‘Less is more’ – Origin, Meaning and Explanation

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‘Less is more’ – Origin, Meaning and Explanation

Origin of the proverb

This proverb was coined by the poet Robert Browning. Browning wrote ‘less is more’ in his poem ‘Andrea del Sarto’, which was published in 1855.


‘Less is more’ means that very often doing a something small well is better than doing a lot.

This proverb sounds like a paradox or a contradiction. People who hear it may find themselves asking: how can less be more?

However, though it may seem contradictory at first glance, the proverb actually has a clear meaning to it.

The proverb can be applied in numerous different contexts, and in this sense it is a very versatile proverb.

In sum, then, ‘less is more’ means that:

  • Doing less can have more impact than doing a lot.
  • Doing a small thing well is better than doing many things perhaps not so well.


Another title for Browning’s poem ‘Andrea del Sarto’ was: ‘The Faultless Painter’. This is significant because the proverb ‘less is more’ was subsequently found to have a big impact on painting.

In 1947, the architect Ludqig Miles Van der Rohe adopted the phrase as the slogan for the Minimalist movement in art. Minimalist art is art that uses abstract geometric forms, without any sense of a story or a biography behind them. Minimalist art is often seen as clean, clear, stripped down art that does not go in for complex flourishes and which tends to favor single blocks of color arranged into geometric patterns rather than many layered colors.

Nevertheless, Minimalist art works are seen to be very powerful as they capture the attention. The focus on form in Minimalist art is seen to give this art form a timeless, universal quality. Whether it is a sculpture, a painting or a piece of music, a Minimalist art work definitely adheres to the principle that ‘less is more’.

Reasons Why ‘Less is More’

Please find below a few convincing reasons why ‘less is more’.

1. Clarity of explanation: When we want to explain ourselves clearly, it is often best to do so concisely.

2. Making art: ‘Less is more’ is the cornerstone of many works of art, including minimalism.

3. In fashion: Sometimes the perfect look is created in a very simple way.

4. Loving gestures: Often, a single well thought out gesture is all that we need to show someone that we love them.

5. Persuasion: We have all seen how brands use short and eye catching slogans to persuade people to buy their products. This is a clear example of ‘less is more’ at work in the business world.

6. Being productive: It may seem counter-intuitive, however one of the keys to productivity is actually just getting a few things done well rather than rushing madly to work at a variety of different things and getting none of them done in the end.

7. Material possessions: Though we may feel pressure to accumulate as many possessions as possible, the proverb ‘less is more’ reminds us that in fact having just a few well cared for possessions can be much better!


‘Less is more’ is a proverb that can apply to numerous different situations. It helps us to appreciate what we have!

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