One might say its growth and continuance was as a result of the interface between the industrial revolution and the senseless slaughter that mechanisation of war brought about, not to mention the fact that religious belief being on the wane, mysticism on the rise (with a nod to different states of consciousness) and the consequent “trying to make sense of the modern world”
Of course, Abstract art didn’t “suddenly happen after World War 1”. All trends have roots. World War 1 caused the explosion, but the horror of mechanised war started a good few decades before. Shall we posit Ground Zero as the introduction of the Gatling Gun in 1865 and Whistler’s painting, an early recognised piece of abstract art Nocturne in Black and Gold: The falling Rocket, 1872? Oddly the two have an immediate obvious pairing.
Is there a rise again in the senselessness of modern life? But this time round is it a reaction to information overload? A yearning to return to simpler times. Information overload leads to a confusion, a tribalism and a lack of common purpose, a need to “get away”. Look at any dating site and almost every single dater profile states as their primary interest a desire to travel. For most it is no doubt simply to present themselves on Social Media as having “the lifestyle” whereas we know really that this overwhelming desire to escape is simply a reflection of their humdrum daily existence, which can never be allowed on Facebook… This trend has exploded massively in the last 5-10 years. For others it is simply a yearning, a dissatisfaction with modern, ever-changing complexity, but again because of information overload, it is not focussed on an aim, a growing towards but simple escape.
To a simpler life. Albeit for a superficial week or two.
The same causes perhaps but an almost opposite manifestation. Perhaps minimalism reflects leanness and agility? As it gets ever harder to squeeze a profitable margin out of a business, the only factor left to squeeze after costs are controlled in the current marketplace is the need for an ever faster reaction to every possible opportunity, as, on balance, he who enters the marketplace first (not necessarily with a new product but also with a new spin or process) will likely as not end up the winner. Ever smaller niches, which in their need to be defined clearly, beg the need for minimalist design.
In contrast it could be said that life is too easy nowadays. There are fewer armed conflicts now than at almost any period in the past. The Westernmeans that any sensible person need not go hungry, and in the East, the work ethic takes up the slack. And we know the perversity of the human brain, when life is easy, it needs to create its own problems to solve, its own chaos. The drama queen personified. And what is abstract art but chaos? Created from the human brain. Either as a reflection of perceived reality or a reaction against it. Perhaps a striving for sense. Just as two superficially similar people can have diametrically opposed views for no discernible reason, one may choose minimalist, the other, abstract as their tool to understand the world.
Minimalism was also particularly popular in Soviet Russia and those in thrall to it hence the simplistic utopia sold by totalitarianism generally from the 20s and 30s onwards. Eastern Europe is where we now see a rise in the design “factory.” Costs are lower hence outsourcing and the fact that the design world is a series of little hubs, those of which become inundated because a sudden surge in demand for their product, outsource to those who are available in the gig economy. Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltic states inter alia are exploiting this position. With lower costs and being “almost European” and by extension the product being attractive to the US, by further extension it is therefore attractive to much of the rest of the world. There is the Soviet history of communicating to the masses in the simplest possible way, where a picture was worth a thousand words from “Pan Kowalski” toiling in the potato fields of Masuria or “Ivan Kusnetsov” sweating in Kharkhov tractor factory on another 5-year plan. Eastern Europe. Immense distances, where communication was poor and the meaning of the simplest messages travelled furthest with minimal disruption of the message by complexity. Combine immense distance with a natural anarchy only coerced into productive labour with the help of a dictator, and we can see the propaganda utility of Russian minimalism. So the culture of minimalism is but a stroke away from such design firms. An immediate go to.
Are these two approaches popular in poster design two sides of the same coin like Janus the two-faced god? The causes the same but the manifestation the opposite?
Life is getting more and more complex. There are two roads through the wood, and as Robert Frost said, “I took the one less travelled by.”
So, your mind prefers massive complexity/chaos or simplicity. For some both appeal. It isn’t necessarily a choice.
And where does this lead us? Tossing these ideas over? On the one hand Abstractionism appeals perhaps to those who see no sense in the world, a presentation of chaos and confusion. A refection of their/the reality. A place where nothing is fixed and anything is possible. A bipolarity of the mind, where chaos rules in its natural milieu and it is our job to make sense of it. Everything is there, we just have to make sense of the pattern, if there is indeed one. Did God have a plan?
On the other: Life is massively complex and to understand it we need to be handed a simple A B C as a rubric to understand what is important. This is appealing to the intellectual person as a consideration. To a simple person. It is what it is. A cow is a cow. At most it represents wealth, and milk, and meat, and food and survival. Nothing else. By focussing on the simple, we can forget the rest, if we were even capable of comprehending it in the first place.