feel like there’s gotta be some secret to it, but there isn’t. There’s nothing to interpret. This is what it is. It wasn’t supposed to look like art of the past, and it wasn’t supposed to function like it either. With minimalism, meaning doesn’t rest inside the object, waiting to be unlocked. The meaning is in the context,
and exists in your interaction with it. But minimalism is a resistant lover. It’s just not that into you. It encourages observation, but doesn’t draw you in, and it was never trying to. Remember, these objects were supposed to be emptied of prevention, of mastery, of the usual seduction between art and viewer, and of the grand, glorious traditions that preceded them. But the fetishization and commodification of minimalist art has complicated and polluted these ideas. What’s less real than million-dollar plywood boxes? And yet, for me at least, minimalist art
can still impart a strong feeling, a feeling for space, light, for presence and absence. You’re aware of your own body in the gallery
as you’ve never been before. You notice that your position in the room
shapes your perception of the thing. You appreciate the architecture and the spareness, and in a world filled with complexity and information and lots and lots of stuff, this is a balm. This is a world more simplified than the actual world is, and that I can appreciate.


  • Hakim Lewis

    Hello all, now Ik that YouTube absolutely hates self-promotion but I have observed brilliant minds and on this channel and think the potential backlash is worth it. I was wondering if anyone reading this could go and critique my poetry on my channel. Thanks and bye!

  • Jbeckman2000

    I was dubious of minimalism until I watched this video. Now I feel like I've found a new respect and appreciation for it, so thank you!

  • raderred

    I was born and raised in Marfa, TX–the epicenter for minimalist art in the United States–and remember the very first Donald Judd and John Chamberlain installations going in. As a kid, and even as a young adult, I didn't get it. I lived in a place about as minimal as they come, so this work didn't impress me. Now that I'm older and have worked in big cities for big companies and been through the grinder of life, going back home to Marfa every couple of months and experiencing this simple installations with their quiet stoicism in a large, empty space is actually very moving. I'm often there alone. I think I get it now. If you haven't actually seen or entered one of these spaces first hand, I don't think it's really possible to appreciate–but maybe that's just me.

  • Mario U Comics and Cartoons

    I still feel minimalism has a lot more in common with interior design in its aesthetic of space

  • GremlinSpike69

    Love it! Keep these going!

  • Chris M. Ferguson

    Still don't like minimalism just aesthetically but these are great points and can get behind this 100%!

  • Kari Sinkko

    I still find inspiration from simple objects, they fill my mind with wonder.

  • brid101286

    I feel moved by this minimalism.

  • Hugo Santos

    Still uninteresting.

  • SeiryuNanago

    Recently, I was helping an artist to put up an installation of a white wall with some volume in it. The artist and the curator had a complex explanation about what it was suppose to evoke (the absence and the beyond) but since i saw it from start to finish, I was like 'meh', but I could not tell them that.

  • Zileris

    Now I don't disagree with the idea of minimalism, as i do find it's simplicity wonderful. The problem I have lies with an ordinary box selling for thousands of dollars because some one put it in a room and said look at it.

  • Daniel Murillo


  • Thomas Smith

    Every year, the school where I teach has dances. One time, I explained to a student why I don't dance. I told her, the whole point of dancing is to show yourself off, to say, "Look at me everybody! Look what I can do!" And, I'm the opposite of that. Don't look at me, just keep walking. So, if Minimalist art is the gallery equivalent of that, then my question is, who'd want to watch me go up on the dance floor and just stand there?

  • Ren Tristan dela Cruz

    I think I get the intention of the artists with their minimalist 'art'. They're like performance 'art' but the objects are the ones performing and not the artists. The objects' 'performance' is that they are place in some context where they are not usually encountered.

    The objects in their context can draw the attention of the audience. If I saw a stack of bricks on a construction site it would not grab my attention. If I saw a neatly arrange set of bricks in an almost empty clean room may be I'll pay a bit of attention. The context is more important than the objects themselves. Without the proper context I would not even give half of second of attention to the object.

    One problem with these 'art' is that context is sensitive. If you have a museum with 20 rooms, 15 rooms have paintings in them, 4 rooms have sculptures in them and 1 room has one object in the center a half-meter black granite cube, that granite cube will probably attract attention. If you have the same black granite cube in room but the room is located in a museum of minimalist art, with all 20 rooms having minimalist art, that same granite cube might not attract as much attention.

