The Case for Performance Art | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios

The Case for Performance Art | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios

NARRATOR: You’re minding
your own business in an art gallery, when
all of a sudden, a movement occurs out of the
corner of your eye. It couldn’t be. You break into a cold sweat
and look around for the nearest exit, but it’s too late. It’s happening. It’s performance art. Why? Why has my precious
fourth wall been violated? Why must I be forced to endure
this inevitable awkwardness? This is the case
for performance art. Performance art is a
term used to describe art in which the body is
the medium or live action is in some way involved. This is nothing new, of course. Human beings have
always performed in front of each other through
ritual, storytelling, dance, carnival, and on and on. But as art evolved,
the word became known for describing
specific things, mainly objects like painting,
sculpture, and drawing. Live action belonged
to other disciplines like theater and
ballet and opera. But during the course
of the 20th century, artists began to incorporate
live action into works and describe it as art. The Italian Futurists in
the 1910s saw performance as the only way to
reach a mass audience, staging noise
concerts and a kind of disruptive variety
theater aimed at destroying, quote, “the solemn, the
sacred, the serious, and the sublime in
Art” with a capital A. Think artists are kind of nuts? Well, the Futurists
wanted you to think that, arguing “the name of ‘madman’
with which it is attempted to gag all innovators should
be looked upon as a title of honour.” Dada artists embraced
the crazy as well and built off the popularity
of cabaret and post-World War I Germany. Artists Hugo Ball
and Emmy Hennings opened Cafe Voltaire
in 1916 in Zurich, and invited artists
and writers to come give musical performances
and readings of all kinds. No one knew what might
happen on any given night. It could be like this,
or it could be like this. [CHANTING] During the Weimar
years, the Bauhaus was the first institution to
offer a specific performance class, reinforcing it as
a medium in its own right. Avant Garde theater
flourished across Europe, and early surrealist
Antonin Artaud theorized what he called
the theater of cruelty, proposing a direct communication
between the spectator and the spectacle, engulfing
the spectator into the action, writing, “We abolish the
stage and the auditorium and replace them
by a single site, without partition or barrier
of any kind, which will become the theater of the action.” After World War II, Black
Mountain College in the US became a hotbed of experimental,
interdisciplinary practice with Avant Garde
composer John Cage teaching classes and staging
collaborative productions. They put on a version
of Erik Satie’s surreal “The Ruse of Medusa,”
featuring Merce Cunningham as mechanical monkey,
Buckminster Fuller as nonsensical baron,
and sets by Willem and Elaine de Kooning. Cage had shared
with his students his understanding of music as
it relates to Zen Buddhism, that art should not be separate
from life, but in action within life, with all of
the accidents and chaos and occasional beauty
that that entails. Participants in his
productions were given loose scores that left
a lot to interpretation, had unpredictable results, and
were impossible to reproduce. Choreographer and dancer
Merce Cunningham’s revolutionary approach, also
shared at Black Mountain, proposed that such
ordinary movements as walking and standing
could be considered dance. The boom of abstract
expressionist painting in the 1950s emphasized
the body’s involvement in making art. It’s obvious but
easy to forget when you’re looking at,
say, a landscape that every painting is a
document of a series of actions that took place in the past. But with works like
Jackson Pollock’s, it becomes harder to ignore, with
art critic Harold Rosenberg explaining, “The canvas began to
appear to one American painter after another as an
arena in which to act. What was to go on the canvas was
not a picture, but an event.” The Gutai group in Japan took
these ideas a step further. In front of audiences,
Kazuo Shiraga threw himself naked
into a pile of wet mud. Saburo Murakami crashed
through a row of paper screens. Tanaka Atsuko donned
her electric dress. Back in Europe,
Yves Klein embarked on a series for which
he hired female models to cover themselves in paint and
make imprints of their bodies on paper. Instead of walking
through a room and glimpsing these things
that happened in the past, here it is in the room with
you, happening right now. The godfather of the
happening, Allan Kaprow, staged his first in
1959 at Rubin Gallery, stating on the invitation,
“You will become part of the happenings;
you will simultaneously experience them.” Guests arrived with little
idea of what would happen, both witness to and participant
in loosely structured actions, left to make of it
what they could. Kaprow called it what he
did because it was, quote, “something
spontaneous, something that just happens to happen.” Artists associated with
the Fluxus movement presented ordinary
events as art, considering anyone and
everyone to be an artist. At a 1962 Fluxus
festival, Ben Patterson performed “Variations
for Contrabass” where he agitated
