Dick Higgins

1938 - 1998

Born in Cambridge (GB), died in Quebec (CA).

Richard Carter Higgins: integrative art

Influential British artist and theorist Richard Carter Higgins gained fame as a poet, composer, artist, publisher and critical art theorist. He plead for a new, experimental expression that transcends the classic boundaries and traditional division of media. He is also the inventor of the term ‘intermedia’ - that later became ‘multimedia’ - to announce the fusion of the arts. As a co-founder of Fluxus (Latin for fluid and continuous change) he wanted to merge poetry, theatre, music and visual arts into a new movement. He is also the publisher of Something Else Press, Unpublished Editions and Printed Editions. He wrote scenarios and sheet music for ‘happenings’ and also made paintings, sculptures, films and graphics.

Between 1959 and 1961 Higgins and a couple of other students from John Cage started organising multimedia happenings in New York. Higgins soon decided to establish Something Else Press so he could publish his work Jefferson's Birthday/Postface in 1964. Two years later the Something Else Gallery displayed the first concrete poetry of the United States, while Higgins finished his master’s thesis on the power of visual poetry and the essence of ‘pattern poetry’.

As an artist and theorist Higgins approached art with an experimental and foremost integrative mindset. He wanted to establish an extensive research programme with ideas and topics that, according to him, were ready to be studied. These cases and examples actually form - more so than his visual oeuvre - the core of his work. To understand its radical nature one can compare his all-encompassing study programme to scientific research on the pure essence and basic structure of the arts. Higgins said that, as an artist, he never felt complete when he wasn’t able to practice all the arts at the same time. He always wanted to merge the visual, the musical and the literary - the core of Fluxus. The term ‘intermedia’ was born from the need to include works that conceptually fall between the cracks.

Although he was interested in the mechanics of coincidence he did not rely on coincidental effects. To the contrary, one of his famous one-sentence manifests goes: “If you haven’t done it twice, you haven’t done it at all.” Higgins put a great deal of emphasis on mastering the different artistic skills needed to execute his cases and experiments. Higgins ultimately published seventy-four books, among them a translation of Giordano Bruno’s On the Composition of Signs and Images, which is considered to be an early treatise on multimedia.

Just like the humanists gave a voice to the intellectual and spiritual turmoil between the Middle Ages and the early modern period, Higgins - much like Marcel Duchamp in the conceptual field or Andy Warhol in regards to processes - helped open the doors for a new approach to the arts halfway through the 20th century. Fluxus, Dada, readymades, performances and reproductions would determine the image of the time from then on. With his deductive approach Higgins tried to capture the profound artistic and intellectual fermentation of an era in words, images and sounds.


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