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SANAA, Zollverein School of Management and Design, Essen (4606034520).jpg
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Top: Untitled, by Donald Judd, concrete sculpture, 1991, Israel Museum
Centre: The Zollverein School of Management and Design  [ de ] Essen, Germany, 2005–2006, by SANAA
Bottom: House no. 4A on Strada Dimitrie Racoviță, Bucharest, Romania, 2017, by Corina Dîndărean [1]
Years active1960s–present

In visual arts, music and other media, minimalism is an art movement that began in post–World War II in Western art, most strongly with American visual arts in the 1960s and early 1970s. Prominent artists associated with minimalism include Donald Judd, Agnes Martin, Dan Flavin, Carl Andre, Robert Morris, Anne Truitt and Frank Stella. [2] [3] The movement is often interpreted as a reaction against abstract expressionism and modernism; it anticipated contemporary postminimal art practices, which extend or reflect on minimalism's original objectives.


Minimalism in music often features repetition and gradual variation, such as the works of La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Julius Eastman and John Adams. The term minimalist often colloquially refers to anything or anyone that is spare or stripped to its essentials. It has accordingly been used to describe the plays and novels of Samuel Beckett, the films of Robert Bresson, the stories of Raymond Carver, and the automobile designs of Colin Chapman. The word was first used in English in the early 20th century to describe a 1915 composition by the Russian painter Kasimir Malevich, Black Square . [4] [ failed verification ]

Visual arts

Tony Smith, Free Ride, 1962, 6'8 x 6'8 x 6'8 Tonysmith freeride sculpture.jpg
Tony Smith, Free Ride, 1962, 6'8 x 6'8 x 6'8

Minimalism in visual art, generally referred to as "minimal art", "literalist art" [5] and "ABC Art", [6] emerged in New York in the early 1960s as new and older artists moved toward geometric abstraction; exploring via painting in the cases of Nassos Daphnis, Frank Stella, Kenneth Noland, Al Held, Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Ryman and others; and sculpture in the works of various artists including David Smith and Anthony Caro. Judd's sculpture was showcased in 1964 at Green Gallery in Manhattan, as were Flavin's first fluorescent light works, while other leading Manhattan galleries like Leo Castelli Gallery and Pace Gallery also began to showcase artists focused on geometric abstraction.

Kazimir Malevich, Black Square, 1915, oil on canvas, 79.5 x 79.5 cm, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow Kazimir Malevich, 1915, Black Suprematic Square, oil on linen canvas, 79.5 x 79.5 cm, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.jpg
Kazimir Malevich, Black Square , 1915, oil on canvas, 79.5 x 79.5 cm, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

In a more broad and general sense, one finds European roots of minimalism in the geometric abstractions of painters associated with the Bauhaus, in the works of Kazimir Malevich, Piet Mondrian and other artists associated with the De Stijl movement, and the Russian Constructivist movement, and in the work of the Romanian sculptor Constantin Brâncuși. [7] [8]

Minimal art is also inspired in part by the paintings of Barnett Newman, Ad Reinhardt, Josef Albers, and the works of artists as diverse as Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, Giorgio Morandi, and others. Minimalism was also a reaction against the painterly subjectivity of Abstract Expressionism that had been dominant in the New York School during the 1940s and 1950s. [9]

Yves Klein had painted monochromes as early as 1949, and held the first private exhibition of this work in 1950—but his first public showing was the publication of the Artist's book Yves: Peintures in November 1954. [10] [11]

Design, architecture, and spaces

The reconstruction of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's German Pavilion in Barcelona Barcelona Pavilion.jpg
The reconstruction of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's German Pavilion in Barcelona

The term minimalism is also used to describe a trend in design and architecture, wherein the subject is reduced to its necessary elements. [12] Minimalist architectural designers focus on the connection between two perfect planes, elegant lighting, and the void spaces left by the removal of three-dimensional shapes in an architectural design.[ according to whom? ][ citation needed ] Minimalist architecture became popular in the late 1980s in London and New York, [13] where architects and fashion designers worked together in the boutiques to achieve simplicity, using white elements, cold lighting, and large space with minimum objects and furniture.

