We are not alone in our love of simplicity and austerity. Many great minds of the past have declared the virtues of less. Not less for its own sake but less to provide a sharper focus on what we really value. The proposition that removing excess is really the path to discovering the essential and important things in our lives is in stark contrast to our current competitive consumption-driven culture. It turns out that our quest to lead happier and more fulfilling lives through the acquisition of wealth, property and power may be leading us away from our goal. I've collected some insights on the subject from some of the great minds of literature, painting, music, science, design and philosophy (regretfully also an accounting of misogyny, past and present)
And how does this matter to The California Workshop? It matters because it serves as a compass to help us improve our products and processes. If it worked for Gio Ponti and Hans Wegner, maybe it will work for us too. We are standing on the shoulders of giants when we share their values and approach.
The Vitra Design Museum has the following to say about Gio Ponti and the Superleggera, No. 699.
Ponti himself describes the chair as the “normal,” “true” chair, the “chair-chair devoid of adjectives.” With it, the architect pursued his own standard of keeping things to a bare minimum. Ponti was inspired to optimize the qualities of this model during the postwar era, when furnishings were out of necessity frugal. He then designed the “Leggera” for Cassina in 1951, which reduced the structure of the Chiavari chair to only what was absolutely necessary. The result is a stable chair weighing a mere 1.7 kilo.
And here is Hans Wegner on his driving force...
"Many foreigners have asked me how we made the Danish style. And I've answered that it...was rather a continuous process of purification, and for me of simplification, to cut down to the simplest possible elements of four legs, a seat and combined top rail and arm rest."
I have heard the famous statement "Less is more" too many times to count. When it is attributed to someone, that someone is usually the brilliant Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe. He did use it as a a precept for minimalist architecture but borrowed it from Robert Browning's Andrea del Sarto, 1855. That doesn't matter. I'm sure Robert Browning is fine with being a little less famous.
So lets all take away the extra; the decoration, the status symbols, the concealers and everything else that distracts us from the true nature of things...
Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. -Antoine de Saint-Exupery
It is vain to do with more what can be done with less. ―William of Occam
Nothing useless can be truly beautiful ― William Morris
It’s not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential. –Bruce Lee
To obtain Tao, reduce daily -Lao Tsu
Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. –Leonardo da Vinci (attribution)
I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had the time to make it shorter. –Blaise Pascal
Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction. ~E.F. Schumacher
Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance.
Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. ~Albert Einstein, (possibly a paraphrase by Roger Sessions or Herbert Spencer)
The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials. ~Lin Yutang
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.
Nothing is more simple than greatness; indeed, to be simple is to be great.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, Literary Ethics (1838).
Fools ignore complexity, pragmatists suffer it, some can avoid it, geniuses remove it
- Alan Perlis, Epigrams in Programming.
Live simply so that others may simply live. - Mahatma Gandhi
“Truth is ever to be found in the simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.”
― Isaac Newton
Beauty of style and harmony and grace and good rhythm depend on simplicity—I mean the true simplicity of a rightly and nobly ordered mind and character, not that other simplicity which is only a euphemism for folly.
- Plato, The Republic, Book 3
Art is the elimination of the unnecessary. –Pablo Picasso