By definition, mixed media art is any form of art that combines two or more mediums in one work. Use of the term began circa 1912 with Cubist collages and the art of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, (See References 1) but these men weren't the first to create mixed media art. Assemblages and collages are forms of mixed media that are popular in the 21st century.
The Earliest Mixed Media Artists
Although they weren't called mixed media artists, artists of the Byzantine Empire, 330 to 1453 AD, often used gilded gold leaf on their paintings, mosaics, frescoes and manuscripts. (See References 2)The arts stagnated through the Dark Ages, but with the coming of the Renaissance flourished. In addition to working with tempura, a paint medium that dates to ancient Egypt, oil painting became popular. Many artists applied gold leaf to painted wood panels to achieve vibrant skies or shining halos on religious panels. (See References 3)
The Cubist art movement began in Europe during the early years of the 20th century. It broke from centuries of traditional painting by depicting objects as three dimensional images that could be painted from multiple points of view. (See References 4) Space was no longer limited to the flat canvas; by using an analytical system, artists could fragment and redefine viewpoints. (See References 4)
Picasso's First Mixed Media Piece
Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque are considered the fathers of Cubism. Working separately with no communication between them, both artists created works that were similar. By breaking down art to dimensional points of reference, they worked with form and space rather than realistic images. (See References 4) In 1912 Picasso created his first true mixed media piece, "Still Life with Chair Caning." He pasted paper and oilcloth to canvas and combined them with painted areas. (See References 5)
Picasso's Later Work
Beginning in 1912, Picasso applied mixed media techniques to dimensional sculpture. The "Glass of Absinthe" done in 1914 is a vertical piece with many disparate objects assembled together, while "Still Life" involved gluing scraps of wood and a piece of upholstery fringe together and painting them. (See References 1) More realistic is his 1923 piece "The Lovers" which was done using ink, watercolor paints and charcoal on paper.
Mixed Media in the 21st Century
Drawing from the work of early artists, mixed media is now an accessible art form for both professional and amateur artists. Assemblage and collage can be found mixed with acrylic and watercolor painting, rubber-stamped art, sculpture, and altered books. Fibers, torn papers, inks, glitter and beads, are finding their way into works of fine art and commercial pieces like greeting cards and quilts. The future of mixed media it seems, is limited only by the imagination of artists and whatever they can get their hands on.