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Understanding Simplicity In Art


Simplicity in art

Simplicity in art has been discussed by many famous artists; old masters and modern high-flyers have had their say about simplicity in art.

This hub intends to investigate the quotations made by artists and philosophers about simplicity in art, and to try to make sense of them as a whole, if possible.

The reason for this lens is that as an artist my style makes use of simplfying subjects to be able to put down into the image my feelings about the subject. I do not want to be able to create detailed paintings such as those which could be described as trompe l'oeill (Lifelike or fools the eye). I am searching for a way to portray or express the way that I feel about a subject. I learnt how to draw relatively lifelike images, including portraits and figures in life classes, etc. However I never felt satisfied by this. I decided that if I wanted a lifelike image, then I could use a camera. So my paintings became more and more simplified. Don't get me wrong, I was not looking to produce minimalistic works, but looking for ways of getting the essence of a subject down in the most revealing way. Of course the use of the term "Simplicity" means different things to different people and we have to realise this as we try to understand what it means to us individually.

The problem is that as a leisure painter. I feel that I need to keep explaining myself to my contemporaries and colleagues. This lens is an attempt to explain myself for once and all.

I have collected many quotes from around the web and I will be illustrating the lens with some of my own paintings and other images.

The painting here is a detail from a pastel landscape painting, one of my own artworks, you can see more on my Zazzle Store

Do You Like Simplicity In Art? - Your Initial Stance.

Before I begin I would like to obtain an idea of where you stand with reference to Simplicity In Art. Will I be preaching to the converted or are you already appreciative of painterly works of art compared to ultra-realism?

How much do you admire painterly art, where the artist is not trying to achieve a realistic image?

Simplicity And Sophistication - Quotations; Simplicity In Art

Many artists recognise that in itself, simplicity is a worthwhile target. It can be a way of bringing out the best and the truth from a subject whilst only using very few strokes of the brush. And is in itself a creative process.

It should be noted that whilst I am enquiring into simplicity in painting, the quotes listed contain many from several different branches of the arts. Including photography, architecture, writing, jourmalism as well as fine arts. The most surprising thing for me is the quote that set me off on the trail of simplicity in art, it is by Leonardo Da Vinci and shows that this topic has been around for a long time. It is not something that so-called modern painting has initiated. Of course the simplicity of Leonardo may not be the same as that of Hans Hoffman.

  1. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. (Leonardo da Vinci)
  2. Simplicity and repose are the qualities that measure the true value of any work of art. ( Frank Lloyd Wright )
  3. The simplest things are often the truest. (Richard Bach)
  4. Less is more. (Robert Browning)
  5. Simplicity is creative in and of itself. (Michael Duncan)
  6. Simplicity, carried to an extreme, becomes elegance. (Jon Franklin)
  7. Simplicity captures and expresses the essence of the subject. (Hap Hagood)
  8. Simplify until one brushstroke represents a million pine needles. (Andrew Hamilton)
  9. You can paint an entire painting with one stroke. (Quang Ho)
  10. The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak. (Hans Hofmann)
sunset at sea

sunset at sea

Why Simplicity?

Can't he Draw?

One of the first things I have to contend with when discussing my philosphy of painting with fellow artists is the question of wether or not I can draw. Is that why I paint the way that I do? Well like many abstract and modern painters I can draw .....


..... at least I think I can and this early portrait ( in pencil) from life is an example. Another example is the following portrait in soft pastel.


I now mostly do landscapes and strive for simplicity to bring out the beauty in the most ordinary scenes. In other words, "What is it that attracted me to paint a particular scene. In this painting ( watercolour) it was the subtle contrasts in the sky and in the vegetation.

Scroll to Continue

Lets look at some more quotes.

Simplicity Is Not Easy - Simplicity in Art - Quotations

It is worth saying that simplicity is not easily attained. It needs great care and Often only comes from a long experience.

  1. The great artist is the simplifier. (Henri-Frederic Amiel)
  2. Out of clutter, find simplicity. (Albert Einstein)
  3. To see things simply is the hardest thing in the world. (Charles Hawthorne)
  4. It has taken me 20 years to eliminate the unnecessary elements from my work. (Andrew Lakey)
  5. To complicate is easy. To simplify is difficult. (Alyson Long)
  6. With greater completeness and abstraction, I have attained a form filtered to its essentials. (Henri Matisse)
  7. Simplicity of shape does not necessarily equate with simplicity of experience. (Robert Morris)
  8. I will eventually simplify my style, but I know it will be a gradual, unconscious metamorphosis, rather than an affectation. (Kathryn Mullaney)
  9. You're trying to make your painting too complicated. Paintings get complicated all by themselves. (Toni Onley)
  10. We struggle with the complexities and avoid the simplicities. (Norman Vincent Peale)
  11. The painter who is so enamoured by the beauties of the parts of a landscape, that he strives to represent all, cannot succeed. His picture will be an arrangement of a series of portraits of things without unity... There must be variety and contrast, but in measured doses. (Walter J. Phillips)
  12. There is nothing quite so complicated as simplicity. (Charles Poore)
red sunset with boats

red sunset with boats

Take A Break And Enjoy Some Art

These are paintings by myself which show semi-abstract landscapes, using the idea of simplicity to achieve a feeling. It would be difficult to show how these landscapes affected me by creating a realistic image.

