March 29, 2012 | Alyson Stanfield

Minimal and Maximum Art Explanations

In honor of the passing this week of esteemed New York Times art critic and editor, Hilton Kramer . . .

Deep Thought Thursday

The more minimal the art, the more maximum the explanation.
– Hilton Kramer


Is it good or bad if this is the case? Or does it matter?

11 comments add a comment
  • Ha…I must be sleep deprived because at first I read animal art instead of minimal art.
    Depends on the subject matter. For example, if the art in question is a canvas with a couple of brushstrokes or Black Square by Kazimir Malevich, I personally don’t get it and yes I would need an explanation. I think works like these carry more weight in the explanation than the actual viewing – which, to me, isn’t is appealing. I suppose they combine verbal and visual and push the viewer to search for the meaning; however, to me good art surpasses understanding or reasoning and simply resonates with our spirits and souls.

  • Perri Jackson

    Is the quote accurate? Did Mr. Kramer leave out the tiny little word ‘the’ in front of the word ‘art’? Because the whole meaning of the sentence is affected and a judgement of ‘truth’ or ‘untruth’ depends on how you interpret the quote, as well as the original context of the quote.
    I googled it due to the interesting sentence structure – most instances insert ‘the’ but given this man’s reputation and yours, I suspect this version is original.
    Is he saying that minimal art is stripped to essence and therefore offers a wealth of explanation about the subject by eliciting questions?
    Or is he saying that the more closely and personally ‘stripped to the essence’ art becomes, the more it needs to be explained to others?
    Or a third possibility: Was this a disdainful commentary/quip about how to recognize less than artful pieces? As in: If you need to use the title to explain it, does it really qualify as art?
    I don’t know from truth, but thanks for giving me some other thoughts to explore.

  • Recently, I listened to the writers’ soundtrack on the DVD for the movie “The Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” The writers discussed over and over how since Caesar could not talk, they were limited to telling many parts of the story visually. They gave example after example. It was pointed out that despite dialog, film is essentially a visual medium.
    My small art quilts grow from short stories I write. I would like for them always to be displayed with the printed story hanging on the wall next to the quilt. In an upcoming exhibit, that is going to be difficult to pull off. So I am struggling with whether the illustrations are strong enough on their own. I know that n the future, I need to make them so.

  • Less is always more in art…concentrate on the essence not the detail…

  • If it’s truly minimal, it is only as slight as possible to yet tell its meaning. A Mondrian work is minimal in this way. It needs no further explanation. But a white canvas with a single yellow line off-center, from top to bottom, (and I’m sorry I don’t recall the work’s maker) is simply lacking. It is not minimal, but deficient, and thus needs a written explanation. It becomes an illustration for the writing, rather than its own purpose.
    A Mondrian:

  • Sorry to double-dip, but this is so cool. A fellow by the name of Fred Martin has a web-site with a wealth of art history and stuff. A lot of it is hidden because his front page ( is a fright, but here’s a link to a PDF survey of Mondrian from start to finish.
    A terrific look at the evolution of an artist:

  • A picture is rumored to be “worth a thousand words”. If a thousand words are necessary to explain the picture, one might conclude that the picture has not clearly communicated its message. I’m inclined to agree with Mr. Kramer!

  • Leila

    i think there are more _possibilities_ to explain minimal art. but i´m asking myself, if it´s necessary. isn´t it much more thrilling, if you let it talk to you on its own without all the explanations of somebody else?
    if you speak german, look at this dissertation about minimal art, very interesting:

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