at strings using a variety of unusual materials. Nam June Paik dipped his
necktie and head in paint and drew a line along a
13-foot roll of paper. Alison Knowles made a
big salad and shared it. Much of it was playful, but for
others, it was dead serious. Joseph Beuts gave lectures
and staged dramatic actions, enacting what he
called social sculpture to try to change consciousness,
believing art can and should transform your everyday life. In Vienna, a group
of artists pursued what they call
actionism, calling it not only a form of
art, but above all, an existential attitude. Hermann Nitsch
enacted ancient rites, which he described as “an
anesthetic way of praying.” And Valie Export
invited the public to reach into a
curtain box to touch her unclothed body, a
humorous but indicting action questioning the objectification
of women’s bodies. Performance came into its own
in the turbulent ’60s and ’70s. The Civil Rights Movement
and second-wave feminism underlined the fact that
the body is political, and artists seized
on its potential. Carolee Schneemann
explained, “in 1963, to use my body as an extension
of my painting constructions was to challenge and threaten
the psychic territorial power lines by which women were
admitted to the art stud club.” Through performance,
female bodies and black bodies and
queer bodies and bodies that bring together
multiple identities could be reclaimed,
reasserted, and represented through many lenses, not
just by white men this time, but by the actual
persons in question. The minimalists were
interested in phenomenology, or the study of consciousness
from particular points of view, and so were performance artists. Inserting live
bodies into artworks was an immediate way to
unsettle the delusion that a universal
perspective exists, insisting that everybody is
a self inscribed by events, language, history, and
identity, and is always in perpetual flux. These selves did lots of things. They became part of paintings. They wore paintings. They positioned themselves
in space and in nature. They positioned others in space. They performed tasks, and they
asked others to perform tasks. They made constructions
specifically to hold their bodies. They followed strangers. They took on other identities. They asked questions. They created stores. They subjected
themselves to danger. They tested their endurance. They turned the audience
into the performer. They completely
merged art and life. They explored desire,
androgyny, sexuality, exoticism, and the burden of art
historical representation. Since the ’70s,
performance art has been a relatively constant
fixture in the world of art, used internationally to
examine a wide range of issues. It’s been documented
and exhibited, but is largely resistant
to commercial forces, offering artists a way to
make work outside of the often oppressive market system. Performance today is so
many different things. It’s Kalup Linzy singing
as his alter ego, the melodramatic
[INAUDIBLE], Taiwan, whom he later declared dead. It’s Allora and
Calzadilla’s Olympic gymnast performing
choreographed routines on wooden replicas of airline
seats at the Venice Biennale. It’s Ryan McNamara being
taught to dance in public. It’s Kate Gilmore’s
bright pink house with women in white dresses
swinging from its windows. It’s Bennett Miller’s
“Dachshund UN.” It’s Ragnar
Kjartansson’s “Bliss,” a 12-hour performance of
the last minutes of Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro”
over and over again. And it’s still the classic stuff
like Marina Abramovic’s wildly popular, “The
Artist is Present,” where the audience was invited
to queue up and eventually face off with the artist. It should come as
no surprise when Jay-Z, inspired by
Abramovic’s work, called his music video
a performance art film, arguing, “Concerts are
pretty much performance art with the venues changed.” Performance art was born of
interdisciplinary thinking, and still thrives in
those spaces in between. Think art’s a scam masterminded
by the rich and ridiculous? Well, so have a lot of artists
who have used performance as a strategy to deliberately
offend, upend tradition, and remake art from the inside. Performance art was
born of a desire to flatten hierarchies inherent
in traditional art forms, so that the artist could
reach an audience directly rather than through coded forms
or the separation of a canvas or frame. It wasn’t so much
that people wanted to make something
called performance art, but more that these
activities seeped out from other disciplines where
they no longer quite fit in. As with any art, it’s up to
you to decide whether or not you think it’s any good. But the way into performance
is to allow yourself to be made uncomfortable
by it, to admit your feelings of
suspicion, fear, dislike, or claustrophobia. Performance art
can give you room to think about who you
are, where you are, and how you relate to
those who are not you. It can allow us to
contemplate the rules, written and unwritten, of any
given space or place. Performance can make
you uncomfortable, because that’s what
it’s supposed to do, it’s designed to do. Don’t leave the room. Stay. Be uncomfortable. Revel in the mystery of
what may or may not occur. Think about why you’re feeling
the way you’re feeling. Invite the discomfort. Invite the unknown. You and artists and art
will be better for it.

