The diploma thesis MINIMAL was written in 2005 by Christian Schrei, a student of Information Design at the University of Applied Sciences Graz, Austria. The original layout is available as a PDF file, accompanying music was composed, arranged and produced by Christian Schrei (audio sample). English Translation (2007) by Andrea Schmidt, Julia Harrer and Anita Ertl. Sincere thanks to Ao.Univ.Prof. Mag.phil. Dr.phil. Harald Haslmayr, Ao.Univ.Prof. Mag.phil. Bernhard Lang, Ao.Univ.Prof. Mag.art Georg Friedrich Haas and Christine Frisinghelli. Dedicated to Jörg Schlick.
Initially this paper contemplates on similarities and differences between Minimal Art and Minimal Music. It is against this background that the question arises whether the perceptible divergences can, to a certain extent, be combined to form new conceptual ideas. At this point I should like to mention the comprehensive realisation process which refers to each chapter with a piece of music and a piece of art. In order to create the greatest possible differentiation, the preface will deal with Minimalist tendencies in disciplines rather attributed to Minimal Art like architecture, design and photography but also dance, film and literature will be studied for Minimalist aspects.
Contentwise the structure of this paper follows the most important characteristics of the two styles discussed. The first three chapters interlink the constitutive aspects of Minimalism which play a decisive role both in art and music. The first one discusses reduction as the basis of Minimalism, the second one deals with repetition as the most important technique of reduction while the third chapter describes the mathematical logical processes used to intensify the Minimalist elements. The discussed pieces of art and music increase in intensity and so does the content of this paper. The fourth chapter is dedicated to object orientation and perspective in Minimalism and tries to find analogies to similar concepts in music. The last chapter finally investigates the meditative impact of Minimalism.
This paper does not claim to be an exhaustive representation of all artists of Minimal Art and Minimal Music up to the present day (2005). The author rather tries to specify Minimalist manifestations in art and music on the basis of important criteria and distinguished artists and discusses them in a common context, draws connections between them and realises the thereby gained findings auditorily and visually. This realisation can be received via the attached Audio CD as well as through the artworks at the beginning of each chapter. All pieces of music have been composed, arranged and produced by the author. The same is true of the artworks which have been designed autonomously, in order to achieve the highest possible individual involvement with the material.
At this point it seems reasonable to cast an eye on a problem that arose in the course of the research. Throughout the history of art and music style definitions have faced the challenge to assign a highly varying mass of artworks to a specific cultural movement. As for Minimalism the problem is even more significant since it is still debatable in art criticism if paintings and objects represent the principles of Minimalism likewise. Painting basically concentrates on the reduction of monochromatic and serially structured pictures, while in spatial art the object quality, the resulting spatial perspective and the critical relation between art and exhibition site play a decisive role. The present paper focuses on objects, since some significant characteristics of Minimalism, like object quality and perspective, apply only to them.
As noted above, a digression to some areas of Minimalism beyond Minimal Art and Minimal Music will be made at this point. However, it will be confined to a short definition and a description of the most renowned artists. Although the presented works are generally to be seen in the context of their own movement it seems reasonable to briefly discuss the Minimalist approaches of other musical and artistic styles, so as to establish cross connections to Minimal Art and Minimal Music.
Soon after the concepts of Minimal Art are established, they are taken up in architecture. The critical attitude towards the traditional gallery room gives way to an increased simplification of forms and to a concentration on only few materials in architecture. This style is still relevant as demonstrated by renowned contemporary artists like the Swiss architect duo Herzog & de Meuron, the Englishman John Pawson and the Italian Claudio Silvestrin, who works in London.
Towards the end of the 1950s Corporate Design calls for the creation of a uniform corporate identity for groups comprising the most diverse branches of industry. This results in the usage of geometric modular configurations and the exact specifications of intervals and distances between the elements, making their strong parallels to Minimal Art apparent. In the 1990s the Americans Kim Johnson Gross and Jeff Stone broaden the term Minimalism to include home design. In their series of books Chic Simple they stick to the philosophy “Less is more” and apply it, among others, to clothes, furniture and domestic appliances.
At the end of the 1960s further Minimalist tendencies can be observed also in conceptual photography where not only the serial sequence of pictures but also the act of describing and the procedural nature like in conceptual art play a vital role. Frequently, the representatives of conceptual photography such as Sol LeWitt, Dan Graham, Douglas Huebler and Joseph Kosuth reveal parallels and overlaps with their proper works in conceptual art.
In the mid-1960s dancers get involved with the ideas of reduction, the most influential artists being Trisha Brown, Lucinda Childs, Simone Forti and Yvonne Rainer. In 1966 the latter wrote an article about dance and reduction where she defined the basic principles of Minimalist dance. Characteristically, concepts such as development, climax and representation of characters are abandoned in favour of the equivalence of all parts as well as a performance that is as neutral as possible. The variations in rhythm, form and dynamics are replaced by repetitions or discrete incidents.
In film there is no Minimalist movement of its own, rather individual approaches of Minimalist aspects in films can be found. One early example is Hurlements en faveur de Sade (1952) from Guy-Ernest Debord, where a black and a white screen are shown alternately over a period of 80 minutes. During the white scenes texts of laws, newspaper notices etc. are recited. However, Debord cannot be considered a Minimalist artist. He was closely connected with the Situationist International, a radical group of artists who stuck to a strongly political programme between 1957 and 1972. In Minimal Art, however, all forms of political commitment were substituted by concentrating on aesthetics.
About 10 years later Andy Warhol’s film Empire (1963) shows the filming of the Empire State Building in New York from the 44th floor of the Time Life Building for a period of eight hours. He maintains the same camera position and angle throughout the whole film. As the object itself does not change and there is no sound track the lighting conditions are the only changing element in the film but are also reduced to a minimum by the use of black and white as well as by the fact that the image changes only slightly.
Similar to Debord, Warhol’s film stands out from the rest of his works as an extraordinary piece of art which laid the basis for Pop Art. Although his artistic movement evolved at the same time as Minimalism, it clearly distances itself from the latter by elevating mass phenomena to works of art.
First Minimalist tendencies can be observed rather early, for example in Robert Desnos’ L’Aumonyme (1923), which Marcel Duchamp’s pseudonym “Rrose Sélavy” divides into twelve identical variations such as “Roseé, c’est la vie”. Similar approaches emerged in the mid-1950s in concrete poetry which reduces the meaning of language to the phonetic level and aims at converging its visible form with its structure. Similarly, Steve Reich as a representative of Minimal Music, claims in his article Music as a Gradual Process (1968) that mainly the structure of an opus should be perceived.
In the 1970s and 1980s a new form of Minimalist prose establishes in the USA. It is characterised by short words, sentences, paragraphs or short stories as well as by a reduced range of vocabulary, limited syntax or even minimal characters, expositions or scenes. The main representatives are Raymond Carver, Donald and Frederick Barthelme and Ann Beattie.