Art, no matter what its form, is many things. It is a method of self-expression. For some, it is a reliever of stress. Others use it to fulfill their personal fantasies. Some artists set out to deliver a message.
No matter what form it takes and no matter the reason it was made, art makes those who consume it think or feel something. It may be something simple, like joy or sadness. It may provoke thought and make you think more about the art’s message and themes.
How one person feels about that art is completely different from those around them, as everyone has their own thoughts, feelings, and tastes. With that in mind, good art should create discussion as people exchange their thoughts and feelings about it. If it doesn’t get people talking, thinking or even feeling, then it fails as art.
With that said, I want to perform a little experiment. Tell me: what do you feel or think when you look at this?
Okay. Now, what are your thoughts and feelings on this one?
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the differences between these two. The first is a beautifully done, highly detailed oil painting. The second is a line drawing with very few details and no color insight. If you were to pick two pieces of art, you’d be hard-pressed to find two as different as these two.
Now, you may think that the ladder piece is less good than the former. After all, it clearly doesn’t have the same amount of effort put into it! Sure, it’s a nice line drawing (which I can say from experience is not an easy thing to pull off), but it doesn’t deserve the same kind of recognition that the first should get!
Well, no. You see, the ladder piece isn’t inherently worse because it’s lighter on details. It is a minimalistic piece. It isn’t designed to take your breath away. Rather, it’s meant to get your brain working.
We’re all familiar with the shape of the Earth and the various continents. So, when we see that shape without color, it gets our brains working. We fill in the details in our own way to complete the image in our minds. No one person will come up with the same image as someone else, as all our brains are hardwired differently.
This is the distinction. A detail-heavy piece is meant to take your breath away and send you somewhere as clearly as possible. Meanwhile, a minimalist piece is meant to get your brain working to fill the image in your own way.
Now, at last, we return to literature.
Across the various books I’ve reviewed thus far, we’ve seen two styles that most authorial voices fall into. They fall into the same realm as the two pieces I brought up earlier in this article: detail-heavy and minimalistic. And the same benefits apply to books just as they do paintings.
A detail-heavy novel takes the reader away on the character’s journey. The author sets out to make their world and characters as clear as possible. In a good highly-detailed novel, you should be able to close your eyes and see what the writer has described. This sounds like the better alternative, right? It’s clearly the more engaging!
Again, no. A detail-light piece can be just as engaging, though for an entirely different reason. See, when you provide very few details in your piece, that leaves the audience to fill in the gaps on their own. If you only provide details on the character’s hair, eye, and skin color, that leaves the reader to fill in the shape and size of their various features, such as their forehead, nose, and chin.
Let’s create two examples. The first is a minimalistic description.
He woke up in a small white room, lying on a comfortable bed and wrapped in a warm blanket. Both the door and the window were closed. He could smell flowers from somewhere nearby.
A description like this gets the audience thinking. What else is in the room? Where are the flowers relative to the character? How about the door and the window? Is there light, or is the room dim or dark?
Questions like these may seem like a bad thing. You can argue that they take the reader out of the story. But I want to argue that they are, in fact, a good thing.
Remember: art is meant to make you think. Everyone reacts to art differently because they have their own thoughts and feelings completely unique to them. Good art should make you think and put your own personal imprint on it.
Take a moment to think about that description and fill in the details yourself. How would you structure the room? Where did you place the door and the window? What time of day did you set the scene? Did you include any furniture not mentioned in order to make the detail of the flowers make sense?
This is the strength of minimalism. Sure, you don’t paint as clear an image as a descriptive writer. But you get the audience working and putting their own spin on the groundwork that you laid out! You’ve got the audience thinking, which is engaging in its own way!
Not to say that a heavily detailed novel is worse than one light on details. Not everyone would react to a minimalistic style and start to fill in the details on their own. Some people would get too taken out of it rather than paint their own image. For those people, a story that paints a far clearer scene would be better, as it easily allows them to get sucked away by the story.
In the end, it boils down to the audience. Neither style is objectively better than the other. Some people like to color in the picture themselves. Others prefer to let the author do all the heavy lifting and simply enjoy the story. And of course, the indecisive ones simply take them both and enjoy the story.
It doesn’t matter which category you fall into. Enjoy what you want to and don’t let anyone stop you. Just know, if you do prefer one style over the other, that there is a merit for the side you dislike. Keep to your own opinion and don’t let anyone take it away. But don’t try to take someone else’s away because they prefer the one you don’t.
Thanks for reading.