History & Theories of Intermedia

01.26.17 History, Journal 2 – Dick Higgins’ concepts of creative production and Intermedia

Listen to:

Dick Higgins Interview


Readings (In Order):


Boredom & Danger

Intermedia (In the Horizons Book)

Statement on Intermedia

Horizons (In the Horizons Book)

Supplement: Postmodern Performance (Also in the Horizons Book)

Bring copies of the readings to class with any questions or comments. Mark a section in each of the readings that you find of particular interest.

Class Overview

We began class with announcements. Then we did a “Round Robin” discussion of the Dick Higgin readings. This took longer than planned. We had a quick break, then we went on to discuss specific passages. We got hung up because I was arguing about Cage and music even though I said I wouldn’t. I did. Then we moved on and continued the discussion. We went until 7:15 today. It was a good class.

Reading Notes, Intending by Dick Higgins

  • Intermedia: Fixed to Unfixed
    • Art Works began with Fixed/Finished Products
    • Intermedial Interest -> Shift Focus to Process
    • Art become: interpretive, mutable, evolving
    • True across media: Music, Literature, Performance, Visual Art etc.
    • LESS about materials to work with MORE about creating boundaries to work IN
  • Abstract Expressionism & International Style + Experiments = “Happenings
    • Historical Observations in Which Change Originated:
    • 1950’s Abstract Expressionism (Tachisme in Europe) in Painting (Pollock, Klein)
    • 1950’s International Style in Music (Stockhausen, Koenig)
    • International Style in Music || to Bauhaus International Style in Architecture
    • Abstract Expressionism & International style = Specific Materials Used in Abstract Manner
    • Prestige to Paining b/c Clarity/Vividness INSPIRED other artists to incorporate more media
    • Rauschenberg & Kaprow experiments RESULT IN “Happenings.”
    • Other Artists felt Painting More Exciting so…. They wanted to associate with it. CAGE.
  • Cage Thinks “Neo-Feudal” so Creates Aleatropic Methodology
    • Cage Always Experimental
    • 1937 Construction in Metal (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FVAbMtxRLOQ)
    • 1950’s his work || Painting’s Abstract Expressionism
    • Quote Made me Laugh: “At the time, he seemed anxious to avoid the responsibility of trying to mean something semantic in his work.” It sure seems like he succeeded.
    • Now it seems he was trying to develop a structural principle ALTERNATIVE to willed imposition of the International Stylists.
    • International Stylists BECOMING Arbitrary, Innately Fascist (b/c subservience of performers will to composer)
    • Serial music = Neo-feudal PROBLOMATIC
    • Personal Thought: I really don’t understand why. I still feel like this idea of “experimental” music that removes all of the patterns and predictability from music transforms the work into something that cannot fairly be called “music” at all. I know that in part, this is a semantic argument. An Experimental musician would probably tell me that is the whole point of experimental music. BUT my problem is that I think language matters. There are times when it is appropriate to redefine a word. … However,… the purpose of a word is to express an idea. We all agree that certain words mean certain things. If, for any reason, the meaning of a word loses its common, agreed on usage then it is appropriate to redefine or clarify that word. For instance, “Art” is a huge word. It encompasses many things and few people can agree on any single unifying characteristic. Changes in society have continuously altered and added to the common idea of what “art” means. The word must be redefined and clarified in order to be used for any effective communication. On the other hand, “music” is a pretty big word, but it is not the same as “art.” I read several definitions. Some include emotion, some include pleasure, some include lots of technical details. We can argue all we want about these aspects of the definition because these are the things that are not commonly agreed upon. But, the word “music” does have at least one commonly agreed on characteristic. All common definitions of music describe sounds that are in some kind of order (lines, harmony, whatever). This definition serves a function. When we talk about music, no matter what kind it is, we all agree that we are talking about sounds in some kind of