Art Movements of 1900s: Maximalism
Maximalism is a term used in the arts, including literature, visual art, music, and multimedia. It is used to explain a movement or trend by encompassing all factors under a multi-purpose umbrella term like expressionism.
The term maximalism is sometimes associated with post-modern novels, such as by David Foster Wallace and Thomas Pynchon, where digression, reference, and elaboration of detail occupy a great fraction of the text. This sort of literature is also frequently described as hysterical realism, a term coined by James Wood, who argues that it is a genre similar to magical realism.
Novelist John Barth defines literary maximalism through the medieval Roman Catholic Church’s opposition between, “two…roads to grace:”
- the via negativa of the monk?s cell and the hermit?s cave, and the via affirmativa of immersion in human affairs, of being in the world whether or not one is of it. Critics have aptly borrowed those terms to characterize the difference between Mr. Beckett, for example, and his erstwhile master James Joyce, himself a maximalist except in his early works.
Takayoshi Ishiwari elaborates on Barth’s definition by including a postmodern approach to the notion authenticity. Thus:
- Under this label come such writers as, among others, Thomas Pynchon and Barth himself, whose bulky books are in marked contrast with Barthelme?s relatively thin novels and collections of short stories. These maximalists are called by such an epithet because they, situated in the age of epistemological uncertainty and therefore knowing that they can never know what is authentic and inauthentic, attempt to include in their fiction everything belonging to that age, to take these authentic and inauthentic things as they are with all their uncertainty and inauthenticity included; their work intends to contain the maximum of the age, in other words, to be the age itself, and because of this their novels are often encyclopedic. As Tom LeClair argues in The Art of Excess, the authors of these ?masterworks? even ?gather, represent, and reform the time?s excesses into fictions that exceed the time?s literary conventions and thereby master the time, the methods of fiction, and the reader?.
Contemporary maximalist music is defined by composer David A. Jaffe as that which, “embraces heterogeneity and allows for complex systems of juxtapositions and collisions, in which all outside influences are viewed as potential raw material.” Examples include the music of Edgard Varèse, Charles Ives, and Frank Zappa.
Maximalism as a genre in the plastic arts is said to emphasise work-intensive practices and concentrate on the process of creation itself. Works from this genre are generally bright, sensual, and visually rich.
Charlotte Rivers describes how, “maximalism celebrates richness and excess in graphic design,” characterized by decoration, sensuality, luxury and fantasy, with examples including the work of illustrator Kam Tang and artist Julie Verhoeven.
Iranian-born German-based artist Daryush Shokof claims to have popularized the term and concept in the visual art world. As described in his “Maximalist Manifesto” (1991) maximalist art works are:
- Politically aware, with socially critical points of view.
- Mostly include ironic and humorous perspectives in concept or in form.
- Not made to simply oppose minimalist works of art.
- Open to wide views and visionary dimensions that can be fantastic, but not deformed.
Assistant art history professor Gao Minglu connects maximalism in Chinese visual art to the literary definition by describing the emphasis on, “the spiritual experience of the artist in the process of creation as a self-contemplation outside and beyond the artwork itself…These artists pay more attention to the process of creation and the uncertainty of meaning and instability in a work. Meaning is not reflected directly in a work because they believe that what is in the artist’s mind at the moment of creation may not necessarily appear in his work.” Examples include in the work of artists Cao Kai, Ding Yi, and Gu Dexin.