Minimalism, such as in design and architecture, is a distinctive artistic impulse. Creativity in general operates on association (as does psychotherapy), on freedom of thought and feeling. In a creative spurt, one is following the form, whether the musical form, the form of line or color, the form of a scientific phenomenon, etc. This is why it is a common feeling about creative moments that “the stone wanted to be sculpted this way,” or “the character [as in a novelist’s work] is still telling me what’s going to happen next,” or “the music just came out of me, I didn’t know where it was going.” Creativity is perhaps not even the right word for what is so commonly called by that name. Discovery is more descriptive of many people’s creative moments. For they are experienced not as concocting something out of oneself, but of having the focus to follow a form, to go wherever it leads, with no pulling back, no exertion of the ego to direct it or dominate it, or even question it. And this is why true art must be, at least in its making, amoral, because the artist needs the freedom to follow forms, and there is no way to know if that will lead him or her into territory that is forbidden or suspect to some people and by some standards. The result of the work art may be deeply morally meaningful, such as many have felt Beethoven’s 9th symphony to be, or the paintings on the Sistine Chapel. But the making of art, the activity itself, cannot feel restricted to pre-drawn moral–or any other–categories.
But back to minimalism. Much artistic activity proceeds by associating, embelllishing, building-up, drawing on new sources, such as when writing a song or another piece of music. One starts with a seed of an idea, a rhythm, a verse, a feeling, and gradually builds it up, following its many emerging forms. But minimalism is about taking away; it is an enlargement of the editing stage. Most creative works go through a stage of editing and paring down, but paring down IS the art of minimalism. It’s like an editing department with no new books coming in. All they can do is pare down more and more what they already have. In this way, the minimalist artistic impulse is a more intellectual activity than an inventively creative one. Such an intellectual quality is obvious in, eg, Schoenberg’s and other atonal musicians’ works. A great many listeners report that such music does not evoke feeling in them (except, in some cases, frustration with it). Thus the entry point into finding meaning in such works is the mind; it is in understanding the concepts and then going back to the works to see how they manifest or explore the ideas. Minimalist architecture, too, is often described as cold or cool. This needn’t be a value judgment. For some people it is, but all it need imply is that there isn’t a “warm” feeling, a coziness. But cozy is far from the only value in architecture.