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. As the term suggests, it is often used to describe a reaction against minimalism. It may describe a quality of excessive redundancy oft exhibited by way of the overt accumulation of appurtenances that reflect current society. In other references the term refers to either the ostentatious displays of the extensive possessions of the super-rich or the obsessive collecting as frequently found in the behavior of garage-sale shoppers who accumulate common household goods past reason.
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. It can refer to anything which is excessive, overtly complex and "showy", providing redundant overkill in features and attachments, grossness in quantity and quality, or the tendency to add and accumulate to excess.
Novelist John Barth defines literary maximalism through the medieval Roman Catholic Church's opposition between, "two...roads to grace:"
- the via negativa of the monkʹs cell and the hermitʹs 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.
- Under this label come such writers as, among others, Thomas Pynchon and Barth himself, whose bulky books are in marked contrast with Barthelmeʹs 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 ʺmasterworksʺ even ʺgather, represent, and reform the timeʹs excesses into fictions that exceed the timeʹs literary conventions and thereby master the time, the methods of fiction, and the readerʺ.
In music, Richard Taruskin uses the term "maximalism" to describe the modernism of the period from 1890 to 1914, especially in German-speaking regions, defining it as "a radical intensification of means toward accepted or traditional ends." This view has been challenged, however, on grounds that Taruskin uses the term merely as an "empty signifier" filled with "a range of musical features—big orchestration, motivic and harmonic complexity, and so on—that he takes to be typical of modernism". 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. In a different sense, Milton Babbitt has been described as a 'professed maximalist': his goal being, "to make music as much as it can be rather than as little as one can get away with." Richard Toop, on the other hand, considers that musical maximalism "is to be understood at least partly as 'antiminimalism'".
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.
The term is used by historian Robert Pincus-Witten to describe a group of artists, including Julian Schnabel and David Salle, associated with the turbulent beginnings of Neo-expressionism in the late 1970s. These artist were in part "stimulated out of sheer despair with so long a diet of Reductivist Minimalism" This maximalism was prefigured in the mid-1960s by certain psychoanalytically oriented paintings by Gary Stephan.
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.
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.
- Barth, John. “A Few Words About Minimalism”, New York Times Book Review, p.1. Dec. 28, 1986.
- Ishiwari, Takayoshi. ʺThe Body That Speaks: Donald Barthelmeʹs The Dead Father as Installationʺ, Unpublished Masterʹs thesis, p.1. Osaka University, 1996. link
- Richard Taruskin, Music in the Early Twentieth Century. Oxford History of Western Music 4 (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 5.. ISBN 978-0-19-522273-9 ISBN 978-0-19-516979-9.
- J. P. E. Harper-Scott, The Quilting Points of Musical Modernism: Revolution, Reaction, and William Walton. Music in Context (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012), p. 22. ISBN 9780521765213.
- Jaffe, David. “Orchestrating the Chimera—Musical Hybrids, Technology, and the Development of a 'Maximalist' Musical Style”, Leonardo Music Journal. Vol. 5, 1995.
- Delville, Michel and Norris, Andrew. "Disciplined Excess: The Minimalist / Maximalist Interface in Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart", Interval(le)s, p.4. Vol. I, 1 (Automne 2004).
- Milton Babbitt, Words about Music, edited by Stephen Dembski and Joseph N. Straus (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1987), p. 183. Cited on p. 147 of Richard Kurth, (1994). Untitled review of An Introduction to the Music of Milton Babbitt by Andrew Mead (1994), Intégral Vol. 8 (1994), pp. 147–82 (Subscription access). A similar statement from five years earlier is found in Contemporary Music 1982 Catalogue (New York: C. F. Peters Corporation, 1982), 10: "the goal of attempting to make music as much as it might be, rather than as little as one obviously can get away with music's being", cited by Joseph Dubiel, "Three Essays on Milton Babbitt (Part Two)", Perspectives of New Music 29, no. 1 (Winter 1991): 90–122, citation on pp. 94 & 119n13. A third citation is found in the sleeve notes to Milton Babbitt, Piano Works, Robert Taub (piano), Harmonia Mundi LP HMC 5160, CD HMC 90 5160, Cassette HMC 405 160 (Los Angeles, Calif.: Harmonia Mundi U.S.A., 1986), cited by Dan Warburton on p. 142 of "A Working Terminology for Minimal Music", Intégral 2 (1988): 135–59.
- Richard Toop, "On Complexity", Perspectives of New Music 31, no. 1 (Winter 1993): 42–57, citation on p. 54.
- Robert Pincus-Witten, "Gary Stephan: The Brief Against Matisse", In Talking Painting: Dialogues with Twelve Contemporary Abstract Painters, edited by David Ryan, 208–20. Routledge Harwood Critical Voices (London and New York: Routledge, 2002), p. 219. ISBN 9780415276290
- Robert Pincus-Witten, "Gary Stephan: The Brief Against Matisse", In Talking Painting: Dialogues with Twelve Contemporary Abstract Painters, edited by David Ryan, 208–20. Routledge Harwood Critical Voices (London and New York: Routledge, 2002), p. 209. ISBN 9780415276290
- Rivers, Charlotte (2008). Maximalism: The Graphic Design of Decadence& Excess, p.011. ISBN 2-88893-019-6.
- Kristin E.M. Riemer (October 9, 2003). "Chinese Maximalism debuts", UB Reporter.
- Delville, Michel, and Andrew Norris (2005). Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart and the Secret History of Maximalism. Cambridge, UK: Salt Publishers. ISBN 1-84471-059-9.
- Pincus-Witten, Robert (1983). Entries (Maximalism): Art at the Turn of the Decade. Out of London Press, 1983. ISBN 9780915570201.
- Pincus-Witten, Robert (1987). Postminimalism into Maximalism: American Art 1966–86. Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1987.