The Influences of Modern Minimalism

by . February 27th, 2015

I’ve explained in a previous post about the difference between minimalism and simplicity. For a tl;dr, simplicity is a reduction of complexity while minimalism is a reduction of quantity.

To understand further the underlying idea behind minimalism, let’s look at some of the influences and predecessors of minimalism. Before that, I would like to point out that I am not an art major, but rather one who appreciates different art movements and their historical context.

De Stijl Art Movement

De Stijl is Dutch for the “the style”. It started in the Netherlands and featured a distillation of of aesthetics into basic elements such as geometric forms and primary colors.

It was a reaction to the aftermath of World War I. The Netherlands remained neutral during the war and were not able to leave the country. Thus, they were practically uninfluenced by the international art world.



Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow (1930) by Piet Mondrian

The movement was led by Theo van Doesburg who met with other artists and started a journal where he met Piet Mondrian, a visiting artist from Paris. De Stijl’s key idea “sought for the universal, as the individual was losing its significance… abstraction, precision, geometry, striving towards artistic purity and austerity.”

Mies Van der Rohe

If you are curious where the “Less is more” minimalist motto came from, thank this guy.


Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was a German-born architect and was one of the pioneers of modern architecture. He was an educator who was influenced with the philosophy and principles of constructivism on efficiency, and De Stijl’s use of space.

His style can be described as functional and simple. He emphasized the use of open space as a part of the design, as well as efficient assembly of components which serve multiple purposes.

Mies van der Rohe’s work can be seen worldwide, including the skylines of New York, Chicago, London and Beijing.

Traditional Japanese

Traditional Japanese design can also be considered a predecessor of minimalism. Most of Japanese aesthetics and ideals value simplicity stemming from the Zen philosophy of imparmanence and imperfection.


Wabi-sabi in pottery

Traditional Japanese ideals include the concepts of  Wabi (simple, austere beauty), Sabi (beauty that comes from age). Wabi-sabi appreciates the value of simple and plain objects. Objects designed in this ideal contain no unnecessary features. Imperfections and asymmetry are often associated with this concept.


Pine Trees by Hasegawa Tohaku

Another concept in Japanese aesthetics is the use of negative space of ma. It is the experience derived from the use of space, and the merging of interior with the exterior.


As an art movement, minimalism started in the 60s and 70s and is still a major influence on modern design today. It has different facets that cannot be fully grasped, but I hope you an idea from its influences.

For more information, check out my sources below:

The Art Story

Mies Society

Stanford University

Photo credit: moriza


Kevin is a reader first, a writer second, and a gamer somewhere in between. When not rooting for Tyrion Lannister for the Iron Throne, he's probably writing some morbid short story. He enjoys some surreal art, clever advertising campaigns, and a warm cup of coffee while reading Murakami.