Is miximalism a trend? A movement? Let’s examine the labels and their meanings. Era, age, period, movement, and trend all basically refer to overlapping paths on the road of historical classification. Miximalism can perhaps be explained as the “spork” in the road of popular culture, where multiple paths intersect to inform and transform themselves with a shared ethos evident in their diverse purposes. For all you crossword or Scrabble superstars, you’ll know that the proper name for historical classification is periodization. For the rest of us, it’s probably just fun trivia.


The actual definitions of the units of periodization are universally contentious and sloppy, but one thing is perfectly clear: The various labels applied are certainly the third rail of historical debate. Every stakeholder in academia dreams of becoming the referential source of historical thought. Indeed, source status is not without its rules; like the notion of “first contact” in Star Trek, protocols and credentials for “tag rights” are highly codified and frequently the basis for academic hair-on-fire–style fatwas.

About the only way to ensure a collective agreement on terminology (especially introducing a term like miximalism into the collective consciousness) is to have the first few generations of label makers die off and leave the surviving generations to accept the winning vernacular through the process of evolutionary socialization. Future generations will ultimately refer to the art and pop culture of the millennial decade as something; it might as well be miximalism.

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The human brain has an overwhelming need to classify everything around us in an effort to define and organize our reality. The introduction of the Dymo embossing label gun in the early 1960s had us tagging everything in sight like domestic zoologists on a classification crusade. We now have a decadal perspective of millennial culture but no descriptive labels that adequately classify our contemporary mass culture. H-E-L-L-O!

Without hundreds of years of historical perspective and debate, labels defining eras and ages are the most imprecise and messy of all. The terms era and age can be interchangeable depending on the context in which they are used—such as referring to historical, political, scientific, or cultural measurements. They can represent a fixed point on the shared world timeline that include all human cultures, such as the ice age, or represent culture-specific measurements, such as the label space age, used exclusively to describe Western culture in the 1960s.

In any case, both era and age represent a system of chronological notation that—by their very definition of being a system of classification—should be precise but, in practice and usage, are incredibly random.

Notations for periods and movements are equally random, but typically represent a more focused notion of their origin (historical, scientific, or cultural) and therefore can be more easily defined. A rule of thumb is that movements can be found in periods but periods are not found in movements. In art, movements are born when groups of artists somehow join together and cross-pollinate a common creative perspective. It is the artist’s nature to seek out inspiration, but it is also the artist’s nature to be independent and paradoxical—which is why movements tend to be short-lived.

Impressionism was a movement from the 1870s through the 1890s in which visual artists wanted to explore new ways of interpreting light and color using a similar technique in brushwork. However, Impressionism was so pivotal in inspiring and informing basic creative practices and fashions of change that it led to a series of spin-off movements (postimpressionism, expressionism, fauvism, cubism, Dada, Bauhaus, surrealism, and others) that collectively and ultimately defined a new period of art called modernism.

As with the definition of period and movement, the notion of a trend can be described as a subset of practices or memes found within movements, although movements are not typically found within trends.

So focusing for a moment on the cultural and artistic perspective of chronological labeling, where in the food-chain of eras, ages, periods, movements, and trends does miximal expression exist?

A nonconfrontational definition of miximalism would be to describe it as a trend. But that is simply not broad enough. Miximalism has become incredibly pervasive and integral to every form of modern creative expression. I use the term creative expression to include invention, application, and all forms of creative thinking—not just artistic thought in the classic sense. However, artistic miximal principles do span the continuum from naive art to pop culture to mass media, and, yes, fine art as well.

Miximal principles are found in all media, from music to writing to film and, especially, new uncategorized forms of interactive art. We simply have to recognize and measure miximalism at the very least as a movement—a mass movement that transcends the visual arts, the media arts, and the art of writing and storytelling. But more importantly, it crosses the divide of art, culture, and science. Miximal forms introduce new paradigms, invention, interactivity, and multichannel modalities of consumption that are changing the very expectations and behaviors we share as consumers.

Labels aside, will miximalism (the concept) ultimately be classified as the defining convention that transforms itself from a movement into a period? Only time will tell. We will leave that to the credentialed collective hive mind of the culture Borg. Or should we? Since miximal principles cross so many broad categories beyond just the fine arts, it might indeed be the guiding cultural phenomenon that informs technology and social period definitions as well. From gene splicing to hybrid cars, the first millennial decade was filled with miximal invention.

The art periods known as pop art (1960s), conceptual art (1970s), neoexpressionism (1980s), remodernism, and postmodernism (1990s) abruptly end in a chaos of competing terminologies all groping to define the current period of art. Nature abhors a vacuum, and, apparently, so do art historians, so the more conservative “artorati” have simply extended the 1990s postmodernism label into the ambiguous post-post-post-postmodernism explanation as a generational definition of the new-millennial decade.

While academic art geeks will indeed debate the official period label of the first millennial decade for generations to come, I will—at the risk of the art police breaking down my door and wiping my hard drive clean—offer up miximalism as the identified term of art for the first millennial decade's über-cultural period. I suspect that, given the test of time, miximalism—if not in name, at least in concept—will indeed be recognized as the predominant defining cultural period of the new-millennial decade.

AuthorRichard Cardran