order. If someone says “let’s listen to music,” we expect to hear sounds in order. They may be unexpected sounds like the recordings of meowing cats and barking dogs, but the sounds still have order. If, instead, we hear sounds that have no order, we are going to be confused because the definition of the word has not been met. This word has the agreed-on function of telling us that we are discussing “sounds in order.” I do not believe that it is appropriate to redefine the single unifying characteristic of the words meaning. We can’t use the word accurately. It weakens the original definition as well as the newly altered one. It is inaccurate to call experimental sound “music” simply because the artist wishes to redefine the word. I think this is simply the artists attempt to add credibility to their work by appropriating a word that does not truly belong to them. It is certainly easier to do that. If you call it “experimental music” then people are probably more likely to give it a chance since they will be expecting a new take on a familiar concept. But, it is deceptive because it is not a new take on a familiar concept if the single unifying part of the original concept is missing.  I think that is dishonest and sometimes hypocritical. Language is flexible enough. If the artists in question want to create art that shows the importance of sounds that do not have order, then they need to create a new word to describe that. If what they are doing is worthwhile, they do not need to appropriate another word. The ingenuity and innovation of their work will stand on its own. Despite this long rant, in the end… I don’t care very much about music. While I don’t enjoy “experimental music” I don’t actually object to it as art. I simply object to the word use.
    • Post Class Note: This is really a silly argument. It is purely a question of semantics. When and how do we get to change language? What do we use to define/agree on language. This has nothing to do with the actual impact of the work (not that I ever said it did). A simple, “defined by the artistic community as “experimental music” would prevent the entire argument. I don’t usually engage in this kind of thing because I fail to see the point. I think my bias against noise is showing here. I simply dislike listening to Cage. His thoughts and the results of those thoughts are very different. I enjoy reading about his ideas but hate hearing the implementation. I am letting my aggravation affect my thinking too much. It isn’t justified.
  • Chance = Anti-Fascism
    • Chance = fixed possibilities + System of Relationships
    • Fixed Possibilities = Structure for Performers
    • System of Relationships = Reaction Against Dictated Form
  • Cage’s Indeterminacy & Bastardized Versions
    • Indeterminacy leaves system open to performers contributions
    • Not to attack art which gives performers materials to express using his own system
    • Materials are Static and System is Defined so that Performers Contribute v/s
    • Materials are Static and System is not Defined so that Performers Alter BUT
    • They are creating from within someone else’s System so NOT Innovative
    • Personal Thought: This may not be the best way to be innovative, but I am not sure it is completely without merit. Working within someone else’s system might allow an interesting combination of ideas.
  • Artwork as the Projection of the System
    • Don’t give materials
    • Emphasize intentions
  • What one Sees is Irrelevant Without Context/Interpretation
    • What does new emphasis offer?
  • Blank Forms ALLOWS Most relevant Materials Filled In
    • Flexible
    • Not perishable
    • O’Neal & Sexuality
  • Blank Forms
    • Imperishable Materials
    • Renewable
  • Artist Defines Scope
  • Not Dated
    • Emphasis on Intention: Not ruled by specifics
    • Production encompasses local issues, issues of the moment
  • Artist Can Concentrate on Broad Outlines/Forms
    • Creates Cohesion
    • Details Make Sense
    • Departure from Classical Art
    • Makes Relevent to Daily Lives
  • Specificity
    • Specificity of Intention must be Passed Along for Meaning to Occur
    • Capable of implying High Moral Stature
    • Phillip Corner’s Musical Composition “4th Finale
  • Specify used to Evaluate New Music, Happenings
    • Specificity is Relative
    • More Specific Not necessarily Better
    • Whatever Most Efficiently Describes Artist’s Intentions


