Minimalism is an attitude about one’s relationship to material possessions (‘stuff’) whereby maintaining the greatest possible independence from and indifference to it is ideal.
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Let me start by asking whether you have ever gone through a period of your life when ‘minimalism’ seemed to have been not only a good idea, but something that you absolutely needed to act on as quickly and thoroughly as possible?
This essay (originally title Footnotes to Minimalism: A Grey and Colourless Philosophy) is about that type of experience – and also about some implications of the contemporary minimalism which I have had occasion to observe and explore. Not surprisingly, my exploration leads to several insights and connections that I’ve found to Motorcycle Zen and the Zensylvania state of mind.
But first let me focus on the title of this essay: A Grey and Colorless Philosophy. I imagine that this word choice presents something of a stark and bleak outlook on what is actually a very popular lifestyle, philosophy and design aesthetic. Despite the characterization I’ve started with, minimalism is a trend that I readily admit a certain affinity for. It is exactly because of this attraction that minimalism has for me that it is worthy of some critical examination and even criticism. And so we come to an essay title that may seem less than flattering.
But it also seems to be a reasonably accurate observation of the mainstream contemporary minimalism that has recently flourished. Dig into the aesthetics of contemporary minimalism and it is nearly impossible not to be buried in avalanches of white, grey and black. Perhaps with some wood-tones mixed-in here and there as a gesture to naturalism. As a design concept, contemporary minimalism seems to have a pre-occupation with objects and environments that are sanitized of colour. Or perhaps purified is a more precise descriptor for what may be happening within minimalism. This is an interesting situation with a variety of drivers worth examining – especially for those who may feel that acting on minimalism is a pressing matter. It can be instructive to appreciate what it is that moves us toward radical lifestyle and ideological changes or approaches. Are we reacting against something – as with a sanitization? Or are we moving toward something – as with a purification? While the outcomes may be superficially similar, the process and aesthetic effects are likely to be very different in quality.
As well, this observation of the aesthetics of contemporary minimalism has, at least for me, a startling connection to Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Stick with me and we’ll get there in the essay and also to some insights that I’ve taken away.
As a header image for this essay, I’ve used a photograph of the oddly striking Novus electric motorcycle (or E-Motorbike). The inclusion isn’t in any way intended to be an advertisement for that product; nor is the inclusion an insult to the concept. As I’ve said, it’s oddly striking and may well be an entertaining option. With that being said, the image of that bike immediately struck me as relevant to this essay and I knew I had to include it. A little later one, we’ll be returning to it.
What Is Minimalism?
Rather paradoxically, defining minimalism is not a simple task. As with any ideology, there are more than a few underlying concepts, elements and assumptions packed into the larger concept. When you start looking into it, minimalism is actually more complicated, nuanced and sophisticated than it seems.
Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), I’m not going to try to dig into all of these foundational bits as that would make this exploration much larger than we have time for right now. What I’m going to do instead is set-aside as much of the ‘you-won’t-get-this-unless-you-first-get-that‘ philosophizing as possible. So, here is the official Zensylvania definition of minimalism (pending future editorial fiat):
Minimalism is an attitude about one’s relationship to material possessions (‘stuff’) whereby maintaining the greatest possible independence from and indifference to it is ideal.
This definition of materialism carries several immediate and primary corollaries and outcomes:
(1) stuff is inherently a burden, regardless of the perceived benefits that it may also provide;
(2) owning, possessing and maintaining the least amount of stuff as practically possible is desirable as it reduces burden;
(3) complicated design is the physical representation of conceptual ‘stuff’ and represents intellectual and aesthetic burden;
(2) when stuff must be possessed, the least complicated, ornate and attention-catching of stuff is preferred over the more complicated, ornate and attention-catching.
Are these oversimplifications? Reductionist views? A minimal approach? Hopefully so. And hopefully that makes the definition consistent with contemporary minimalism.
