Minimalism versus simplicity

“But I notice that the minimalist mood — wherever it appears — eventually kills all joy.”

I made this statement here and then spent some time defending it in an internal debate, because I like some aesthetics that are often called “minimalistic”.   They seem, well, artistic.   Traditional Japanese aesthetic is often called minimalist, for example, and I love the look of a tea room, with its natural materials and its discipline of excluding unnecessary implements.

Seems to me there is a nuance of a difference between the modern mood that wants to strip the physical world down to its skeleton, and the traditional love of simplicity.   The first is a joyless cynicism: this mind has been betrayed by objects and people and wants as few of them as possible.   The second contains a pleasure in the individual object, so much so that it wants to contemplate and savor a few, free from the distraction of clutter.   The first — the “contemporary” mind — has no joy in any particular thing.  The second – the “traditional” mind — finds great joy in the rough wooden bowl for the tea, and wants to really see the grain of the wood, and this vision is so deep and full it requires an empty room to contain.

“Minimalist” and “simple” seem to be perfectly appropriate terms for these two distinct and opposite moods.   Though they seem similar at a superficial glance, the “minimalist” is the diseased cousin of the “simple”.

3 thoughts on “Minimalism versus simplicity

  1. I was thinking the same thing when I read your earlier post. I find “minimalist” design and even minimalist music to often be very pleasing. Some of the best guitar solos ever played have had very few notes in them. “Minimalist” is tossed around in describing them, but, like you said, I think what nearly everyone really means is “simple”. They’re just tryin’ to break out the thesaurus so someone takes their opinion more seriously. I’ve done it myself.

  2. Matt, thanks. And in the process a perfectly good word is lost. And if “minimalist” is used when “simple” would be accurate, then the speaker is, in language at least, rococo.

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