Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University


George Maciunas (1931-1978), a Lithuanian-American, coined the term in 1961 to highlight the ever-changing and fluid interdisciplinary nature of the group, a group committed to the idea that life can be experienced as art. They launched sound-and-environment, theatrical events. The anti-establishment nature of these anarchic activists and utopian radicals recalls Dada humor; Cage was another influence. Thus they ridiculed the pretensions of the art world, empowering viewer and artist. Do-it-yourself tendencies appear frequently.

Fluxus was the American branch of this international movement. In Ann Arbor, the Once group worked similarly, and in Seattle, “Dimensions of New Music.”

Fluxus included George Brecht (1925- ), Yoko Ono (1933- ), Nam June Paik (1932- ), Robert Watts (1923-1988), Jean Dupuy (1926- ), Ay-O (1931- ), Wolf Vostell (1932- ), Alison Knowles (1933- ), Dick Higgins (1938- ), Ken Friedman (1949- ), and many others.

In Piano Activities (September 1962), Maciunas, employed as a designer by the American air force base in Wiesbaden where the first Fluxus festival was held, and several others perform operations on a piano, including some sawing.

The works of La Monte Young (1935- ) include Composition 1960 #7: B and F# whole notes “to be held for a long time.” That’s it. He has released butterflies into a performance space. His Composition 1960 #10 is this, also in its entirety: “Draw a straight line and follow it. October 1960.” Young conveyed the diversity of Fluxus in a subtitle: “Chance operations / Concept art / Meaningless work / Natural disasters / Indeterminacy / Anti-art / Plans of action / Improvisation / Stories / Diagrams / Poetry / Essays / Dance constructions / Compositions / Mathematics / Music” (qtd. in Hitchcock). The Well-Tuned Piano (1964) lasts five hours with a piano tuned to “just” intonation.

Yoko Ono (1934- ) performed a work “for strawberries and violin” at Carnegie Hall in 1961. Her further productions, including Grapefruit (1964), and “Beat Piece” (1965) — “Listen to a heartbeat” — continued her Fluxus work. “Cut Piece” (1966) involved the onstage performer inviting audience members to take scissors and cut off a portion of the performer’s clothing. She became an inspiration to punk musicians in the ’70s.

Works Consulted

Dempsey, Amy. Art in the Modern Era: A Guide to Styles, Schools & Movements. NY: Harry N. Abrams Inc., Pub., 2002.

Hitchcock, H. Wiley. Music in the United States: A Historical Introduction. 2nd edition. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1974.