The Fluxus Attitude

The Fluxus artistic philosophy can be expressed as a synthesis of four key factors that define the majority of Fluxus work. The first of these points makes reference to the Fluxus Attitude

  1. Fluxus is an attitude. It is much more than an art history movement, or a style locked between a pair of dates.
  2. Fluxus is intermedia. Fluxus creators like to to see what happens when different media intersect.
  3. They use found & everyday objects, sounds, images, and texts to create new combinations of objects, sounds, images, and texts.

  4. Fluxus should be simple. The art is small, the texts are short, and the performances are brief.
  5. Fluxus should be fun. If it isn't fun, then it isn't Fluxus

What exactly is a Fluxus attitude? Part of the attitude can be extricated from the three points that follow, but if these three points were sufficient to fully describe the Fluxus attitude it would not be necessary to include the idea of Fluxus as an attitude in a description of Fluxus. There must be more to it – and there is.

The Fluxus attitude can most readily be described by looking through the lens of Modernism, and its precursor and postcursor. Just as Fluxus is intermedia, existing primarily in the spaces where media intersect, it is also "interphilosophical", existing in the metaphysical space between philosophical ideas about modernity. Fluxus begins in a premodern identity idea in which there are no boundaries between the self and the world. Fluxus is simultaneously in the world and of the world. The Fluxus attitude resembles Zen (which was a powerful influence on many early Fluxus practitioners) and certain aboriginal/anishnawabe philosophies that place human beings into nature rather than beings who must conquer nature. But the Fluxus Attitude is more complicated than that pre-modern idea because Fluxus practices this premodern idea from a philosophical place that is fully aware of its inseperability from its own time and place in the midst of a primarily modern world. …And this self-awareness simultaneously forces Fluxus into a self-referential, reflective and relativistic stance that is completely Postmodern.

The Fluxus Attitude is simultaneously premodern, modern, and postmodern. It is an attitude that can somewhat fall into any one of these three philosophical stances, but can only be fully understood through the interphilosophical lenses of all three x-modernisms at the same time.

John Cage, Wabi Sabi, and the birth of Fluxus

In the late 1950s and early 1960s artists were beginning to feel that western art was reaching a spiritual and philosophical dead end. Modern western art had exploded in the vibrancy of Abstract Expressionism in the late 1940s and through most of the 1950s. Then critics and artists became concerned with the concepts behind the art that artists of the time were making. Color Field painting and Minimalism were the mainstream manifestations of this conceptual shift. When combined with the machinations of the art market and its need for expensive commodity objects, art ended up being massive, meaningless, and expensive. What began as artists doing what artists have always done, creating art based on their ideas, ended up becoming a market-driven orgy of excess. Zen, Wabi Sabi, and the East-meets-West work of neo-missionaries like John Cage offered artists a way out. The Event Score happened to be one of the most direct ways for artists to hold on to their artistic integrity without abandoning the conceptual advances that art was making at the mid-century dawn of the postmodern era.

Fluxus Event Scores

Event Scores have become one of the signature artworks that have come to define Fluxus. On the surface, Event Scores bear some similarities to the Happenings that were made famous by Allan Kaprow, but there are some important differences. Kaprow’s Happenings tended to be long and complicated affairs, sometimes taking entire days to complete. The typical Happening was also a tightly scripted affair. Event Scores are nearly always very brief, and the instructions often deliberately are meant to encourage the score’s performers to improvise and invent their own interpretations of the score. There is a certain irony to this difference given that the term “happening” has come to be associated with the freeform hippy-fests of the 1960s in popular culture, while the much more freeform Events never had the same impact on popular culture.

There are several characteristics that typify Event Scores:

  • Brevity – most Event Scores are short, even in those instances when the event itself has a longer duration; the score that describes it is usually very brief.
  • Modesty – the typical Event Score concentrates attention on every day actions; like a Zen koan, by focusing on the mundane we learn to become more aware of the profound.
  • Musicality – Event Scores are similar to music composition, the performances are similar to music concerts, and they represent the Intermedia intersection of the disciplines of art, music, poetry, and performance.
  • Simplicity – there are seldom requirements for special tools, skills, techniques, or locales in order to execute the performance of a score.
  • Temporality – a self-evident, and self-referential presence in time and space is an important aspect of most events.

Most of the artists who were associated with Fluxus over the years incorporated Event Scores into their artistic oeuvres. Artists for whom the Event Score was an especially important part of their work included Ken Friedman, George Brecht, who coined the term, and Yoko Ono, whose book Grapefruit gained widespread popularity, partly because of Ono’s association with the Beatles and with John Lennon, who contributed an introduction to the book.