    I am not sure if I would call them art. Do I think they have a profound meaning? No. Do I think they're beautiful? No, not really. Are they satisfying to look at? Yes, some of them. Do I think they should be sold for thousand/millions of dollars? No.

  • Kika

    another gem from the Art Assingment….

  • rose bartley

    I'm not going to say who … but I watched this with an artist who Creates minimalist work. at the end of this vid. he laughed and said. " wow I just love art and I'm not very good at painting . but what she said sounds way better." If you think every minimulist artist is thinking all that garbage your a fool
    . sometimes a box in a room is just terrible art . not everything is a movement or some idiosyncratic Avon guard masterpiece ….sometimes it's just talentless crap. you can literally link anything to art mastery . but in the end you are copying what you have been told that art is. if the box in a room was considered shit and no museum wanted that crap , would you still be talking all this artifist magic about the box. no pu wouldn't . if the museum says this is epic minimulism you agree. tell me if noone thought the box in the room was worth shit would you still be making this video . nope. sometimes no matter how many big words and strange art truths you apply it's just a coke can of box and its crap. you only talk about how incredible it is after it is acceptesbas minimulist art . the stuff that is just considered crap u also consider crap
    whatvif that art was rejected … would you still make this video . nope . look beyond what the museum says . your an idiot. I have a exploded coke can in my car . I'm Australian living in Chicago and I didn't realise if you leave a can in the car in winter it blows up. that's art. the difference between mW and ypu is . you think everything they consider art to be as you hear it is . I evaluate it for myself. I have bad news a box in a room is shit . your gotta think for yourself woman

  • rose bartley

    what would you do if my exploded coke can was considered shit then a fee months later it became super minimulist art would you change ur view as well. do you copy what they say is art no matter what
    . what would you say if they changed their minda and axed the boxes in the room from a museum would upu copy their opinin.

  • rose bartley

    do all your opinions just back up why the museums have defined . or do you ever have ideas that are in contrast to what museums believe . I don't think you have any idea of the singularity of art
    not everything the museums value needs a brown nose here why its awsome video. he look an empty room but the rijokmuseum thinks its incredible and new age art … so that mean you also must think that lady with coke bottle glasses and a thesaurus but no original thought

  • ashley gonzalez

    i came here studying for my art history final and confused as to the importance or relevance of the minimalist movement and the video not only answered the question but gave me a new appreciation toward the pointless art

  • aurely aurely

    But is it really art if there's no meaning?

  • Rame Nitsuga

    This actually made me cry. Wow.

  • Ken Amos

    Salaam (peace)! This video was absolutely amazing. I love the descriptions of minimalism in regards to it being defined by the one experiencing it via various perspectives. Art that is actually real… in every sense. I love it. The most Beautiful things are usually the Most simple (with a hint of mystery :)) kudos on the amazing post! keep it up!

  • SGWA

    "I don’t think there’s ever been such a rush towards insignificance in the name of the historical future as we’ve seen in the last fifteen years. The famous radicalism of sixties and seventies art turns out to have been a kind of dumbshow, a charade of toughness, a way of avoiding feeling. And I don’t think we are ever again obliged to look at a plywood box, or a row of bricks on the floor, or a video tape of some twit from the University of Central Paranoia sticking pins in himself, and think: ‘This is the real thing. This is the necessary art of our time. This needs respect.’ Because it isn’t, and it doesn’t, and nobody cares. The fact is that anyone except a child can make such things, because children have the kind of direct, sensuous and complex relationship with the world around them that modernism, in its declining years, was trying to deny. That relationship is the lost paradise that art wants to give back to us, not as children but as adults." -Robert Hughes

  • schrogingers cat


  • Lauren Yankiling

    I love this

  • Shiloh Beazel

    I love these videos.

  • Al Cook

    The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin is an amazing example of minimalism, I feel. Walking through the grey concrete boxes in the open air can be oppressive, claustrophobic and upsetting. I also really like that there is so little information about the sculpture itself, so what you feel is absolutely organic and real.

  • mischma

    The price is what makes minimalism true garbage

  • dhruv joshi

    Is the transcript for this youtube video available? It would be awesome to get my hands on it, thanks! 🙂

  • Rik Moody

    Awesome Video!

  • Laura Willems

    Abandoning the PEDESTAL? Pah-lease. This kind of "art" is so separate from the viewer, that there is now an even more minimal pedestal.

  • Fabrice Richard

    Great !

