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Less is More, and More is Less, More or Less: The Historical Progression, Aesthetic Characteristics, and Physical Limitations of Minimalism

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Since its emergence as an aesthetic category in the mid-twentieth century, minimalism has been contentious amongst scholars of all forms of art. It has been alternately celebrated, questioned, and condemned by not only its critics, but also the artists whose works have been given the historical title “minimalist.” This article explores the emergence of minimalist music, examining its relation to the earlier “avant-garde” works of John Cage and other eclectic influences, such as jazz and Eastern music. In doing so, this article attempts to establish a broad understanding of the elements integral to minimalist music, with a special focus on the composers La Monte Young, Terry Riley, and Steve Reich. The works of Riley and Reich are compared to the works of visual artists Barnett Newman and Sol LeWitt in order to highlight the pivotal elements of the minimalist aesthetic, including repetition, simplicity, and, to borrow Cage’s term, “Unfixity.” This article concludes that the minimalist compositions of the aforementioned composers ultimately demonstrate the integral characteristics of minimalism better than their visual counterparts, due to the temporal nature of music. However, the article seeks to demonstrate the importance of contemplating visual and musical interpretations of minimalism together, as they are complimentary windows into this modern movement.


Minimalism, Aesthetic, History, Art, Reich

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