Reading Notes, Boredom & Danger by Dick Higgins

  • Are Artist’s Trying to be boring?
    • Music was entertainment
    • Visual Art was decorative
    • Kandinsky – Art as a means of deepening one’s spiritual life
    • Arnold Achoenber, Musician || Kandinsky
    • Not Quite Musical Expressionism
    • Erik Satie “Vieux Sequins et Vielles Cuirasses” SATIRICAL
    • Also 25 Hour Piece of Piano Music (UGG)
  • 1950’s Artists Dissatisfied with Relationship between Work and Spectator
    • Rauschenberg Mirrors
    • Kaprow Intense Audience relationships LEADS TO “Happenings”
    • Happenings – no passive spectators, only participants
  • Boredom
    • Cage – Dialectic between boredom and intensity
    • Boredom serves as opposite to excitement
    • Emphasis
    • Boredom as Structure – Performing Arts
    • Fluxus – attempt to create coordination for large body of Happenings
  • Fluxus PURPOSE to make life more meaningful!
  • Boredom becomes part of the environment
  • Fluxus was a movement
  • “Danger Music”
    • Sender sends a list of tautologies
    • Receiver takes one and hides it
    • Has a secret
    • Both public and private
    • Public performance not always necessary
  • Visual Art
    • Visual art problem = produced for sale
    • Must be appealing
    • Artist must consider audience
    • Not as free to produce private pieces
  • BOREDOM important because excitement must always be a “near miss”
    • Visual art “as small as possible”
    • Fails when it becomes facile
    • Personal Note: That makes sense. Why fold micro origami? Because I can? Yes, but it is interesting because maybe I can’t. I could fail. Once I have done it, only the next smaller piece is interesting anymore.
  • Danger/Psychological Difficulty Helps
    • There is an element of risk
    • Danger Music” series of compositions. Each emphasizes a danger.
    • Performer Turns so Violently he covers stage in blood
    • Woman falls through glass. Hurt. Becomes part of piece.
    • Life is not as dangerous/physically challenging as it once was
    • Artist tempted to use danger/hazard
    • Create chaos/anarchy
    • Harder to Incorporate Danger into Visual Arts
    • Ay-o Boxes to insert finger. Some soft. Some dangerous.
  • Intense Art needs Boredom and Danger
    • Technical Quality Alone does not define value of work
    • Intention to enrich the world of the spectators
    • Overwhelm only when overwhelming is positive
    • Accept boredom and danger

Personal Notes: The discussion of risk and danger is interesting. Before I got here, I considered a performance piece in which I would break a glass box with the side of my hand. I knew it would likely cut me (how much, was in question). That was part of the appeal. I thought that the symbolism was worthwhile but I also thought that the risk made the work more evocative and powerful. I didn’t do the piece (and likely won’t) not because of the risk, but because I finally decided the concept simply wasn’t what I wanted it to be. My interest in the risk was greater than the interest in the actual concept that was meant to be behind it. It seemed kind of pretentious and melodramatic. I didn’t want to hurt myself just because I thought it would draw attention to the work. If I am going to do something like that, it should actually create meaning that I feel is worth it. I am not sure if that makes sense, but that is how I feel.

From a psychological perspective, I tend to be wary of my own interest in “danger.” I have participated in enough dangerous activities that I know I am drawn towards them rather than repelled. That means that it is particularly important that I think very hard about what I am doing and why or I run the risk of doing real harm to myself. It is one thing to be hurt. Some things are worth it. It is quite another thing to be hurt for nothing other than an adrenalin rush.

That said, I am sure I would stick my finger right in Ay-o’s boxes and enjoy the “not knowing.”

When it comes to art, I suspect I am more of a visua artist than a performer. Not that I am unlikely to perform, just that I think my overall interest is going to lean towards the visual. But… I think there is a place for danger in visual arts. I asked Laura Splan about that. I asked her if there was pain or risk in her blood harvesting. I was a bit disappointed to know that she did it with finger sticks. I get it. It suits her work. I don’t think her work is really about sacrifice… but, I did really like the idea of sacrifice. The idea of giving your own blood to create a piece is very powerful.

I also understand that Higgins is right, life is not as physically challenging as it once was. There is a part of us that probably years nor that. Putting it into art is a way to access it again.

The idea of boredom also appeals to me. I touched on it a bit with my “Work” of Art last semester. I just wasn’t quite sure where I was going. I like the expression of time, the time it takes to do something can elevate an otherwise mundane act. It makes the art about what it means rather than the technical skill… if I spend many days drawing tiny little shapes, there is nothing of technical skill in it. Anyone could do it BUT not anyone will. The time I am willing to spend creates something in the work. I don’t think I have quite figured out what it creates, but maybe someday I will.