Minimalistic design has been highly influenced by Japanese traditional design and architecture.[ citation needed ] The works of De Stijl artists are a major reference: De Stijl expanded the ideas of expression by meticulously organizing basic elements such as lines and planes. [14] With regard to home design, more attractive "minimalistic" designs are not truly minimalistic because they are larger, and use more expensive building materials and finishes.[ citation needed ]

330 North Wabash in Chicago, a minimalist building by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe 2004-09-02 1580x2800 chicago IBM building.jpg
330 North Wabash in Chicago, a minimalist building by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

There are observers who describe the emergence of minimalism as a response to the brashness and chaos of urban life. In Japan, for example, minimalist architecture began to gain traction in the 1980s when its cities experienced rapid expansion and booming population. The design was considered an antidote to the "overpowering presence of traffic, advertising, jumbled building scales, and imposing roadways." [15] The chaotic environment was not only driven by urbanization, industrialization, and technology but also the Japanese experience of constantly having to demolish structures on account of the destruction wrought by World War II and the earthquakes, including the calamities it entails such as fire. The minimalist design philosophy did not arrive in Japan by way of another country, as it was already part of the Japanese culture rooted on the Zen philosophy. There are those who specifically attribute the design movement to Japan's spirituality and view of nature. [16]

Architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886–1969) adopted the motto "Less is more" to describe his aesthetic. [lower-alpha 1] His tactic was one of arranging the necessary components of a building to create an impression of extreme simplicity—he enlisted every element and detail to serve multiple visual and functional purposes; for example, designing a floor to also serve as the radiator, or a massive fireplace to also house the bathroom. Designer Buckminster Fuller (1895–1983) adopted the engineer's goal of "Doing more with less", but his concerns were oriented toward technology and engineering rather than aesthetics. [17]

Concepts and design elements

The concept of minimalist architecture is to strip everything down to its essential quality and achieve simplicity. [18] The idea is not completely without ornamentation, [19] but that all parts, details, and joinery are considered as reduced to a stage where no one can remove anything further to improve the design. [20]

The considerations for 'essences' are light, form, detail of material, space, place, and human condition. [21] Minimalist architects not only consider the physical qualities of the building. They consider the spiritual dimension and the invisible, by listening to the figure and paying attention to details, people, space, nature, and materials., [22] believing this reveals the abstract quality of something that is invisible and aids the search for the essence of those invisible qualities—such as natural light, sky, earth, and air. In addition, they "open a dialogue" with the surrounding environment to decide the most essential materials for the construction and create relationships between buildings and sites. [19]

In minimalist architecture, design elements strive to convey the message of simplicity. The basic geometric forms, elements without decoration, simple materials and the repetitions of structures represent a sense of order and essential quality. [23] The movement of natural light in buildings reveals simple and clean spaces. [21] In the late 19th century as the arts and crafts movement became popular in Britain, people valued the attitude of 'truth to materials' with respect to the profound and innate characteristics of materials. [24] Minimalist architects humbly 'listen to figure,' seeking essence and simplicity by rediscovering the valuable qualities in simple and common materials. [22]

Influences from Japanese tradition

Ryoan-ji dry garden. The clay wall, which is stained by age with subtle brown and orange tones, reflects "wabi" and the rock garden "sabi", together reflecting the Japanese worldview or aesthetic of "wabi-sabi". RyoanJi-Dry garden.jpg
Ryōan-ji dry garden. The clay wall, which is stained by age with subtle brown and orange tones, reflects "wabi" and the rock garden "sabi", together reflecting the Japanese worldview or aesthetic of "wabi-sabi".

