About Minimalism

Written by Adok

There are some attitudes and way of working you can find in all aspects of life. They are not limited to a special profession. One of this attitudes is the so-called minimalism. Actually I couldn't find a definition for this word in any dictionary I looked up for it. The word wasn't even listed. But it's often used if someone tries to create something as small as possible, or with as few utilities as possible. Minimalism is often meant in a negative way. E.g. our English teacher at school calls essays that are short and don't cover all important aspects of the topic minimalistic. But if something is called minimalistic, it doesn't necessarily have to be negative.

Take a look at the art scene. We have pixel artists, rendering/raytracing artists and ansi/ascii artists. Compared to pixel and rendered graphics, ansi and even more ascii is minimalistic. Whereas you have a high resolution somewhere between 320x200 and 1024x768 or higher plus between 256 and 16 million colors at pixel and rendered graphics, an ansi artist has to live with a number of pre-defined patterns, the ascii characters, at a resolution with usually the width 80 and 25 or 50 lines per screen, and 16 colors. An ascii artist has it even tougher: He can use only black and white, pattern set or no pattern yet, and ascii art depends a lot on the shapes of the used patterns. Drawing a picture in ansi/ascii is minimalistic because you set yourselves restrictions. You could probably draw a better looking picture in a vga/svga resolution more easily. The ansi/ascii artists try to make the best out of their self-obliged restrictions; they try to make the best out of the minimum. Therefore ansi/ascii art is minimalistic in general.

But we can also distinguish between more and less minimalistic ansi/ascii art: Some ascii artists try to use a smaller charset than the others. With a restricted charset it's even harder to make something good-looking. It comes even closer to the minimum of what you need to draw a picture. What about ansi? Some ansi artists draw pictures that are way bigger than one screen. Some others try or have (for some reasons) to draw pictures that fit to a limited size. The latter way sets itself more restrictions and comes closer to the minimum.

This also applies to "vga" pictures of course. Whereas some graphicians need a huge color palette to make their pictures look good, some others use manual shading (like the ansi makers, btw). I have seen some four-color (!) pictures that look very nice and where you almost don't see the difference to more colorful graphics!

What about minimalistic coding? To give you an example of minimalistic coding, I just have to point you to the Hugi Size Coding Competitions. Those people who participate in compos like that love the idea of solving a program in an as small as possible program. During the compos they steadily optimize their programs and get closer to the minimum. Look how many and what people participate in the Hugi Size Coding Competitions and similar contests! Minimalism isn't just something for nerds, lots of coders, also well known and professional ones, love it. Also the size-limited intro compos and the 256 byte game coding compos are a form of minimalistic coding. The first 256 byte game coding competition, held in 1995, simply had the task: "You have to write a game that fits into 256 bytes." There was no restriction what the game should be like. You could let your creativity rule and implement anything as long as it fitted into 256 bytes. This compo also attracted a lot of competitors and had very positive feedback. Nowadays the 256 byte game coding compos, organized by Gnome, restrict your creativity a bit more because you have to code a certain game, like lately Digger, in 256 bytes. But you could still choose what features to implement, and every entry looked different. It's still minimalism, and it's fun.

You might have noticed that minimalism is also a kind of art. Minimalism as a type of art can be defined as trying to reach the minimum required for solving a task, or setting yourself restrictions and trying to make the best of it. Although minimalism is sometimes used with a negative meaning, it's something positive most of the time and has its own flair. That is what I wanted to tell you with this article.

- adok^hugi