In 2016, amidst a variety of relatively stressful life events, it occurred to me, in a strangely compulsive kind of way, that it was necessary that I significantly reduce the gross tonnage and clutter of my personal possessions. It was a disconcerting experience to ponder just how much all of my stuff weighed.
While the particular circumstances don’t much matter for this essay – clearly I had been pondering what would be involved to move all this stuff from one place to another. It’s an issue that I’ve needed to consider many times, having moved house to far-flung corners of the province I’ve called home throughout my life. Back in 2008, I recall being somewhat appalled by the thousands of pounds involved in a relocation from Thunder Bay to St. Thomas. And we’ve only acquired more stuff since then. How much might it all weigh, now?
As a detail of minimalism, I put some basic questions to myself:
- if I needed to move all my stuff, what would be involved and how much would it cost?
- is there stuff I can dispose of now to minimize that burden?
- with all of the stuff I own, how much of it is actually meaningful?
Minimalism seemed to offer attitudes, methods, tools and options for reducing the burdens of stuff that I felt – both for stuff I already possessed and maintained and for potential future stuff that would almost certainly cross my path. Predictably, I began an effort to get rid of as much of that stuff as I could as a preparation to move forward in my life. And I also began an investigation of contemporary minimalism and its potential meanings and implications for me.
One of the first things I did was to catalogue my individual, personal stuff. The exercise allowed me to understand exactly how much stuff I had laying around. And how much of it I didn’t really use or need in any active kind of way. I eventually found that I could get my individual, personal stuff to something approximating 100 items. This included such things as clothing, musical instruments, objets d’art, electronics, books and anything solely and exclusively my own. To do so would mean almost wholly culling from my habits of ownership the concept and practice of collection.
I excluded from the scope of my efforts anything with a family- or communal-purpose. I thought it would be unfair to apply my personal considerations to things that other people use and derive benefit from. For similar reasons, I also excluded tools and other items of practical usage that are necessary to maintain our family home. It simply didn’t make sense to ditch stuff that would be useful, if not essential, to getting on with the life that I was interested to put into order.
This reference to 100 items is a popular benchmark in contemporary minimalism. There are books, websites and who knows what else devoted to that somewhat mystically specified quantity. There doesn’t seem to be any objectively certain reason that 100-items should be chosen instead of some other number, excepting perhaps that it is easy to remember and has the practical application of being sufficiently high to allow quite a lot of stuff. Even still, in my own case, I quickly established various conditions and caveats to exempt myself from stuff-possessing limitations.
Still, setting an upper limit of stuff is the whole point of minimalism. It is a practice of setting a personal minimum or baseline.
I recommend conducting an inventory of personally owned items whether you’re interested in minimizing that inventory or not. It is a valid strategy to contemplate the sheer quantities of things that contemporary people possess. Indeed, enumerating what you own is also more readily practicable compared to (for example) pondering the overall mass of your possessions (as in the case of paying for logistics services to move your stuff from one place to another). It is appalling how quickly the list grows…even if you’re prone to counting a pair of socks as a single item. Idealistic, magical numbers, like 100, become quaint rather quickly and you’ll discover the degree to which materialism dominates your daily life.
I say magical because any arbitrary quantity which does not serve a specific, objective limit is indeed dabbling in a kind of fantasy-land exercise – an internal negotiation of the personal boundaries of the material-based basis of your life.
By contrast, consider the objective and practical limits set by airlines for online luggage: nor more than X pieces where each piece weighs no more than Y pounds or kilograms. Airlines look at your stuff as a matter of logistics rather than mystics.
There isn’t a problem with a minimalist pursuit that allows for magic and fantasy. Indeed, my own indulgence is almost wholly composed of it. There is no actively and externally imposed limit the amount of stuff I might acquire within my resources. But the difference between an arbitrary, self-prescribed quantity and an externally-imposed mandate is an education. Consider those who spend some period of their life constrained-by external limits such as long-term care residents, military personnel or the poor.
