Landscape art has no shortage of its own distinctive genres. New Image, Neo-Expressionism, Pop, Neo-Geo, just to name a few items on a long list. So landscape is by no means a niche area of art. But there is a big chasm to be bridged between the not-niche and the mainstream when it comes to art. Some art critics like to make the point that as soon as something becomes truly mainstream, it stops being art. Like the “keep calm and carry on” poster that, upon its initial discovery was regarded as a peculiar cultural artifact that wonderfully represented British mentality during WWII, but which has been so mercilessly abused and mutilated over the years by merchandise makers that it is impolite to even mention it in polite conversation. Minimalist landscape art, according to some, is headed for the same fate. Let’s examine that argument.
Minimalism is a significant departure from realism. It used to be fashionable to create art with painstaking detail, where every pebble and leaf is drawn with photographic clarity. This was considered a mark of a masterful artist, who exhibited both skill and patience producing an intricate snapshot of a vista. You can see why this was so deeply revered in the olden days where a realistic representation of anything was rather difficult. But today, in the age where digital cameras are as ubiquitous as socks, realism seems a little less impressive. The modern person is endlessly bombarded with sensory stimulation at every moment, making them desensitized towards detail and even annoyed by it, as if it is noise. Minimalism offers a visual respite from that, without depriving the person of actual art. Minimalist landscape paintings are abstract, representing a mood, not forcing any particular scene, delivering what can be considered to be the minimum necessary art.
It is a peculiar phenomenon to examine – a desire for art, but under strict dosage. On the other hand, it seems perfectly normal, if you compare it to the kind of trends observed in interior design. Upholstering houses and apartments with Victorian furniture, heavy curtains, dark rugs, fake pillars and fretwork is a clear sign of financial wealth and aesthetic bankruptcy. In much the same way, cheap paintings that try too hard to depict a storm or a cliffside can be seen as pretension. This tendency towards a minimalist interior that worships natural materials, exposed brickwork, abstinence from patterns or even color, does not diminish the need for art. Art, in fact, becomes paramount. It makes the difference between an interior that is minimalist and one that is barren. A minimalist landscape painting could be key to giving a room character, setting a mood. Whether mountains covered in fog, uneasy shimmer of the sea, or a lonesome field with heavy skies above it – minimalist landscape can bring the organic into what is an otherwise nearly sterile interior. Selecting, much less producing, such a painting will require incredible skill and vision, and distinguishing a derivative work of a hack painter from a visionary artist is easy even on an intuitive level.