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Minimalism:Origins Paperback – September 22, 2000
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One thing missing in the book is reproductions of the art and music (there is one at the head of each section), possibly because Strickland seems to be trying to create a Minimalist work of art himself here--from the bare buff cover (in the hardback; the revised paperback edition includes the ISBN code, laudatory reviews and a synopsis on the back cover) to the naming of chapters by letters and sections by a single word ("Paint, Sound," "Space" and "End"). There is nothing minimal about the documentation, however, for the book relies on an abundance of primary sources.
The section on painting is probably the most controversial. Strickland has lengthy chapters on Barnett Newman, Ellsworth Kelly, Ad Reinhardt et al. in redefining Minimalism as a movement developing WITHIN Abstract Expressionism. Many of the 60s painters normally identified as FOUNDING the movement he treats as academizing the movement. His viewpoint is equally debatable and thought-provoking, defended on empirical rather than conceptual grounds.
The section on Minimalist music is the liveliest as Strickland traces in remarkable detail its development from LaMonte Young through Terry Riley to Steve Reich to Philip Glass. His attribution of a chain of influence seems just, though the last composer has discounted it in favor of acknowledging Indian music as the central influence on his early work. Strickland discusses the influence of that music and Indonesian music, earlier classical music (from Leoninus and Bach to Debussy to Webern) and jazz (Coltrane is referred to again and again by the composers and the author).
The best sections may be the first and last, and those are the ones to read for those uninterested in studying the subject in depth. Strickland's interdisciplinary delineation of Minimalist characteristics in "A" is masterly; his discussion of the philosophical implications of the movement in "W" is thoughtful and occasionally poetic.
"Paint" is organized by artist while "Sound" is mainly chronological, since Strickland argues for musical lineage from Young to Riley to Reich to Glass, while his heterodox view of Minimalist painters, most Abstract Expressionists in any other book, presents Newman, Reinhardt et al. as working independently and at philosophical odds with one another. Strickland's sympathy is clearly with Reinhardt's anti-manifestos and against Newman's high-flown theorizing, though he praises his art.
In fact the author seems to have an ingrained suspicion of theorizing in general. An excellent cultural historian, he is no philosopher, unless maybe a Sceptic confronting the conventional wisdom of art critics. As a music prof, he gets A+ for chutzpah with his "Emperor's New Clothes" approach to mainstream art critics and the commerce of the art world, which he describes on p. 2 as a "futures market." By the time he gets to the sculpture, Strickland's scepticism extends to the artists themselves. That section leads to a conclusion verging on a retraction in its ambivalent review of the Minimalist enterprise.
His views and often droll style are refreshing. His formal dissections of the painting are more detailed than those of the music--establishing his bona fides?--and I'd like some more of the structural analysis he devotes to the transitional Glass Quartet, and more repros of the art and scores--but downloads are generally easy to find, so no big deal. I'd even like some more philosophy, e.g., a discussion of the work in terms of Jamesonian postmodern depthlessness. Since Strickland dismisses the very term postmodernism as "vulgarity" by p. 3 (along with Glass' commercials on "the boob-tube," ersatz-Minimalist advertising and "well-heeled culturophages") you get the feeling that's not on his agenda any more than campaigning for Mr. Congeniality. There are fine books by other music profs dealing mainly with their subject (Potter musicologically, Fink sociologically), but this remains far and away the most comprehensive survey of the artistic/musical movement as a whole, and you can't ask for everything...from A to Z?.