This exercise of quantifying and limiting my stuff had me reflect that when I was my teens and early twenties, I was mostly satisfied if all of my possessions could be packed into whatever vehicle I happened to own at the time – and therefore, readily transported wherever I happened to be going. This method of limiting my stuff was essentially assigned to me when I moved out of my parents’ home and was given the frank and direct information that anything left behind would be proactively collected for a trip to the landfill. Take that for an externally-imposed scenario.
This method of limiting my stuff to the amount I’m able to cart along has turned out to be extremely practical and effective. It’s an approach that seems to strongly align with several philosophies that I appreciate from stoicism and pragmatism all the way through to certain aspects of Zen and Fuzzy Logic.
If you happen to be couch-surfing around or otherwise uncertain what roof (if any) may be over your head on any given night – then it probably makes sense to have only as much stuff as you can move around. Uncertainty reveals that stuff, despite the pleasure and benefits that might be derived, is also a burden. In a world confounded by concerns about environmental damage, rising costs of living, global elites who promote being happy whilst owning nothing, military and social conflicts and other such matters – a sober assessment of uncertainty in your life requires an examination of your relationship to stuff. There may well be very large external forces to consider.
Indeed, I’m struck by the notion that nomadic people throughout history would have considered it common sense that humans need to place transportability at the center of material possessions. Indeed, for the vast majority of human existence, permanent settlements (houses, towns, cities) were unknown. Compared to the millions of years that humans have existed, we have lived stationary, rooted lives for only some ten to fifteen thousand years. We evolved as relatively stuff-less, nomadic hunter-gatherers.
Our deepest instincts, evolved over those millions of years, seem to contradict our drive to gather stuff. In crisis, we look around us for the most essential things to take as we flee. And yet, we are also drawn to acquire and collect everything from pretty rocks at the beach to clothing, books, motorcycles, cars, pretty stones at the beach or frankly any manner or size of bauble that one cares to mention. Perhaps it is a part of some nesting instinct relate to creating a safe and stable territory to provide-for and rear newer generations.
It is clear that contemporary minimalism is not a direct product of our collective human heritage as nomads. There certainly are nomadic cultures even in this twenty-first century, but most of us are not looking at these cultures as the source of inspiration for how to declutter the closet or design the kitchen. Though perhaps we should.
Contemporary minimalism is clearly also not a direct product of economic poverty. Those who engage in minimalism often seem to have more than enough money to spend, if they wish to. Interestingly, however, minimalism does seem to take its expressive form from scenarios that are necessarily spare in their original occurrence.
The concept of “tiny homes” has been growing in North America and around the world to one extent or another. Tiny homes are akin to minimalism insofar as they are a scaling-back from the average 1,700 square foot home. But tiny homes are often not minimalist in their design.
It seems to me that tiny homes are a distant relative of Henry David Thoreau’s cabin near Walden Pond. In essence, this is a reduced square-footage still based upon a presumed longer-term residency when compared to a genuinely nomadic or necessarily uncertain situation.
Culling the Concept of Collections
In my own case, when I approached the inventory of my personal stuff, I unexpectedly learned that I had a strange relationship to ‘collections‘. I think most people would agree that a collection is a situation where we possess and maintain more than one of any given item. Most of us develop a specialty of collecting a particular item and our personal collection of this type of item is larger than what our friends’ and neighbours’ might be.
In fact, if someone were to ask if you had any ‘collections’, you might assume the question pertains to these specialist collections: purses, books, records, antique tea pots, motorcycles. What have you.
Yet, if you conduct an inventory, you may find (as I certainly did) that most of us have a wide-range of collections that manage to grow over time and without any seriously sustained effort. Here are a few examples from my experience: a collection of leather jackets, a collection of audio equipment and related electronics, a collection of shoes.
I hope you take my meaning, I learned that I had a collection of items that were different in their design but still fulfilled the same basic purpose. Even today, I have three different leather jackets which I maintain as each jacket seems to suit a different weather condition. If I remove that modified, ‘leather’, I have to admit to maintaining no fewer than a dozen ‘jackets”.
