Freedom as Provocation – this was the title of a recent concert series with music by composer John Cage, the master of an artistic exploration of chance. Artistic freedom and the scope of what artistic expression can entail expanded greatly in the course of the twentieth century, promising limitless possibilities. Most artists of that period do not seem to have considered this freedom menacing or provocative. Instead, they incorporated it as an active element in the creative process. They let chance determine artistic outcomes but also gave themselves the freedom to set rules for their personal artistic processes. They explicitly embraced amateurism and seemingly trivial materials.
In addition to questioning and expanding their own creative processes, artists also worked to expose the degree of freedom or oppression in ideological, economic, and social systems. They investigated the embeddedness of the individual in sociological or ideological frameworks and addressed the possibility or impossibility of overcoming them, exploring in this way the nature of power and the limits of systems. Perhaps most importantly, they celebrated the creative energy to be found in both freedom and self-imposed limitation.