Boston Globe art critic Sebastian Smee was written a fresh and engaging review of the Fluxus show currently at the Hood Museum at Dartmouth. Generally known in the US through the work of artists and musicians like George Maciunas, John Cage and La Monte Young, the Fluxus movement capitalized on the high jinx, random access, playfully questioning approach that characterized the Dada era of the 1920s. Like the furtive and often transgressive ideas that had a significant impact on cultural development described in Greil Marcus’ book, Lipstick Traces, Fluxus has had its own leaky margins, spilling over into many contemporary visual art and musical forms.
My favorite passage in Smee’s piece came near the end:
The American writer Janet Malcolm once wrote that the spell of any work of art can be shattered by the sound of the nasty little voice in one’s head saying, “But this is ridiculous.’’ She meant, I think, that the reception of all art demands a suspension of skepticism. It demands whole-heartedness, sincerity.
Why? Because from the standpoint of life, art is at a disadvantage. It is artificial. It is not strictly necessary. And therefore it is never far from redundancy. The values we assign it are imaginary — that is to say, a great credit to our imaginations.
Fluxus artists made work that deliberately turned up the volume of that “nasty little voice in one’s head,’’ as if wanting to test our willingness to tune it out.
I like them for this. Not because I think the art world on the whole needs more silliness (most days it seems awash in silliness), but because such tests can have a salutary effect. They threaten our complacency. They yank us out of tired habits of seeing and thinking. They return us to first principles. And they underscore the provisional, fragile nature of the strange and extraordinary edifice we call art.
I am always interested in what can yank us out of tired habits of seeing and thinking. The importance of finding the fresh view is true for art makers as well as art viewers. So yes to first principles, yes to remembering the “provisional, fragile nature of the strange and extraordinary edifice we call art.”