Life is messy and non-linear. We meander. Two steps forward, one step back. Turn. One step forward, two steps back. Stumble. Try again. Ten steps forward, never look back. Start over.
And so it goes.
However, the art world historically reflects something completely separate from real life: Idealism. Perfection. Utopia. These disconnects are what spurred the art movements known as the Futurists, Dadaist, and Fluxists, as they challenged both the cultural art domain (juries, curators, critics) and their audiences alike, forcing them to consider art that was noisy, unpracticed, and unperfected. More like real life.
Learning about these movements has expanded my view about personal ability to make art. I recognize that I’ve been clinging to a few ideals of my own. I’ve often considered myself at a disadvantage in this program because I have no skilled art training; this has been my ‘reality.’ I’ve allowed this void to hold me back from pursuing certain ideas or projects that I consider because I simply don’t know how to do them.
But the sentiments of these art movements, and in particular, George Macuinas's "Manifesto on Art/Fluxus Art Amusement" offer content that causes me to ruminate. In part, his manifesto states:
Comfort! Relief! Anticipation! Zing! Zwompf! Pow!
Like all matter in the universe, I’m in a state of flux. Flowing, shifting, morphing, expanding, changing. It’s time to start meandering through art production. Two steps forward, one step back. Turn. One step forward, two steps back. Stumble. Try again. Ten steps forward, never look back, working on art that reflects the web that connects us all in its endless permutations, twists, turns, and baffling contradictions.
Although the styles and methods of the Futurists and Dadaists do not match my own, what I find admiral about them are their convictions and their intent on jarring audiences out of the status quo.
Discomfort can be an effective tool for instigating change and provoking thought. All the movements we have studied so far this semester have caused their audiences to be uncomfortable. Examples of specific pieces include Fluxus artist Dick Higgins’ 4’ 33, Futurist artist Marinetti’s Zang Tumb Tumb, and Dada artist Duchamp’s The Fountain.
Like with most discomfort, meaning is not derived until time passes and contemplation occurs. This phenomenon explains why these movements were typically misunderstood by the public during the time in which they thrived. At the time, the audiences were captivated by the artists’ drama and mêlée, which evoked knee-jerk emotions like anger and hostility, leaving no room for insight. In most cases, the importance of their work was derived long after the work was over.
As I consider these movements, I also relate them to my own work and practice. I have come to the conclusion that the last thing I want is for my work to be misunderstood during the time in which I make it. Clarity and meaning are of the utmost importance to me. I reject the notion of using shock and chaos to convey empathy and human compassion, which are important elements of my work.
The Fluxus artists, Futurists, and Dadaists had specific goals and agendas and the conviction to act on them. I admire their clarity as I work on sorting out my own.
The last four essays have brought clarity to my mind as to the meaning of the term “intermedia,” while at the same time challenged my perception of art forms and audience, making me feel both excited and even more muddled.
At last, I can finally wrap my head around the context and intent of the term Dick Higgins coined “intermedia.” I get that it’s a fusion, a hybrid, an integration of more than one art form that when brought together creates something new. I love that concept because I love new stuff: cutting edge, novelty, avante garde, never-been-done-before, free-thinking, new ideas. These ideas and terms excite me as much about art as entrepreneurship. Whether art or commerce, each time I hear a new idea, I want to cheer it on from the sidelines with pom-poms and chants: “Go, idea, go!” as if I could help elevate, broaden, expand, or support it. This is how I am wired; I believe every new idea deserves a chance to “make it” in the world.
On the other hand, I look at what many of the Fluxus artists have done and struggle with labeling their ideas, sets of instructions, and Happenings as “art.” I want “art” to reflect a developed skill, a skill that artists develop and become more critical with over time. A skill, or set of skills, in which the artist learns, applies, refines, hones, reapplies, and further develops.
While I don’t dismiss the importance of Higgins and others’ interest and work, it is hard for me to embrace it as an accomplished art form because it feels less like art and more like simple experimentation (I acknowledge that this is based on my feeling, not critical research or much exposure to art history). Don’t get me wrong; I think experimentation is important. I think a lot of lessons can be learned. I think the lessons can be applied in new ways. I just don’t necessarily agree it should be deemed “art.”
Take Higgins’ 4’33 as an example. What an interesting experiment to see how an audience would react to a performance of silence! If I were the artist, I would be curious to know: How would people respond? What emotions would they feel? Would they be stretched to see or experience something new or different? How can I apply what I learn from this experiment to evoke a response from my audience using my art? Isn’t this more about exploration and experimentation than “art?”
When I think about myself in the role of the audience, I question my own likely response. When I attend a venue, there are times when I like to be entertained and times I want to be stretched. But I also want to know which role I will be in when I attend. Otherwise, I would feel as though my trust in the performer has been violated. Who wants to experience mistrust?
When I read Hannah Higgins’ description of Piano Activities, I intellectually tried to appreciate the experience of the deconstruction of the piano. But when I watched YouTube videos of Piano Activities, I felt disappointed, saddened, and angry that a piano was being destroyed. My interpretation was a group of white men using aggression to destroy an inanimate object; I could not see their appreciation or attentiveness toward the ‘sound’ the piano was making as it was “incidentally” destroyed. For these reasons, this piece doesn’t feel like art to me.
I enjoy our class explorations of intermedia, other art forms, and artists, even while I am often mystified by them, such as Fluxus artists and Duchamp. I continue to attempt to wrap my head around these new concepts and make sense of them, however, I took much comfort in a comment I read recently by Dave Eggers (writer/artist) interviewing David Shrigley (artist), in which Eggers says:
“The art world does tend to attract a very self-serious type of person. I noticed that when I was in art school myself, and then when I worked at an art gallery. I tend to think that there’s a fear of acknowledging the inherent absurdity of, say, sticking a urinal on a plinth and calling it art. Duchamp knew it was absurd, and very funny, but I’ve been around a lot of art-world people who treat Duchamp with great seriousness, when that’s sort of the opposite of his purpose as an artist. It’s as if to crack a smile would be to diminish the importance of the work.’”
I have to agree.