The idea of simplicity appears in many cultures, especially the Japanese traditional culture of Zen Buddhist philosophy. Japanese manipulate the Zen culture into aesthetic and design elements for their buildings. [26] This idea of architecture has influenced Western society, especially in America since the mid 18th century. [27] Moreover, it inspired the minimalist architecture in the 19th century. [20]

Zen concepts of simplicity transmit the ideas of freedom and essence of living. [20] Simplicity is not only aesthetic value, it has a moral perception that looks into the nature of truth and reveals the inner qualities and essence of materials and objects. [28] For example, the sand garden in Ryōan-ji temple demonstrates the concepts of simplicity and the essentiality from the considered setting of a few stones and a huge empty space. [29]

The Japanese aesthetic principle of Ma refers to empty or open space. It removes all the unnecessary internal walls and opens up the space. The emptiness of spatial arrangement reduces everything down to the most essential quality. [30]

The Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi values the quality of simple and plain objects. [31] It appreciates the absence of unnecessary features, treasures a life in quietness and aims to reveal the innate character of materials. [32] For example, the Japanese floral art of ikebana has the central principle of letting the flower express itself. People cut off the branches, leaves and blossoms from the plants and only retain the essential part of the plant. This conveys the idea of essential quality and innate character in nature. [33]

Minimalist architects and their works

The Japanese minimalist architect Tadao Ando conveys the Japanese traditional spirit and his own perception of nature in his works. His design concepts are materials, pure geometry and nature. He normally uses concrete or natural wood and basic structural form to achieve austerity and rays of light in space. He also sets up dialogue between the site and nature to create relationship and order with the buildings. [34] Ando's works and the translation of Japanese aesthetic principles are highly influential on Japanese architecture. [16]

Another Japanese minimalist architect, Kazuyo Sejima, works on her own and in conjunction with Ryue Nishizawa, as SANAA, producing iconic Japanese Minimalist buildings. Credited with creating and influencing a particular genre of Japanese Minimalism, [35] Sejimas delicate, intelligent designs may use white color, thin construction sections and transparent elements to create the phenomenal building type often associated with minimalism. Works include New Museum (2010) New York City, Small House (2000) Tokyo, House surrounded By Plum Trees (2003) Tokyo.

In Vitra Conference Pavilion, Weil am Rhein, 1993, the concepts are to bring together the relationships between building, human movement, site and nature. Which as one main point of minimalism ideology that establish dialogue between the building and site. The building uses the simple forms of circle and rectangle to contrast the filled and void space of the interior and nature. In the foyer, there is a large landscape window that looks out to the exterior. This achieves the simple and silence of architecture and enhances the light, wind, time and nature in space. [36]

John Pawson is a British minimalist architect; his design concepts are soul, light, and order. He believes that though reduced clutter and simplification of the interior to a point that gets beyond the idea of essential quality, there is a sense of clarity and richness of simplicity instead of emptiness. The materials in his design reveal the perception toward space, surface, and volume. Moreover, he likes to use natural materials because of their aliveness, sense of depth and quality of an individual. He is also attracted by the important influences from Japanese Zen Philosophy. [37]

Calvin Klein Madison Avenue, New York, 1995–96, is a boutique that conveys Calvin Klein's ideas of fashion. John Pawson's interior design concepts for this project are to create simple, peaceful and orderly spatial arrangements. He used stone floors and white walls to achieve simplicity and harmony for space. He also emphasises reduction and eliminates the visual distortions, such as the air conditioning and lamps, to achieve a sense of purity for the interior. [38]

Alberto Campo Baeza is a Spanish architect and describes his work as essential architecture. He values the concepts of light, idea and space. Light is essential and achieves the relationship between inhabitants and the building. Ideas are to meet the function and context of space, forms, and construction. Space is shaped by the minimal geometric forms to avoid decoration that is not essential. [39]


Literary minimalism is characterized by an economy with words and a focus on surface description. Minimalist writers eschew adverbs and prefer allowing context to dictate meaning. Readers are expected to take an active role in creating the story, to "choose sides" based on oblique hints and innuendo, rather than react to directions from the writer. [40]

Some 1940s-era crime fiction of writers such as James M. Cain and Jim Thompson adopted a stripped-down, matter-of-fact prose style to considerable effect; some[ who? ] classify this prose style as minimalism.