  • MrRemorseless

    My favourite art "movement", even when I don't like any particular artist or artwork of its type. What makes me love minimalism is the perspective it proposes, and the very real feelings it brings out in me, of embracing the simple and the purely material. To just hit the reset button and see an ordinary thing with fresh eyes. Ya know?

  • Aasiya Maaviah

    I loved this so much!

  • John Koh

    great video. powerful!

  • Kat Fernandes

    Wow. She actually made a really good case for minimalism, especially towards the end. Really well done.

  • Noomi Herran

    Thought experiment: take a piece from Carl Andre and a piece from Francis Bacon; now put them on some random street corner. Assume they weren't well known. What would happen when people stumble across the work?
    When people find Bacon's work, there is no question of what it is. Someone may try to find its owner or its creator, or they may take a liking to it and hang it up.
    When people stumble upon Andre's work, will they have the same reaction? Or would they call the city to tell them a pile of bricks has been left on the street?
    The fact of the matter is: without the gallery/museum, Andre's work ceases to be art while Bacon's doesn't.
    As it stands, a good deal of contemporary and post modern art would cease to be if not for the gallery. This is because in today's art market, the gallery imbues the work with value, instead of the artist.
    The contemporary art world is a cult like religion in which galleries are the places of worship, curators are priests maintaining the status quo and garbage is worshipped as God.

    Painters and sculptors who spend years honing their skills and techniques are appalled at the state of the art world. We can only hope that the Internet provides a way to bypass the galleries; much like street art did, before they killed that too.

  • BNL07604

    I kinda like minimalist art, when I see it, I get the feeling I can think or do (within reason) just about anything I want with it. Freeing might be a good word for it all.

  • Zouan Kourtis

    in the real world you have to be rich and famous to do art in such a space. If you are nobody, Nobody gonna give a space to show your art

  • Andreas Froestl

    The artistic components in this artform, minimalism, are carried into them by people like you, people who are good at talking about things, at making everything seem important by using colorful words. In the mere act of explaining a pice of "art", the art is being produced. And even though it seems as if therefore the problem with minimalism is being resolved, I think it just emphasizes the fact that there is no artistic, deeper meaning. With your postmodern style of interpreting everything in every possible way, all value gets lost. Because if everything counts, nothing does. If you can talk about a rock or a mirror or a block of wood for so long and see so many things in them as you can see in e.g art from the Renaissance, then why even bother with the last one? You talk very well and seem to make some good points, but I see in making everything flat equal a drastic threat to our culture.(Sorry for bad English, not native)

  • Paul B

    This is an excellent short introduction to its subject.

  • Travis Cornelius

    This video could've of just said, 'It's just meant to be simple, and primal'.

  • burnzy3210


  • Milly Cohen

    "Its just not that into you" (big ass black rectangle)

  • tamsinthai

    Minimalism reflects the Japanese concept 'muh' – negative space.

  • Selvi Angelita

    What books that you guys use as the resources for this video? Can you give me recomendations of books to study about Minimalist Art. Thank you so much 🙂

  • monkeymilk

    A radical change isnt always good. They said no to everything including talent.

  • Esthefany Arochi


  • Dani Guevara

    Let's talk about books, which books do you recommend to learn more about 20 and 21th century art. I just find short text, but nothing as you explain here.
    I really really like and enjoy your videos
    Thank you for sharing your knowledge

  • Aaron Hart

    Unfortunately, minimalism does scream trendy. ex: Apple computer

  • Nick Stevens

    I've wondered for a long time now if people seriously enjoy observing these works of art or if they pretend to in order to feel superior to the hoi polloi. There really is a paradox here. I just came from a new video from Vox about minimalist paintings ( and the narrator of that video, a museum curator, said that minimalist art requires you to go beyond sensory perception and into the realm of ideas. Your opinion, on the other hand, is that there is nothing to interpret. So which is it? Is there something there or isn't there? And if there's nothing to interpret, why show it to anyone? Why would the artist sell it instead of keeping it in his/her basement?

    I majored in English lit and I think it's interesting that you're not going to find an analog in writing. The first thing that came to mind was James Joyce's Finnegans Wake (which I haven't read), but even that took a lot of work and I can understand its appeal. There's something there to study. Perhaps Finnegans Wake would be an analog to Jackson Pollock's paintings. But no one who published a book of blank pages and called it a novel would get any sort of acclaim, let alone start a movement.

