Maximalism: Courting Chaos or Creating Order?

Welcome to 2021! The year 2020 certainly felt like too much, so please join us in finding our way forward.


In the arts, maximalism, a reaction against minimalism, is an esthetic of excess and redundancy. The philosophy can be summarized as “more is more,” contrasting with the minimalist motto “less is more.”

In the visual arts, horror vacui, meaning in Latin “fear of empty space,” is the filling of the entire surface of a space or an artwork with detail. Horror Vacui is the title of a small gouache by Anselm Kiefer depicting a crowd of people, during WWII, painted primarily in white, the image resembles falling snow (1980, Metropolitan Museum, New York).

Although intense mark making brings complexity, it can also be highly organized through design, pattern, and repetition and thus impose order on chaos. Complexity is pared down when the same shape is repeated and a pattern is formed. Complexity is not in opposition to minimalism, but exists on a continuum. The repetition of a similar element can lead to a system, creating a pattern, be it a grid or a fractal system.

Numerous sources of inspiration and fields of study provide examples of pattern and systems of organization:

  • Adolf Wölfli, (1864–1930), created thousands of images that were intricate and intense, filling entire pages with detail. (Cover image: Adolf Wölfli, General View of the Island Neveranger, 1911, Kunstmuseum, Bern.)

  • The illuminations in the famous Book of Kells (c. 800, Trinity College, Dublin) celebrate the word of God, filling the page with the distinctive patterning of Celtic interlace.

  • Ernst Haeckel (1834–1919) was a naturalist and artist who looked for repetition of forms in nature and sought a cosmic synthesis unifying science, religion, and art.

How do you—or do you?—unify or manage the complexities of your art? Do you add on and fill in? Create order or court chaos? Do you find a fascination or comfort with or in complexity?

book of Kells Chi Rho Monogram for theme wikimedia commons

Book of Kells, Chi Rho Monogram, c. 800, Trinity College, Dublin (Photo: Wikimedia Commons).


Journal Submission guidelines for UMVA Members Showcase:

Deadline: December 1st, 2020

  • We invite MAJ member artists (not a member? JOIN by clicking here) to submit up to 4 JPEG or png images (NO TIFF files), approximately 2800 pixels on width, resolution 72dpi.
  • Include an image list and statement or brief essay in Word doc. format, NOT a PDF.
  • Label each image file as follows: your last name_Number of Image_Title (with no spaces in the title). Please DO NOT put whole caption/credit in image file label, see image list/caption format below (if you are submitting for a group put your own last name in first).
  • Label your document file names: Last Name_Title
  • Image list/caption format: create a list that is numbered to match the number in your image file label that includes the following: Artist’s Name, Title of Work, medium, size (example: 9 x 12 in.), date (optional), photo credit (example: photo: Ansel Adams) if not included we assume it is courtesy of the artist. Example: Unknown Artist, Untitled, oil on canvas, 9 × 12 in., 2000 (photo: Ansel Adams).
  • Please wait until all of your material is compiled to submit.

Put “Maximalism: Courting Chaos or Creating Order?” in the subject line and submit by email to by the December 1st deadline. MAJ will limit the “Members’ Showcase” section to UMVA members who have not been published in the past year.

We are no longer able to accommodate artists’ pre-formatted visual essays. Our editors will lay-out text and images submitted using the new guidelines above.

It is the MAJ’s policy to request and then publish image credits. We will not publish images the submitter does not have the right to publish. However, it is to be assumed that any uncredited or unlabeled images are the author’s/submitter’s own images. By submitting to the MAJ, you are acknowledging respect for these policies.

Thank you,

MAJ Editorial Board

Natasha Mayers, Nora Tryon, Véronique Plesch, Kathy Weinberg, and Betsy Sholl (poetry editor)