This question has been asked before, and I have answered it in this, The Fluxus Blog, before. But that was a long time ago, and the question, “What is Fluxus” continues to be asked.
For readers looking for a simple answer, contemporary Fluxus artist, Allan Revich has summarized Fluxus into just four characteristic ideas:
Four Fluxus Characteristics
- Fluxus is an attitude. It is not a movement or a style.
- Fluxus is Intermedia. Fluxus creators like to see what happens when different media intersect. They use everyday found objects, sounds, images, and texts to create new combinations of objects, sounds, images, and texts.
- Fluxus works are simple. Art is small, texts are short, and performances are short.
- Fluxus is fun. Humour has always been an important element in Fluxus.
While these four principles are not absolute, they represent an excellent shorthand to understanding Fluxus.
For readers interested in learning more about the dual nature of Fluxus, please read on.
The answer to “What is Fluxus” has two parts:
Part One: Fluxus as an Idea
Fluxus cofounder, Dick Higgins saw Fluxus as an idea, a way of being in the world. It was more that a movement, and more than a group of specific artists. He elaborated this point of view very concisely in his short paper, “A Child’s History of Fluxus“.
Higgins explicitly rejected a notion that limited Fluxus to a specific group of people who came together at a specific time and place. Dick wrote, “Fluxus is not a moment in history, or an art movement. Fluxus is a way of doing things, a tradition, and a way of life and death.”Ken Friedman, Forty Years of Fluxus (1998, 2002)
Ken Friedman expanded on Higgin’s ideas and described Fluxus as “laboratory” characterized by 12 ideas:
12 Ideas of Fluxus
- the unity of art and life,
- presence in time, and
These 12 ideas are described fully in Ken Friedman’s article, Forty Years of Fluxus.
The artist and art historian, Owen Smith, has published extensively on the subject of Fluxus as an Attitude. His book Fluxus: History of an Attitude, is highly recommended.
Part Two: Fluxus as a Group of Artists
The Fluxus Movement began in the early 1960s, founded by George Maciunas and Dick Higgins, and built on ideas first articulated by artists like John Cage and La Monte Young, both of whom are primarily known as composers. There was significant influence from the Dada movement of the early 20th century, and from ideas circulating at Black Mountain College in the late 1950s.
A number of other contemporary events are credited as either anticipating Fluxus or as constituting proto-Fluxus events. The most commonly cited include the series of Chambers Street loft concerts, in New York, curated by Yoko Ono and La Monte Young in 1961, featuring pieces by Yoko Ono, Jackson MacLow, Joseph Byrd, and Henry Flynt; the month-long Yam festival held in upstate New York by George Brecht and Robert Watts in May 1963 with Ray Johnson and Allan Kaprow (the culmination of a year’s worth of Mail Art pieces); and a series of concerts held in Mary Bauermeister‘s studio, Cologne, 1960–61, featuring Nam June Paik and John Cage among many others. It was at one of these events in 1960, during his Etude pour Piano, that Paik leapt into the audience and cut John Cage’s tie off, ran out of the concert hall, and then phoned the hall’s organisers to announce the piece had ended. As one of the movement’s founders, Dick Higgins, stated:Wikipedia entry for Fluxus (accessed Nov. 11, 2020
Fluxus started with the work, and then came together, applying the name Fluxus to work which already existed. It was as if it started in the middle of the situation, rather than at the beginning.
Maciunas especially, believed that he was creating a movement that was club-like. He was famous for pronouncing which artists in his circle were either “in” or “out”. This has had some significant effects on the perceptions of Fluxus after his death. Fluxus cofounder Dick Higgins saw Fluxus somewhat differently. He (and many of his contemporaries) saw Fluxus as an Idea. An idea not bounded by dates in time or membership lists.
The artists active in Fluxus today share the idea of Fluxus as an Idea.