  • funstuff81girl

    I feel increasingly tired with rejecting what came before. iconoclasm. I feel that in many ways it's much braver to just make, make whatever is best, most real most beautiful. we can forever go on applauding new, revolutionary things, but outside of the reaction, where is its essence? will art forever chase its own tail?

  • funstuff81girl

    It's interesting, the dilemmas with meaning, pretension, and is this nonsense seem largely isolated to visual art. In music, in literature, we all have an easier time saying what's good and what isn't – though we may not agree. Even in poetry, at the highest levels there is always recognition that one must have a high, high, skill level. Once people have become literate in the form, it is with little exception simple to recognize who is a master. If such a recognition is not triggered, poets ignore the piece, if that effect is continual, they ignore the creator. Visual Art, however, seems far more nebulous, perhaps due to the ambiguity inherent to the form.

  • Regiuns Janus

    Use 1 word to describe this video:

  • Awkward History

    interesting video, minimalism is still pretentious trash though.

  • Tinker Tulip

    Doesn't seem like a lot of work goes into this type of art. Looks boring to me, I know what I don't like now in art world…minimalist.

  • Katachi Audio

    This is a great video, I love minimalism because it is like a spit in the face to (dare I say it) most of the pretentious art. I think it is the punk of the art world.

  • Rina Ferizi

    this is perfect 😉☺

  • Nadine Hanisya


  • Stathis Athanasiou

    Ok it is cool and i understand the logic behind it and what it wants to show but we have to call it something else than art because it is completely different from a harmonical piece of music or a beautiful painting.

  • Roger Levy

    I find minimalist art electrifying. These objects have weight and power when you come into their presence. They are worthwhile.

  • 22Kyu

    I appreciate the idea behind this style of art, but is the emotion that all works of minimalism mean to evoke the same? Sounds so, from the conclusion of this piece 😯

  • FaCu aRroYo

    Cool video. Very informative

  • Christian Saucedo

    Yes. Yes. Yes.

  • Olivier Baudert

    I personally think that above all, art is to be interesting. If minimalism is a deliberate rejection of that, then I find that in it of itself pretty interesting.

  • Yogeshrestha

    Then anybody can be artist.

  • drencrum

    Minimalism to me is taking the micro details of art and making them macro – sort of celebrating the overlooked building blocks of expression. An example would be drawing a tree – noticing the color green is much more interesting than brown so you make the whole tree green, then you notice the meaning of the tree gets lost so you make a shape with the green that makes you focus on the color.

  • gold333

    Amazing video. Brought a tear to my eye. But unfortunately it missed one of the most important things about minimalism. That great minimalism departs the subjective art of mankind but enters the objective (at least objective to this universe) art of mathematics (both theoretical and biological mathematics).

  • Ryu the Human

    You could've cut out the first 4 minutes of this video and it would be just as convincing. I can see the therapeutic value in minimalism, as something simple that isn't asking you to understand it, everything else in this video is just noise that isn't saying anything.

  • Keith Pellig

    Marry Me!

  • Olivia

    For me, I always appreciate the understated nature and simple form of minimalist art, but I tend to think it functions better in the context of the era that birthed it. Take that away and it becomes quite a dull and uninteresting concept both aesthetically and intellectually.

  • Indy Jones

    Art is implicit philosophy – as it becomes explicit and intentional it becomes rigid and weak philosophy as well as clunky art. Thus, minimalism .. a crappy attempt by humans to create an lesser version of the experience they could have by taking a hike in the woods, without the alive-ness.

  • thegothamcityqueen

    I still have difficulty understanding minimalism

  • scorpioninpink

    Call me crazy but Minimalism is my favorite art movement ever. It looks simple but it really isn't. Tell me a layperson who can literally create an art so symmetrical and also not so symmetrical at the same time!

  • chemicalsam

    Still not art lol

  • grossgraff

    That's some nice balm

  • Utsav Gurung

    Wow I never thought it that way!

  • Slim Jim

    this art is as meaningless as my fart

  • Whuzzin Gamont

    Basically like objects which are found in everyones room

  • Sonya Anjali Kapoor

    I also got the chance to explore minimalism in the National Gallery of Singapore, which looked at similar art pieces. I think the gallery captured a lot of what this video is saying, but added the layer of exploring an eastern art / western art dynamic. Made a video about it if anyone's interested:

  • Art Curious

    Minimalism- when you know the government funding won’t stop and the art world won’t call out your BS.

    Makes for great smartphone design and iPad bevels though.

