7 Intermedia and the Fraying of the Arts

Even after World War II, music again provided an important impetus for the further development of artistic concepts into a Gesamtkunstwerk. In the 1950s, the phenomenon of the happening and the network of artists Fluxus emerged in the circle around the American composer John Cage (1912–1992). The end of specialization in isolated genres and the propagation of new artistic intermedia works led to the practice of multimedia performances, environments, and happenings in which the idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk lived on not in an ingenious, but in a collective sense. Their venue was no longer the classical theater stage or concert hall but a location or space selected or determined by the artists themselves.

In his essay Die Kunst und die Künste from 1967, Theodor W. Adorno (1903–1969) described the dissolution of genre boundaries as a recent development that, unlike the total Gesamtkunstwerk, was motivated by the developmental logic of the individual arts themselves. He spoke of a fraying … of their demarcation lines.[28] The more the context-forming media of the individual art genres spread out beyond the traditional store — formalize themselves, as it were — the more the genres will be subordinated to the identical.[29] In the case of Kandinsky and Cage, Adorno polemicized against a questionable spiritualization of art through the sensual aspect. However, in general he saw a strong tendency in the phenomenon of fraying that breaks open the genre boundary from within. Accordingly, it would hardly be possible to identify a distinct genre: The more a genre allows in of that which its immanent continuum does not contain, the more it participates in its estrangement … . It virtually becomes … something of which we cannot say what it is.[30]