It turns out that my personal mountain of stuff can be easily lumped into collections of items that all serve the same (or substantially similar) fundamental purpose. It turns out I was (and am) a passive and unconscious collector.
Personal Case Study Number One: Books
Over most of my life, I’ve had an unreasonable attachment to books. At one point, my personal library included hundreds upon hundreds of books. During house moves, this translated into hundreds of pounds of cartage from one place to another. Cartage that cost money.
Books are just one type of item. After reading a book, the book became an artifact of having read the book. Seeing the physical object was a reminder of the experience, for good or bad.
Eventually, I used Goodreads, the social media platform to document all of the books I read and to serve as a kind of digital artifact. The digital artifact allowed me to let the decaying physical objects go. For me that turns out to have been a good thing as hundreds of pounds of paper have been sent off to to used book stores and the like and hopefully for the enjoyment of others. For me, I now have a much more narrowly curated personal library of books that I actively expect to re-use.
As I said, books are one object and similar situations apply to music library (tapes, CD’s and devices to play them on), clothing and other collections of objects which accumulated and accumulated.
As it turns out, getting rid of all that stuff did not culminate in the path I had expected, but it certainly did allow play a role in preparing me to move forward in my life.
Personal Case Study Number Two: Cars and Bikes
Needless to say, notions of minimalism have even influenced my attitudes about motorcycles and cars.
I admit to having owned an un-necessarily large number of motorized vehicles. And this ownership has cost much more money over the decades than makes much logical sense. I also admit to not caring much about that in the moments that I consider a particularly terrific Yamaha or Moto Guzzi.
However, my experience with and contemplations about minimalism has tempered my approach. At one time, I had three operable and one in-operable vehicle(s) in the driveway. The total fuel-burning displacement of all those engines was almost thirteen litres and the grand total weight of metal, glass and plastic was probably north of 14,000 pounds. That’s a lot of ‘stuff’.
When it comes to quantification, my Yamaha XJ 550 was only a half-litre of displacement and some 400 pounds. Mind you, it was only a practical option for 2/3 of the year. The Novus electric motorcycle pictured at the top of this article is said by the manufacturers to weigh about 85 kilograms – or approximately 185 pounds. As an electric option, the Novus doesn’t directly burn fuel. Here in Ontario, power would have to be provided by some combination of nuclear, wind and hydro-electric infrastructures. Meanwhile my bicycle weighs something less than 25 pounds and has no displacement at all.
So where have I landed? Currently we own a single vehicle weighing about 3000 pounds and displacing two litres of fuel-and-air burning capacity. While it’s still a shockingly large quantity of metal, glass and plastic to fuss with…it does have the capacity to carry quite a bit of my stuff around when and if I need to. And for the forseeable future, this seems (in combination with the aforementioned bicycle) to be the likeliest ongoing vehicle to serve our needs. At least we’re down from thirteen litres of pollution displacement and 14,000 pounds of natural and manufactured resources.
The Meeting of East and West By FSC Northrop: An Inquiry Concerning World Understanding
Finally we’re getting to the reason that I titled this essay with that combative characterization of minimalism as a grey and colourless philosophy…and I do hope, despite the meandering path we’ve taken, that we arrive at a conclusion that is indeed consistent with the introduction.
In chapter eleven of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig describes a period of time when the narrator, Phaedrus, returns from military service in Asia and spends a period of time in confrontation of several fundamental conceptions about existence. While the scene is comparatively brief, I have also found that it is an extraordinarily useful scene for tracking Pirsig’s philosophical influences – and in the so-doing, providing an insight into the aesthetics of mainstream contemporary minimalism.
So let’s have a look at this passage:
...The final strong fragment from that part of the world is of a compartment of a troopship. He is on his way home. The compartment is empty and unused. He is alone on a bunk made of canvas laced to a steel frame, like a trampoline. There are five of these to a tier, tier after tier of them, completely filling the empty troop compartment.