This first shows a sunrise. What a wonderful gift from nature we can all enjoy. Yes I could spend hours painting the sight in precise detail, but does this say a lot about my feelings towards the beauty in the sun rising into the sky.

I appreciate the skills of representational paintners but I sit weekly next to artists who spend weeks completing a painting whilst I explore my feelings towards my subject in a simplistic abstract and they express the feelings I am putting into my work; and I am really pleased that they understand.


How Is Simplicity Attained - Simplicity In Art - Quotations

Again it should be noted that the quotes are from artists in many different branches of the arts. Here we consider that simplicity is only achieved as the artist matures having learnt that it is the way to reach a real understanding of the subject. The quotations tell us of the stuggles that artists go through to reach this idea of simplicity.

  1. It is by great economy of means that one arrives at simplicity of expression. (Henri Cartier-Bresson)
  2. By using patches of color and tone it is possible to capture every natural impression in the simplest way, freshly and immediately. (Paul Klee)
  3. When the subject is strong, simplicity is the only way to treat it. (Jacob Lawrence)
  4. By painting a thing as simply as possible, you can get to the spirit of it, and then subject and artist reveal themselves to each other. (David Lussier)
  5. The need to simplify has become almost a mantra which few question. (Arthur Maderson)
  6. My tendency towards bareness and simplification has been practiced in three fields: modeling, colors, and the figuration of the personages. (Joan Miro)
  7. I love eliminating unnecessary details and distilling it down to what it is that I'm attracted to, whether it's lights and darks, shadows, contrast between large and small, near and far, leading the eye through the painting. (Ross Penhall)
  8. The most interesting studio work, and perhaps the most practicable, is painting from pencil sketches and notes... It ensures the elimination of all facts but those essential to the effect. (Walter J. Phillips)
  9. Simplicity can only be achieved by forethought, planning and insight. It actually takes much more effort to create a bold simple painting, than to endlessly worry and poke a picture to death. (Ron Ranson)
  10. My ability to see the world in terms of abstract shapes and patterns of color and value is due to my work on location, where I quickly learned that I must simplify "things" into "shapes." (Randall Sexton)
  11. The big, simple shapes are the key to a good painting. It's surprising how little you have to put in to make the viewer know what you are trying to represent. (Marilyn Simandle)
  12. The motif must always be set down in a simple way, easily grasped and understood by the beholder. By the elimination of superfluous detail, the spectator should be led along the road that the artist indicates to him, and from the first be made to notice what the artist has felt. (Alfred Sisley)

Finding Inspiration From The Masters - Paul Klee

Paul Klee is one of my favourite artists, I often take inspiration from his works when I am feeling at a low point of creativity. Trying to put myself in his "artistic" shoes always gets me going again.

The Approach To Simplicity in Art. - Simplicity In Art - Quotations

Another set of 12 quotes.

This time I believe they are saying to us that you do not set out to paint a simple picture. You set out to fully understand the subject and try to remove some of the clutter, you do not need all the detail to complete an image of the subject. If you approach the painting the right way, you will approachthe objective as a by-product of your work. Too much detail leads to clutter, paint only those things which really matter, but at the same time to keep interest variety is required. this can be approached in any of the ways discussed in composition texts. Too simplistic only leads to bareness and then boredom.

  1. Simplicity is not the goal. It is the by-product of a good idea. (Paul Rand )
  2. The opposite of simplicity, as I understand it, is not complexity but clutter. (Scott Russell Sanders)
  3. Simplicity is the most difficult thing to secure in this world; it is the last limit of experience and the last effort of genius. (George Sand )
  4. The more one learns how to paint the simpler vision, like peeling away layers of extra baggage and preconceptions, one begins to arrive at a deep and personal encounter with creation. (John H. Wurdeman)
  5. It's easier to cover the canvas in a smaller painting, and a single paint stroke can have a lot of importance. The difficult part is keeping things simple and avoiding overworking the piece with too much information. (Dan Young)
  6. As I grew older, I realized that it was much better to insist on the genuine forms of nature, for simplicity is the greatest adornment of art. (Albrecht Durer )
  7. I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures. (Lao Tzu )
  8. My philosophy? Simplicity plus variety. (Hank Stram )
  9. Painting picture by picture, I followed the impressions my eye took in at heightened moments. I painted only memories, adding nothing, no details that I did not see. Hence the simplicity of the paintings, their emptiness. (Edvard Munch )
  10. Simplicity is natures first step, and the last of art. (Philip James Bailey )
  11. Simplicity should not be identified with bareness. (Felix Adler
  12. There is a certain majesty in simplicity which is far above all the quaintness of wit. (Alexander Pope)

More Inspiration From The Masters - Vincent Van Gogh

Van Gogh had an unhappy painting career, only selling one painting prior to his death, but he stayed true to his visions of what he thought was good art. there is a lesson there for all of us. Of course nowadays his works are much sought after and appear on all sorts of merchandise. If you can just take a really good look at some of his works. there is no superflous detail there at all.