Another strand of literary minimalism arose in response to the metafiction trend of the 1960s and early 1970s (John Barth, Robert Coover, and William H. Gass). These writers were also sparse with prose and kept a psychological distance from their subject matter.[ citation needed ]

Minimalist writers, or those who are identified with minimalism during certain periods of their writing careers, include the following: Raymond Carver, [41] Ann Beattie, Bret Easton Ellis, Charles Bukowski, Ernest Hemingway, K. J. Stevens, Amy Hempel, Bobbie Ann Mason, Tobias Wolff, Grace Paley, Sandra Cisneros, Mary Robison, Frederick Barthelme, Richard Ford, Patrick Holland, Cormac McCarthy, and Alicia Erian.[ citation needed ]

American poets such as Stephen Crane, William Carlos Williams, early Ezra Pound, Robert Creeley, Robert Grenier, and Aram Saroyan are sometimes identified with their minimalist style. The term "minimalism" is also sometimes associated with the briefest of poetic genres, haiku, which originated in Japan, but has been domesticated in English literature by poets such as Nick Virgilio, Raymond Roseliep, and George Swede.[ citation needed ]

The Irish writer Samuel Beckett is well known for his minimalist plays and prose, as is the Norwegian writer Jon Fosse. [42]

Dimitris Lyacos's With the People from the Bridge , combining elliptical monologues with a pared-down prose narrative, is a contemporary example of minimalist playwrighting. [43] [44]

In his novel The Easy Chain , Evan Dara includes a 60-page section written in the style of musical minimalism, in particular inspired by composer Steve Reich. Intending to represent the psychological state (agitation) of the novel's main character, the section's successive lines of text are built on repetitive and developing phrases.[ citation needed ]


The term "minimal music" was derived around 1970 by Michael Nyman from the concept of minimalism, which was earlier applied to the visual arts. [45] [46] More precisely, it was in a 1968 review in The Spectator that Nyman first used[ citation needed ] the term, to describe a ten-minute piano composition by the Danish composer Henning Christiansen, along with several other unnamed pieces played by Charlotte Moorman and Nam June Paik at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. [47]

However, the roots of minimal music are older. In France between 1947 and 1948, [48] Yves Klein conceived his Monotone Symphony (1949, formally The Monotone-Silence Symphony) that consisted of a single 20-minute sustained chord followed by a 20-minute silence [49] [50] – a precedent to both La Monte Young's drone music and John Cage's 4′33″ .

Film and cinema

In film, minimalism usually is associated with filmmakers such as Robert Bresson, Chantal Akerman, Carl Theodor Dreyer, and Yasujirō Ozu. Their films typically tell a simple story with straightforward camera usage and minimal use of score. Paul Schrader named their kind of cinema: "transcendental cinema". [51] In the present, a commitment to minimalist filmmaking can be seen in film movements such as Dogme 95, mumblecore, and the Romanian New Wave. Abbas Kiarostami, [52] Elia Suleiman, [53] and Kelly Reichardt are also considered minimalist filmmakers.

The Minimalists – Joshua Fields Millburn, Ryan Nicodemus, and Matt D'Avella – directed and produced the film Minimalism: A Documentary, [54] which showcased the idea of minimal living in the modern world.

In other fields


Breaking from the complex, hearty dishes established as orthodox haute cuisine , nouvelle cuisine was a culinary movement that consciously drew from minimalism and conceptualism. It emphasized more basic flavors, careful presentation, and a less involved preparation process. The movement was mainly in vogue during the 1960s and 1970s, after which it once again gave way to more traditional haute cuisine, retroactively titled cuisine classique . However, the influence of nouvelle cuisine can still be felt through the techniques it introduced. [55]


The capsule wardrobe is an example of minimalism in fashion. Constructed of only a few staple pieces that do not go out of style, and generally dominated by only one or two colors, capsule wardrobes are meant to be light, flexible and adaptable, and can be paired with seasonal pieces when the situation calls for them. [56] The modern idea of a capsule wardrobe dates back to the 1970s, and is credited to London boutique owner Susie Faux. The concept was further popularized in the next decade by American fashion designer Donna Karan, who designed a seminal collection of capsule workwear pieces in 1985. [57]

Science communication

A warming stripes timeline graphic portraying global warming in the industrial era, with blues indicating cooler years and reds indicating warmer years. Warming stripes graphics are deliberately devoid of scientific or technical indicia, for ease of understanding by non-scientists. 20190705 Warming stripes - Berkeley Earth (world) - avg above- and below-ice readings.png
A warming stripes timeline graphic portraying global warming in the industrial era, with blues indicating cooler years and reds indicating warmer years. Warming stripes graphics are deliberately devoid of scientific or technical indicia, for ease of understanding by non-scientists.