This is the foremost compartment of the ship and the canvas in the adjoining frames rise and falls, accompanied by elevator feelings in his stomach. He contemplates these things and a deep booming on the steel plates all around him and realizes that except for these signs there is no indication whatsoever that this entire compartment is rising massively high up into the air and then plunging down, over and over again. He wonders if it is that which is making it difficult to concentrate on the book before him, but realizes that no, the book is just hard. It’s a text on Oriental philosophy and it’s the most difficult book he’s ever read. He’s glad to be alone and bored in this empty troop compartment, otherwise he’d never get through it.
The book states that there’s a theoretic component of man’s existence which is primarily Western (and this corresponded to Phaedrus’ laboratory past) and an aesthetic component of man’s existence which is seen more strongly in the Orient (and this corresponded to Phaedrus’ Korean past) and that these never seem to meet. These terms “theoretic” and “esthetic” correspond to what Phaedrus later called classic and romantic modes of reality and probably shaped these terms in his mind more than he ever knew. The difference is that the classic reality is primarily theoretic but has its own aesthetic too. The romantic reality is primarily esthetic, but has its theory too. The theoretic and esthetic split is between components of a single world. The classic and romantic split is between two separate worlds. The philosophy book, which is called The Meeting of East and West, by F.S.C. Northrop, suggests that greater cognizance be made of the “undifferentiated aesthetic continuum” from which the theoretic arises.
Phaedrus didn’t understand this, but after arriving in Seattle, and his discharge from the Army, he sat in his hotel room for two whole weeks, eating enormous Washington apples and thinking, and eating more apples, and thinking some more, and then as a result of all these fragments, and thinking, returned to the University to study philosophy. his lateral drift was ended. He was actively in pursuit of something now.“
First, I want to point out that the beginning of the scene is set among an empty, stark and minimalist bunk compartment of a military ship. When describing the environment, Pirsig provides no direct words to convey colour. At most, colour can only be inferred from the references to steel, canvas and the fact that it is a military area. Overall the scene conveys absence of colour as readily as it conveys a disconnect from the massive rising and falling of the ship in ocean swells.
If there is a life situation that must necessarily be minimalist and practical – where nothing but the necessary is packed along – it must be a military setting. Like nomadic people or the homeless, the military life is filled with uncertainty and a perpetual requirement to be able to pick up and go. The extraneous is soon purged in these environments. Military personnel don’t go about their business lugging a dozen coats just in case the one they happen to be wearing doesn’t suit the occasion.
This massive rising and falling of the ship is a mirroring of the polarizing pendulum swings of the narrator’s perspectives on reality and existence. Inside the compartment, there is no hint that the whole thing is moving – that there are indeed two different perspectives. The compartment is a metaphor for the polarities of Eastern and Western aesthetics that the narrator is reading in the next paragraphs.
At the close of the scene, Pirsig describes Phaedrus, having returned from the East as spending time thinking and eating enormous Washington apples. While it is tempting to let the metaphors speak for themselves, I’m going to indulge in over-explanation to avoid letting anything go un-acknowledged. Apples are often (accurately or not) depicted as being the actual fruit of the tree of knowledge from the Abrahamic religions’ Biblical Adam and Eve story. These two ‘first people’ were evicted from the Garden of Eden for eating this forbidden fruit. Pirsig has almost certainly included this reference to apples in this section to reference this myth.
It is equally certain that Pirsig states that they are Washington apples to emphasize the American, new-world position that Phaedrus was in. As for minimalism – all that is depicted is consuming the fruit of the tree of knowledge and thinking. The hotel room is left colourless. Even the apples are colourless. These are sparse scenes written with a kind of minimalism.
Given the minimalist underpinning of the scene, it is that much more apparent that Pirsig’s nod to F.S.C. Northrop’s book should not be taken as extraneous. Having acquired a relatively battered second-hand copy of it, I’ve taken advantage of the opportunity to read it several times. I’m not sure that I found it to be particularly challenging, but I wasn’t sitting on in an empty bunk-compartment of a military ship at the time.
