Monday, October 6, 2014

Simplify, Simplify

I'm afraid this entry is being posted rather late, as lately I've been getting lost in the hectic details of every day life. However, I have been wanting to write up a post about this painting that my mother did. It’s a nice countryside scene. It features a simple white barn on the left, situated atop a rolling hill with a pleasant tree on the right. The shapes are largely geometric, the strokes blocky, and the colors used are not complex. I loved the look and feel, but it’s not my mother’s usual style. I was intrigued, so I asked her what style of painting she was inspired by. She told me that while she wasn't trying for a particular style, she did use style elements from Minimalism.

I was an art history major for my first year of college at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and as a byproduct of this, I still enjoy researching different styles of art. I’m particularly interested in how different movements are created by the politics and social environment of the time, and then are reflected in all areas of art and culture. Minimalism did not just include painting, but also interior design, music, sculpture, fashion, and writing.

The Minimalist movement gained particular popularity in the 1960s, and when most people hear the word today they think of the iconic modern interior design and fashion that resulted from the movement. Indeed, remnants of the style still remain popular today.

Minimalism, in general, focuses on clean lines and geometric shapes, with simple color and design. It makes sense that this would be well liked for interior design and clothing in particular. Simple shapes, colors and design elements look pleasing to the eye. They typically don’t jump out at you, distract you, or clutter the space that they are in.

It is nice to have a bit of zen. A cluttered room encourages a hectic life. At any given moment in our times we are amidst constant distraction. The television news spews stress, text messages beep from your phone and your iPad dings with facebook notifications. A bit of minimalism can be very welcome in our modern times. Why add an excess of design details to everything around you? Your handbag, jewelry, clothes, the painting in your bathroom, and the couch in your living room--- they can all be simplified.

There is a certain beauty and sense of relaxation in a simple design. Some minimalist paintings are incredibly simple. One color, one shape, maybe a line or two. Some are a bit more detailed, such as my mother’s painting here, but the general feel is the same: more simplicity, less unwanted clutter.

One of my favorite authors wrote often about simplicity. He lived way before the minimalist movement, but Henry David Thoreau loved to simplify. In Walden, he wrote, “Our life is frittered away by detail.... Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand.... Simplify, simplify.”

In 1848, in one of his letters, he wrote: “I do believe in simplicity. It is astonishing as well as sad, how many trivial affairs even the wisest thinks he must attend to in a day... When the mathematician would solve a difficult problem, he first frees the equation of all incumbrances, and reduces it to its simplest terms. So simplify the problem of life, distinguish the necessary and the real. Probe the earth to see where your main roots run.”

Very true, Thoreau. I can't help but think of how horrified he would be to take a peak at life in 2014. In many ways, we have lost our roots. It’s important to take time, and to remember them.

Simplify, Simplify.


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