To portray global warming to non-scientists, in 2018 British climate scientist Ed Hawkins developed warming stripes graphics that are deliberately devoid of scientific or technical indicia, for ease of understanding by non-scientists. [59] Hawkins explained that "our visual system will do the interpretation of the stripes without us even thinking about it". [60]

Warming stripe graphics resemble color field paintings in stripping out all distractions and using only color to convey meaning. [61] Color field pioneer artist Barnett Newman said he was "creating images whose reality is self-evident", an ethos that Hawkins is said to have applied to the problem of climate change and leading one commentator to remark that the graphics are "fit for the Museum of Modern Art or the Getty." [61]

A visual form of global warming data is presented through knitted or crocheted work. This project known as "tempestry" and it is carried out by collaborating with many artists to show the variations in temperatures using specified colors of yarn for each temperature or temperature range. The whole tapestry gives visual representation of global warming that may be taking place at a given location. The word "tempestry" is a portmanteau of "temperature" and "tapestry."

Minimalist lifestyle

In a lifestyle adopting minimalism, there is an effort to use materials which are most essential and in quantities that do not exceed certain limits imposed by the user themselves. There have been so many terms evolved from the concept. Like minimalist decors, minimalist skincare, minimalist style, minimalist accessories, [62] etc. All such terms signify the usage of only essential products in that niche into our lives. This will help to focus on things that are important in one's life. It will save resources from going waste if excess quantities are bought. It will also save the time of acquiring the excess materials that may be found unnecessary. [63]

A minimalist lifestyle helps to enjoy life with simple things that are available without undue efforts to acquire things that may be bought at great expenses. [64] [ citation needed ] Minimalism also leads to less clutter in living spaces. [65] [ citation needed ]

See also

Notes and references


  1. See Johnson 1947. A similar sentiment was conveyed by industrial designer Dieter Rams' motto, "Less but better."

Related Research Articles

<i>Wabi-sabi</i> Japanese aesthethic about beauty in imperfection

In traditional Japanese aesthetics, wabi-sabi (侘寂) is a world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of appreciating beauty that is "imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete" in nature. It is prevalent in many forms of Japanese art.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Simple living</span> Simplified, minimalistic lifestyle

Simple living refers to practices that promote simplicity in one's lifestyle. Common practices of simple living include reducing the number of possessions one owns, depending less on technology and services, and spending less money. Not only is simple living focused on external changes such as minimalism through fewer commitments or possessions but it also connects to the human's mindset and set of beliefs. These practices can be seen throughout history, religion, art, and economics.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Elegance</span> Conceptual beauty that shows unusual effectiveness and simplicity

Elegance is beauty that shows unusual effectiveness and simplicity.

Postminimalism is an art term coined by Robert Pincus-Witten in 1971 and used in various artistic fields for work which is influenced by, or attempts to develop and go beyond, the aesthetic of minimalism. The expression is used specifically in relation to music and the visual arts, but can refer to any field using minimalism as a critical reference point. In music, "postminimalism" refers to music following minimal music.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Japanese architecture</span> Overview of the architecture in Japan

Japanese architecture has been typified by wooden structures, elevated slightly off the ground, with tiled or thatched roofs. Sliding doors (fusuma) and other traditional partitions were used in place of walls, allowing the internal configuration of a space to be customized for different occasions. People usually sat on cushions or otherwise on the floor, traditionally; chairs and high tables were not widely used until the 20th century. Since the 19th century, however, Japan has incorporated much of Western, modern, and post-modern architecture into construction and design, and is today a leader in cutting-edge architectural design and technology.

This is an alphabetical index of articles about aesthetics.

John Ward Pawson, is a British architect whose work is known for its minimalist aesthetic. Architectural Registration Board (ARB) of UK asked Dezeen magazine not to refer him as architect although this was criticised by the publication.

