The Dichotomy Of Artists and “Minimalism”

I’ve been reading a lot about the new minimalism lately. And by that, I mean about a lifestyle usually assumed by reasonably affluent, tech-savvy young people who are embracing the notion that life is simpler with less stuff. I also know, thanks largely to the design sense of Sir Jonathan Ives of Apple, that design is also currently embracing a renewed love of the minimal. Apple’s industrial design, Microsoft’s paradigm-formerly-known-as-metro, content-centric white-space-rich websites (which you’ll note I’m certainly guilty of). Minimalism is in, and among certain types of people, it’s highly desirable even.

Interestingly, the people who seem to most desire a minimal lifestyle are either A) creative people, or B) people inspired by and consumers of work done by creative peoples. Which leads to the curious realization that minimalism is more or less inherently unsustainable, or at least very willing to turn a hypocritical blind eye.

Robert Rauschenberg, “White Painting.” Now that was minimalism.

What I mean is, you show me a creative person without a billion tiny messy possessions, and I’ll show you a creative person who’s reached the wonderful point of handing all the mess to underlings. Every creative person I know is only a psychological snap away from being a hoarder. Some of them are more organized than others, some much more messy, but they all have a catalog of tools, materials, and resources hidden away that would make your average minimalist go into shock. For example, while I love, love, love the dream of someday having one of those spartan, minimal living environments and living my life from a tablet, a phone, and a Kindle, the only way I could pretend to manage it would be to have an offsite storage for all those pesky things that keep my studio ticking. Just a quick list of things that would have to go:

  1. A dozen tubes of paint, a half dozen brushes, stand oil, linseed oil, and gamsol, glass palette, glass scraper, and rags.
  2. Painting easel
  3. Taboret
  4. Work table
  5. 2 dozen hardboard canvases
  6. 4 primed canvas canvases
  7. Over a dozen finished and unsold paintings
  8. Work table
  9. Cutting matte, box knife, Xacto knife, matte cutter, 3 rulers, t-square
  10. A dozen rattlecans of various fixatives ad adhesives and paints
  11. Two vertical filing cabinets, filled with (among other things):
    • Pens
    • Pencils
    • Charcoal sticks
    • China markers
    • Colored pencils
    • Bookbinding tools
    • Paper stock
    • Ribbon
    • Mixing jars
    • Clamps
    • Label maker
  12. A camera, four lenses, a Quadra two-head kit, barndoors, reflectors, reflector adapters, soft box, strip box, PLM, two stands, background stand, Gorillapod, various gels
  13. Several partially used matte boards and foamcore sheets
  14. Miscellaneous fabric and canvas scraps

And more that I’m surely forgetting. I’ve also just decided to make latex masks, so, I’ve added plaster of paris ad Sculpey to that list. And that’ll need bowls and forms. I don’t even want to count the various types of tape and glues I’ve accumulated. Simply put, the only way to be an artist and also minimalist would be to maroon all your stuff in a remote “studio” and pretend that doesn’t count. That, or just kinda suck at being creative.

And that’s the other catch. For all those minimalist living off a Kindle and some iPads… those are devices made by creative people, who are almost certainly incapable of actually living the fulfilled life they describe, but ironically make that minimal lifestyle possible in the first place. A fact which makes each next smug assertion that a life of less will make a better life grate me more and more. Minimalism is an artform, not a lifestyle. It’s best not to get them confused.