  • mayankho

    So it started earnestly and became a trend which is what people have an averse reaction to. In short, it reached the pretentiousness it tried to avoid. This did help, but the thought is still pretentious.


    This was cool. Thank you

  • Warded Thorn

    Ah yes, I love it when my art doesn't have any emotion in it. Because that's the point of art.

  • Lara Wallace

    This was a nice quick informative video thanks for making it. Although I can appreciate now a little more of what Minimalists goals were to give a heightened awareness of space and yourself in the space, it ignores the fundamental power of life which is love that is what is real to me and that is why I don't like it.

  • Teniente Mantequilla

    Minimalism killed art and devalued artists of all kind of fields.

    I can't be in a minimalist interior, it is just so lifeless and doesn't feel human at all. It doesn't show our greatness, our beauty, our existence nor our culture. I can't walk around a minimalist architecture-plagued city for the same reason. It is lifeless, silly and I don't feel identified with it. Seems as if artists just lost their sense of abstraction, of beauty, and kneeled to utilitarism.

    For that, my friends, I'm on a crusade against minimalism in every field of art, especially architecture.
    If you ever wondered "why are artists devalued in the modern society?", well, it's because of the false formula that "utility can't coexist with beauty" and the thought that "utility is more important than beauty in order to make money". And artists, instead of proving this wrong, just accept it as if it was true.

    Defend art, defend beauty — your professions will not be taken seriously until you do it. Fight minimalism!

  • Rahul Tiwari

    I wonder how you do research and come up with such a deep and unique videos.

  • Nana

    That's so interesting that minimalism is intended to remove emotion, as opposed to what abstract expression had brought. Kinda ironic when people complain about not feeling anything when they look at minimalist work — congratulations, that's exactly what it's supposed to feel like.

    Also, I love minimalist interior designs. I hope to design my dream home like that one day.

  • Aamauri Smith

    In other words:This art finds deep meaning in having literally no meaning.

  • Weird Guy

    I can’t but think minimalism is trash

  • EWKification

    Utter tripe, and I don't mind saying so. The quotes by the "Minimalists" serve as their own self-indictment. Here we have an art devoid of meaning, skill, content, subject, humanity, feeling, transcendence, emotion, aesthetics. What we have is an admittedly uninteresting, inert object. But wait, this art is important because it "rejects" is "anti" and is "radical". BULLSHIT, all of it. Those aren't inherently good things. Quite the opposite. All of this belongs to a paradigm where we arrogantly reject and disregard all of the past (instead of learning from it and integrating it) and replace it with something crushingly boring, in an attempt to be astoundingly different for the sake of difference. It is the "year zero" in art, and that's a good thing?!

    This is the case for fawning over whatever garbage the art world turned out in any given decade in the last century, and believing it's as good as anything our species has done in thousands of years prior. Extremely arrogant, myopic, and boring, none of which comes as a surprise. Tiles arranged in a square on the floor are boring. Repeated examples of this with slightly different tiles and sizes of squares are lobotomizingly boring.

    Imagine the musical equivalent. And don't say the "minimalism" of someone like Phillip Glass. That's NOT a real parallel. You'd have one note, just an F'ing beep, or maybe two or three, playing for hours on end. And you'd say it is "rejecting" the notions that music must be complex, sound good, be about something, share a feeling, be transcendent or spiritual. NO! Music is now a THING. Not something you listen to, but something you hear. It is a sound in an environment, and when it's a blaring horn, you become aware of volume, and how it relates to you in space.

    As I said, utter, insulting, anti-art, reductionist, bullshit. Have the guts to say it.

  • K R

    This narrator could sell snow to a Minnesotan in December. She will try to convince you of the unlikely, and she's so convincing that you'll buy it. But even she can't budge me on "minimalism". It's, as mentioned at 2:28, a total load of bullcrap.

  • elly [moonfish errata]

      — Four Wooden Boxes Selling for the Same Amount of Money Required to Feed 1000 People in Rural India for an Entire Year is Fucking Obscene (Anon., 2019, YouTube comment)

  • harold of cardboard

    i am delightedly speechless. THANK YOU!!

  • ö. . ,


    Thought some minimal art would be nice in the comments.

  • fintan beirne

    Donatella Versace has left the chat

  • alessandro24k

    idk why but this gave me chills thank you

  • Mauricio Sanchez


  • Killdisko Webzine

    I like Minimalist Art.

  • Dakkogi Raoru

    So…it’s art for people who hate art


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *