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  • John Diamond-Nigh

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Nothing, says novelist Julian Barnes, dates faster than excess.


He is writing about the Paris painter Gustav Moreau, a fantasist and pictorial technician of the highest order. While his studio/home/museum is still a must-see on any knowing tour of Paris–if only to see what mysterious Alladin’s Caves such ateliers were in the heyday of the Belle Epoque, and yeah, to marvel at his lavish opium blend of the gorgeous and the grotesque–Moreau is now a footnote. By contrast, his pupil, childlike Matisse, continues to rival Picasso in popularity and square footage in major museums.


Quote 2: I think we’re in the last phase of the disposable society mentality, says Rainer Judd. One last sprint of wild behavior, indulgence, and waste. Donald Judd, her father and high priest of American Minimalism, would wonder, I think, if things were not even more dire.


I adore minimalism aka austerity aka warm brutalism aka less-is-more . . . on the synonyms go. My past is Mennonite, so it stands to reason. No wild behavior (well), no indulgence, no waste. The Amish and Mennonites still, I believe, offer a beautiful, prosperous, unwasting alternative to both capitalism and Marxism; they still, in their updated ways, abide with the early socialism of Christianity. Haying on my uncle’s farm saw farmers from miles around pitching in. The dining room table was a raw, rudimentary oak edifice that afforded a sluice of genes to my own dawning aesthetic.


What, one has to ask, happened to that essential first- and second-century Christian ‘socialism’ where most things were shared? To hear Southern Baptists on a sawtooth rant against socialism now, you wonder if they ever read their own history books.


Quote 3: This is, in the end, the most convincing argument for minimalism, with less noise in our heads, we might hear the emergency sirens more clearly. If we put down some baggage we might move more swiftly. We might address the frantic, frightening, intensifying conditions that have prompted us to think of minimalism as an attractive escape. (Jia Tolentino, in The New Yorker)


Antidote and escape. In the interiors I have designed, simplicity was a refuge. Even the stores I designed were so, with pleasant chairs, assuaging lights and port for whoever wanted it. I like it when friends linger in our home for the “pure weather and difficult chairs,” as one guest put it.


But the ethical proposition (in a week of growing anxiety) is that there is nothing, or not much, at a large scale that can’t be equalled and improved at a small scale–health, beauty, comfort and conversation being at the top of my list. Less encumbered, we could think and act, and dash if we must, with just a few vital principles stowed in our carry-on luggage.

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