Minimalism - It's Complicated
Minimalism: we’re seeing this word everywhere (Pin boards, design blogs, our social newsfeeds). But what does it mean? The term has become an explosive trend linked to capsule wardrobes, Danish ‘hygge’, white on white on white decor, graphic line drawings, and everything from carry-on only travel to hairstyles... But when did the word ‘minimalism’ become so trendy, and what in the heck is Minimalism, anyway? Why would we want to pare everything down to only the essentials, in both life and design?
Lately, minimalism has come to describe a lifestyle most notably toted by a group called The Minimalists. Meaning, to be concerned with the connections individuals have with their possessions and attitudes towards consumerism, two men inspired a movement that touts an uncomplicated lifestyle (find the guide here). The Minimalist lifestyle has been associated with an almost spiritual approach to designing every aspect of one’s life, constructed of meticulously crafted, thoughtful pieces, that resonate with a person’s core beliefs. “Conscious living” is another term that is often associated with the Minimalist lifestyle.
Before The Minimalists were around to help guide consumptive habits, and Pinterest could share them to the world, Minimalism took a more literal form. Minimalism rose to popularity during the 1950s as an artistic and sculptural movement post-WWII. Minimal art has been seen all over the world, later translated into architecture, product design, and lifestyles that are stripped down to their essentials. First used in 1915 to describe a work by Kazimir Malevich of a black square on a white background, Minimalism infiltrated the art world through abstraction. Particularly Bauhaus, Russian Constructivism, and De Stijl movements connect the minimalist movement to European and American art. Now we see minimalism, simplicity and no-nonsense aesthetics and attitudes at every turn. So how did we get here?
The documentary “Minimalism” blew up last year, following the 2007 viral documentary “The Story of Stuff”, exploiting our “more is more” philosophy in today’s society and proving it to be unhealthy. The idea of living minimally can be interpreted many ways, and as we see an increase in ‘digital nomads’ around us, it appears to be an attractive option to pare down to only the most essential. The approach taken by the two men in the Minimalism documentary was to quit their jobs, ditch their possessions, and live out of a backpack. Their pursuit led them to publish two widely popular books and a documentary; both opened up about their journey to a simpler lifestyle.
The #problematic implications of turning minimalism into a lifestyle are clear. We don’t want to bore you with the details; it is all in the interest of preference and taste how minimalism interprets itself. In terms of design and aesthetics, we’re loving the millennial pink and block letters trend, and with so many brands entering a new phase following the no-fuss design trend, the mid-century design look is super awesome and somehow feels fresh right now. But why was this trend popping up in the 1950s and again now over 60 years later?
Economically, the ‘50s and ‘60s were at a high period for the US. Under Eisenhower, the United States’ economy was performing well and generally, the public was reaping the benefits. Soldiers had returned from WWII were rewarded with jobs through the GI Bill and suburban houses, allowing them the disposable income to buy things to fill these new spaces. Consumerism raged in the US while European countries were mostly left with nothing after the war. Minimalist aesthetics were used in movements like De Stijl and Bauhaus as a form of “meditation” on modern life, and examined structures and essential ideas at a time that was full of questioning old ways for both citizens and politicians alike. By taking a conceptual approach to something like shape or form, many artists were dealing with the essential issues of how life was structured before the war, and how it would continue after this monumental change.
Are you noticing any similarities? Definitely. Millennials (everyone, for that matter), are facing an uncertain future, as they struggle to deal with issues of global economics, debt at an ever-increasing rate, climate change, and the ability to be connected to most social issues at all times through technology. There is a constant barrage of “where are we going?”, “who are we?”, and an inability to take control of the future that would inspire cynicism in even the most good-natured being. By trying to examine one’s life and make it as thoughtful, curated and controlled as possible, one gains control over at least how they are presented to the world. and distances themselves from the over-indulgence that have been associated with the issues mentioned above (read more on this here). Just look at the #Minimalism tag on your Pinterest page, or Instagram or Tumblr, and you’ll find a sea of black and white quotes, single flowers or leaves, black turtlenecks and angled bobs, that will show you exactly what the modern consumer aches for - an uncomplicated and decisive life. Though we’re not sure that minimalist-packaging actually will bring the spiritual peace associated with a minimal lifestyle, it certainly presents itself on your counter as such, and that’s what matters. When social issues are rising, we want to represent ourselves in the way that we wish coordinated with our life, even when that’s impossible.
But "stressed, depressed, but well dressed" though, right?