Apart from a general recommendation to anyone who may be interested to explore Pirsig’s philosophical influences that it is an excellent addition to a collection of ZAMM-oriented library, there is a section of the book that has perspective that we can bring to bear on the relationships between minimalist doctrines and minimalist aesthetics. In chapter two of The Meeting of East and West, Northrop says:
“There is another difference between the Mexicans’ and the Anglo-Americans’ approach to democracy in its bearing on religion. For the Mexicans, art is a necessity of life, not a luxury; religion for them, if it is anything, is a passion, a moving, emotional experience. The culture of the Aztec period and that of the colonial period satisfied both these requirements. Also, Catholic theology, whatever its defects, is rigorously defined and consistently developed. Consequently, the Mexicans know what a doctrinally meaningful, aesthetically adequate, emotionally moving religion is like. For people of the English-speaking world, art tends to be a luxury or an afterthought, or else a hash of souvenirs without integrity because of the use of old art forms for modern institutions and doctrines which deny the theses which the art forms represent. With respect to art, the Protestant Church is scared. At its worst its art is crude; at its best neutral, preferring a pure white in the New England Congregational churches or a dull grey in the Episcopal chapels, which does not commit itself. A church with the diversity of vivid colors, which the Indian aesthetic imagination demands would shock a Protestant congregation. But imagine, conversely, how the Protestant religion must appear to the religious Mexicans. Its exceedingly verbal preaching, its aesthetic color-blindness, and its emotional tepidity and coldness must make it look to them like no religion at all.…”
For those who study ZAMM, this is a significant passage as it establishes the directions that Pirsig takes in his philosophy, provides a philosophical path to follow, and also explains why he ended up at the University of Chicago, trying to advocate for his ideas as a breakthrough in the synthesizing of Eastern and Western philosophy.
It is worth noting that Northrop’s subtitle for The Meeting of East and West is, An Inquiry Concerning World Understanding. It’s a title that invites some sober thought. The book was published shortly after the second world war and Northrop was clearly concerned regarding an emerging global cultural and political world with competing civilizations, empires and ideologies. While the details of these things may be modestly different today, it seems that the general concerns remain very solidly in place. There is still reason to be concerned about world understanding.
A personal practice of minimalism can absolutely be a part of a personal approach to that understanding. From considerations of socio-economic or political certainties, materialistic consumerism to quite valid concerns about global ecology and resources, minimalism connects at practical levels with significant daily issues. There really hasn’t been a better time to examine our relationship(s) to the acquisition and maintenance of stuff.
In The Meeting of East and West, one may also find connections to Alfred North Whitehead‘s Process and Reality and this is another significant recommendation for those interested to explore philosophical work that overlaps Pirsig’s. As to Whitehead, I will admit that Process and Reality readily ranks with Baruch Spinoza‘s Ethics as perhaps the most difficult works of philosophy I have ever read.
But for the purposes of this essay, clearly I’m focussed on Northrop’s contrasting of religious practices which requisitely include and aesthetically satisfying diversity of colour and those that seem to deliberately exclude colour. These latter appear to favour of a kind of doctrinal purity projected by verbal/literate practices and demonstrated by the exclusion of art and colour.
In the spirit of The Meeting of East and West, it may suddenly be clear how the aesthetics of Eastern (and particularly Japanese) minimalist art and aesthetics have been so popular in the Americas where several varieties of Protestantism are to be found. Almost certainly, the cultural forces which produced minimalist aesthetics in Japan and other parts of Asia are significantly different than those that produced Protestantism in Europe and further developed it in North America.