Reading Notes, “Intermedia” in Horizons by Dick Higgins

  • 1965
  • Best work today falls between media
  • Renaissance separated media
  • Feudalism
  • Social Problems of our Time No longer Compartmentalize
  • Classless society means separation into rigid categories no longer necessary
  • Populism is a growing tendency not a shrinking one
  • Painting “Precious Object” for Sale
  • Rigid, Beautiful BUT “No dialogue”
  • Duchamp Fascinating, Picasso Fading BECAUSE “between” media = More Interesting, Thoughtful
  • Personal Note: I hope that Higgins is right. It would be wonderful if we appreciated art (or anything else) because of the way it makes us think as opposed to simply aesthetic appeal.
  • Found Objects Between Art Field and Life Field
  • 1950s Painters realize the Fundamental Irrelevance of Abstract Expressionism
  • Rauschenberg, Kaprow
  • Proscenium Theater from 17th century ideals of order
  • Drama divided; Performers, production people, audience
  • Higgins & Others declare war on traditional theater
  • Remove separations
  • Al Hansen
  • Nam Jan Paik
  • Happening: Intermedium between collage, theater and music
  • Intermedia throughout the Fine Arts
  • 1981
  • Previous Writing meant to give access to new forms of art
  • “intermedia” from Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1812
  • Higgins wants to popularize “avant-garde”
  • Publisher of “Something Else Press” in 1974
  • Some Things Else about Something Else Press by Barbara Moore
  • Artist Books & Multiples Blogsite: Something Else Press
  • Spread Intermedial Art
  • “intermedia” often confused with “mixed media”
  • Intermedia not “mixed” but “conceptually fused”
  • Not an “intermedia Movement”
  • Intermedia becomes media with familiarity ex. Visual novel
  • New mediums allow greater significance
  • The term “intermedia” allows entry into work that might otherwise seem opaque
  • Intermedia more useful at start than at criticism of work


Reading Notes, Statement on Intermedia

  • Art is the way people communicate
  • No serious person could attack communication
  • Attacking communication opens the door to the real enemies
  • Spread of Mass Literacy & Communication Changed Sensibilities
  • We Want Simplicity
  • Art best Does that When it Has Fewest Distractions
  • Psychedelics will Change Everything
  • Art Has Changed to Suit
  • Intermedial Approach
  • Emphasize the Dialectic Between Media
  • Having Discovered Intermedia…
  • Not HOW to use
  • WHAT to use it for
  • We must find ways to say what has to be said
  • New means of communicating (new art)


Reading Notes, “Horizons” in Horizons by Dick Higgins

  • devoted to the idea of burying the avant-garde…
  • History of arts is the history of their avant-gardes
  • Why important?
  • Minimalizes traditional models THEREFORE
  • Active relationship between form and media
  • Uses experience of the maker THEREFORE
  • Reflects unique moment in history
  • Not “pop-garde”
  • Not “avante-pop”
  • Bad critics make work fit into mold
  • Good critic points out implications
  • Zeitgeist
  • Explore process surrounding horizons
  • Art as Paradigm
  • Not exemplative
  • An Example of one possibility
  • Artists paradigmatic realization
  • Doesn’t have to be only cool, cerebral work
  • Entire emotional panoply
  • Cognitive/post-cognitive distinction USEFUL
  • projection back into the work
  • Deal with commonality between artists
  • Erotic of Fusion
  • Desire to fuse part of nature
  • Likely to be temporarily
  • Liminal
  • Threshold experience
  • Spiritual
  • Long to repeat


Class Notes

Intermedia is Like trying to see a planet with a radio telescope. It is a process not a new kind of media

Evolution is really in flux because you have not come to the final definition

Intermedial forms start with something known the same way the Horseless carriage becomes the car, it might become something new later

Scewmorph – keep a form but the forms function is completely lost because it’s no longer relevant or appropriate

Art Is lost when it falls into the notion of a commodity to be bought and sold

Kitsch something with the semblance of a thing full of meaning but really becomes just a commercialized sign and symbol but lost the cultural understanding

Pp 22 painting fused conceptually with words

“hybridization” comes out of fusing

Art is a discourse, discussion, exchange

The value of art comes when it involves the person into the piece they become participants or even collaborators

How do you envision something that is not fixed?

Desire for liminal fusion, once we have had it we kind of want more

Liminal = anthropologist Victor Turner

Conception of a work more important than perception of it

“last paragraph on page 14 sums up the whole article”