Chromophobia, Ornaments, and Minimalist Approach

The “less is more” mentality is something that we are all familiar with. Minimalist point of view has influenced the last decades, and evolved interior and exterior architecture to a much more simple state, one that is mostly associated with Western cultures. With little to no color, and only keeping “what counts” without adding many accessories, the minimalistic approach became the opposite of the very vibrant, maximalist cultures that put great importance on their ornaments.


Minimalist interior.

Minimalist interior. Image source.


The minimalist mindset pushed people to opt for clothing or decorations that will last them a long while, in terms of color choices. Choosing blacks, grays, and whites over vibrant colors because the colors may get tiring or “look cheap” in a few years, is based on a term called chromophobia, the fear of color. About this, David Batchelor has argued that “in the West, since Antiquity, color has been systematically marginalized, reviled, diminished, and degraded.”, in his book called Chromophobia.

This perspective manifests as opting for white because it is the color of cleanness and modernity, and rejecting colors that may make the place look more like what was coded in the West as “tacky”. This completely hurts cultures that use a lot of colors and have very special and culturally charged ornaments, since the base of minimalism targets to erase the society of all of them by making them look unacceptable for well-developed societies.


Ornamental exterior.

Ornamental and cultural exterior from Senegal. Image source.


Sadly, the reason why white is the color of well-developed societies doesn’t stem from color psychology. Instead, according to some historians and art critics, this repulsion of color lies in colonialism. Many colonized cultures had bright-colored clothing, eye-catching and big, shiny accessories, and ornaments in their houses full of color and telling tales of their culture. This was a sign of the “lesser” countries in some people’s minds, and they shaped the narratives of color this way. Chromophobia was based on the erasure of cultures that didn’t fit the Western world.


Minimalist exterior. Image source.


One of the people who helped the minimalist agenda of the West is Adolf Loos. Loos was one of the most influential names in the European architecture of the 19th century. He wrote a book called “Ornament and Crime”, and he was a very passionate advocate of the Western understanding of architecture and design. Adolf Loos states in his book that ornaments are a crime against aesthetic development and the national economy. The book criticized the use of ornaments and the time and labor spent on creating only one of them. The aspects he criticized, were usually what made such ornaments so important in particular cultures. Ornaments were living, breathing artworks that kept their culture alive as they were being colonized by the West.


Architecture from Morocco. Image source.

He implied that ornaments were primitive, and if one doesn’t get rid of them, their future generations will also remain primitive and behind the rest of the world. He pushes the narrative that ornaments make people poorer. His main idea is to get rid of all ornaments so that society can further grow and develop.

The positioning of ornaments and color in such a degrading way and pushing a minimalist agenda, is an erasure of culture masked behind a utilitarian perspective.

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