Here I want to reflect again on that Novus electric motorcycle and contrast it with any typical image of a gasoline-powered motorcycle you care to imagine. There, at the very centre of the gasoline-powered motorcycle is the engine itself; at the centre of the Novus? Nothing. The Novus design is clean and striking – fully in line with minimalist principles. That empty space emphasizes what it is not. What it does not have. Just as Protestant religions developed to emphasize the omission of certain gaudy excesses – the Novus electric motorcycle emphasizes the omission of a hydro-carbon burning engine. Earlier, I commented that there is a difference between minimalism that strives to purify and minimalism that strives to sanitize. The distinction that I made was between reacting against something (sanitizing) and moving toward something (purifying). And so I wonder in language echoing Northrop’s, if the Novus is an exercise in sanitizing the concept of a motorcycle. If indeed it is an object which attempts to use the older art form in an empty, grey and colourless attempt to express new ideas. Despite that illusion of the empty space where there is no engine, something really does reside. It is the vast infrastructures of electric power generation.
Those who may have grown up with a grey and colourless religion may find a familiar aesthetic, emotional, and psychological (if not spiritual) experience in a philosophy/design/lifestyle that centers in the principle of omission. It is doctrinal asceticism as aesthetics.
Contemporary Western Minimalism
This observation of Northrop’s, that Anglo-American protestant religion is largely verbal and colorless, strikes me as meaningful in context of what I’m calling Contemporary Western Minimalism.
Minimalism, a design approach which strips away as much extraneous or superfluous excess as possible, seems extremely well adapted to a religious tradition which does much of the same. Protestantism is “nothing but the word”, so to speak. Well minimalism is “nothing but what is necessary.” The concepts resonate.
Science too, is often viewed as sterile….the necessity of science is to remove potentially confounding variables. Control the the experiment as tightly as possible. Make things as black-and-white as possible. And scientific environments such as laboratories, hospitals and even modern high-tech manufacturing facilities are similarly sterile of colour and excess.
Perhaps this is why Pirsig’s motorcycle is described primarily as black and chrome. It is minimalist. It has the aesthetics of the classic. The romantic aspects are the romance of the technical. There’s no colour.
A Colourful Minimalism
There can be several potentially valuable benefits to employing a minimalist philosophy or attitude to your life, home or environment. At particular times of life, it is logistically and economically practical not to have a lot of stuff to move around. No doubt, there are some people who never (or rarely) experience the need to move their residency from one place to another. But for those who do, or even for those who sense any insecurity in their residency, paring down the things that may need to be relocated is a practical benefit. And there’s no practical reason that everything needs to be either grey, white or black when these moves happen. A single orange hatch-back can do the job just as well as a grey one might.
A practice of not acquiring things in the first place is probably more valuable than a practice of paring down. In this age of hyper consumption, it is probably a very good idea to consider all purchases much longer than advertisers would prefer. And when the purchase is made, there’s no reason to exclude aesthetic satisfaction in the list of requirements. It is not the presence of aesthetically satisfying things that must be addressed – it is the clutter of piling thing upon thing to the extent that all that may be apprehended is the over-stimulation of the clutter.
Minimalism has within it a severe doctrine that actively stifles joy in living. Given complete reign, minimalism threatens to extinguish one’s engagement with art, colour, expression and aesthetic satisfaction.
It seems to me that we can and should derive benefits from minimalism or whatever concept that seems to offer some way to improve the conditions of our lives – but that all doctrines require boundaries and limitations. They require counter-weights to ensure that the ideas and strategies we employ to make our lives enjoyable are not employed excessively such that we create harmful or miserable deficits.
So, at least for me, I prefer a colourful variety of minimalism. One that is minimal without being insufficient of the very art, music, colour, joy, substance, expression and emotion that is the stuff of life. The cutting edge of reality is very much a process of meaningfully engaging every part of sensory lives.
References & Notes
- Northrop, FSC. The Meeting of East and West: An Inquiry Regarding World Understanding. 1960.
- Pirsig, Robert. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values. William Morrow Company (Harper Collins). New York City. 1974.
- Whitehead, Alfred North. Process and Reality. 1928.
This page was last edited on 05 December 2023.
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