Minimalism is a movement in visual arts, music, and other media that began in post–World War II Western art.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Deconstructivism</span> Postmodern architectural movement since the 1980s

Deconstructivism is a movement of postmodern architecture which appeared in the 1980s. It gives the impression of the fragmentation of the constructed building, commonly characterised by an absence of obvious harmony, continuity, or symmetry. Its name is a portmanteau of Constructivism and "Deconstruction", a form of semiotic analysis developed by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida. Architects whose work is often described as deconstructivist include Zaha Hadid, Peter Eisenman, Frank Gehry, Rem Koolhaas, Daniel Libeskind, Bernard Tschumi, and Coop Himmelb(l)au.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Scandinavian design</span> 20th century design movement

Scandinavian design is a design movement characterized by simplicity, minimalism and functionality that emerged in the early 20th century, and subsequently flourished in the 1950s throughout the five Nordic countries: Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Iceland.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Modern furniture</span>

Modern furniture refers to furniture produced from the late 19th century through the present that is influenced by modernism. Post-World War II ideals of cutting excess, commodification, and practicality of materials in design heavily influenced the aesthetic of the furniture. It was a tremendous departure from all furniture design that had gone before it. There was an opposition to the decorative arts, which included Art Nouveau, Neoclassical, and Victorian styles. Dark or gilded carved wood and richly patterned fabrics gave way to the glittering simplicity and geometry of polished metal. The forms of furniture evolved from visually heavy to visually light. This shift from decorative to minimalist principles of design can be attributed to the introduction of new technology, changes in philosophy, and the influences of the principles of architecture. As Philip Johnson, the founder of the Department of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art articulates:

"Today industrial design is functionally motivated and follows the same principles as modern architecture: machine-like simplicity, smoothness of surface, avoidance of ornament ... It is perhaps the most fundamental contrast between the two periods of design that in 1900 the Decorative Arts possessed ..."

Space in landscape design refers to theories about the meaning and nature of space as a volume and as an element of design. The concept of space as the fundamental medium of landscape design grew from debates tied to modernism, contemporary art, Asian art and design as seen in the Japanese garden, and architecture.

Living with the Future is a television documentary series first broadcast on 15 January 2007 on BBC Four. It is a follow-up series to Living with Modernism, also on BBC Four.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Systems art</span> Art influenced by cybernetics and systems theory

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Architectural design values make up an important part of what influences architects and designers when they make their design decisions. However, architects and designers are not always influenced by the same values and intentions. Value and intentions differ between different architectural movements. It also differs between different schools of architecture and schools of design as well as among individual architects and designers.

In art criticism of the 1960s and 1970s, flatness described the smoothness and absence of curvature or surface detail of a two-dimensional work of art.

Claudio Silvestrin is an Italian architect and designer, and a British citizen.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Minimalism (visual arts)</span> Visual arts movement

Minimalism describes movements in various forms of art and design, especially visual art and music, where the work is set out to expose the essence, essentials or identity of a subject through eliminating all non-essential forms, features or concepts. As a specific movement in the arts it is identified with developments in post–World War II Western Art, most strongly with American visual arts in the 1960s and early 1970s. Prominent artists associated with this movement include Ad Reinhardt, Nassos Daphnis, Tony Smith, Donald Judd, John McCracken, Agnes Martin, Dan Flavin, Robert Morris, Larry Bell, Anne Truitt, Yves Klein and Frank Stella. Artists themselves have sometimes reacted against the label due to the negative implication of the work being simplistic. Minimalism is often interpreted as a reaction to abstract expressionism and a bridge to postminimal art practices.

The Glass House is a heritage-listed domestic dwelling located at 80 The Bulwark, Castlecrag, City of Willoughby, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. It was designed by Bill Lucas. It is also known as Glasshouse; Bill Lucas House. It was added to the New South Wales State Heritage Register on 21 October 2016.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Minimalist photography</span>

Minimalist photography is a form of photography that is distinguished by austere simplicity. It emphasizes sparseness and careful composition, shying away from overabundance of color, patterns, or information.


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Further reading