A Final Pot Pourri Of Quotations - Simplicity In Art - Quotations

First another three quotes claiming that Simplicity id not easy. A number of quotes stating the benefits of Simplcity In Art. Then just to show I am not biased three voices for the opposition. Although we still do not have a definition of it, and must wonder how these contributors view it.

  1. Simplicity is the most difficult thing to secure in this world; it is the last limit of experience and the last effort of genius. (George Sand)
  2. How difficult it is to be simple. (Vincent van Gogh)
  3. There's no such thing as simple. Simple is hard. (Martin Scorsese)
  4. The simpler the better. (Michael Nevin)
  5. The art of simplicity is a puzzle of complexity. (Douglas Horton)
  6. Brevity is the soul of wit. (William Shakespeare)
  7. Simplicity is the glory of expression. (Walt Whitman)
  8. The art of art, the glory of expression and the sunshine of the light of letters, is simplicity. (Walt Whitman )
  9. Simplicity does not precede complexity, but follows it. (Alan Perlis).
  10. Is it not in the most absolute simplicity that real genius plies its pinions the most wonderfully? (E. T. A. Hoffmann )
  11. A taste for simplicity cannot endure for long. (Eugene Delacroix)
  12. As beautiful as simplicity is, it can become a tradition that stands in the way of exploration. (Laura Nyro )
  13. I despise simplicity. It is the negation of all that is beautiful. (Norman Hartnell )

Is Simplicity In Art Making SenseTo You?

How do you feel about Simplicity in art after reading this far? Have you been swayed at all in your thinking?

Just A Few More Quotations From The World Of Music - Simplicity in Art -Quotations

This list really is the end, but I just thought that putting them together made sense.

  1. I just like simplicity. I like simple songs, I like simple chords, simple vocals, simple lead guitar. I just like simplicity. That's just the way I like it. (Jeremy Spencer)
  2. Simplicity is the final achievement. After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art. (Frederic Chopin)
  3. Simplicity is the key. (Ritchie Blackmore )
  4. Simplicity makes me happy. (Alicia Keys )

Does Simplicity In The Context Of Art Make Sense? - Would You Like To Comment?

Shubhada badhe on August 20, 2019:

Simplicity is the ultimate fashion.Simple things are more appealing and soul touching.

John Dyhouse (author) from UK on June 04, 2013:

@blestman lm: I am pleased that you are able to use your imagination when viewing the images. that is the hope that I have when painting them; Thanks

blestman lm on June 04, 2013:

It is so refreshing to view this lens. Your examples are awesome, not at all tedious. There is depth and emotion yet the images leave enough for the imagination to become involved too. Kudos!

John Dyhouse (author) from UK on April 18, 2013:

@cmadden: Thank you very much, I had not thought in those terms but it does seem to fit what I feel when painting

cmadden on April 18, 2013:

I do like your style: it's emotive, imaginative, and has depth. Your paintings are often visual haikus.

Aunt-Mollie on April 09, 2013:

This article reminds me so much of the quotation by Thoreau: "Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify, simplify!"

Barbara Walton from France on March 24, 2013:

Very interesting quotations and books. Food for thought.

John Dyhouse (author) from UK on October 31, 2012:

@anonymous: Imagination is something that is needed especially when viewing abstract art forms

anonymous on October 30, 2012:

It only makes sense to the greatest extent when one allows the imagination to dominant one's thinking and observation.

Peggy Hazelwood from Desert Southwest, U.S.A. on October 25, 2012:

Lovely! I love your drawings and paintings and this simple explanation.

anonymous on April 15, 2012:

Simply blessed!...* I just can't leave without saying this is an excellent discussion on the value of simplicity!

Natalie W Schorr on April 11, 2012:

Well done - great tips!

allenwebstarme on February 20, 2012:

I've learned the big lesson of simplicity by reading this lens, wonderful lens. I loved it.

Patricia on April 02, 2011:

This lens is wonderful! Thanks for the lensroll! I am lensrolling this to Simplicity! And giving your lens a blessing!

Mona from Iowa on February 06, 2011:

Really nicely done. I tend to shift of simple composition sometimes done for a colorist perspective to more complicated realistic work. I like variety and I believe you need to understand realism before you can simplify it down and still make beautiful art.

You've done a great job with this lens. *Blessed*

MoonandMagic on February 06, 2011:

Wonderful, I often find myself thinking I can't draw, but then I think it's because I draw what I see and not what I think I should see! This is a fantastic lens and the artwork is amazing. Thank you.

John Dyhouse (author) from UK on February 06, 2011:

@anonymous: Thanks so much for your kind words, very much appreciated.BTW I am of the male gender,LOL

anonymous on February 06, 2011:

Dear, Artyfax .. I confess that I fall in love all arts and everything you've presented here. It's so beautiful and wonderful. Favorite here and Give 5 art loving stars for you .. dear, lady Artyfax :) Have a wonderful times :)

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