Comments (68)

  1. A lovely précis of the formless form.

  2. question is, how can we sense something as low grade.

  3. If you are interested in performance art, check out our Channel and Facebook page! We run an international performance art festival in Wellington New Zealand.

  4. Yeah, okay, but explain "Interior Semiotics".

  5. I understand that a lot of the time the purpose is to strip away all meaning, and replace it with shock value, or propose some abstract new order; but even with that in mind i don't see much value. Traditionally the arts were about rationalism, storytelling, and using a finely tuned structure to project a message or deeper meaning, or even make a political statement using a common language. A painting or sculpture was akin to a finely crafted novel or a masterfully engineered watch.
    I'm nostalgic for craftsmanship.

  6. Great stuff! 👍 I just created a channel for my own performance works 👀

  7. first of all, great video!
    does anybody know the title of the performance shown in the thumbnail? And also in 0:18? (the two people having some sort of linen around their heads that connects them)
    thanks! 🙂

  8. watch h3h3 modern art video

  9. The dachshund UN sounds like a good time.

  10. so how can an artist earn from performance art?

  11. It should be mandatory that all art galleries should have random performance art…for the mental health of the people!!

  12. Oh Cultural Marxism…

  13. 5:40 , 'not just by white men' … what does that mean?

  14. it's us against them, they don't know shit about art that's why it's disturbing.

  15. This video was so good! Thank you so much, very well said 🙂

  16. Cool fact about my life: I was a part of Tino Sehgal's "This Progress" in Paris last october to december. Best experience of my life by far.

  17. @ 0:53 — what was Graham Chapman doing being alive back then? (middle guy)

  18. This helps me a lot, thank you

  19. I'm so glad this was in my recommended videos list. You've just got yourself a new subscriber

  20. Those who can't do, teach. Those who can't teach, do performance art.

  21. Fantastic!

    These videos are the dream.

  22. They are performance artists… they're paid to fulfil peoples fantasies, their deep dark fantasies.

  23. this only fueled my desire to shit on the floor in an art museum

  24. There's so much info on these videos that i spend hours pausing them so i can investigate all pieces and artists, i wanna go to sleep but i can't. I thank you for the existance of this channel

  25. Very informative. Even though I'm not a fan of performance art

  26. Well researched & well scripted…

  27. Hugo Ball was so influential, the Talking Heads made a song using his poetry which laid the groundwork for their album Remain in Light

  28. Would professional wrestling be considered performance art?


  30. So, what's the difference between Performance Art and Street Theater? I think the reason people are mad is because of a feeling towards mislabeling.

  31. You have got to slow the down the tempo of the video presentation it's too fast slow down seriously

  32. 1:52 the guy looks like T-1000 from Terminator 2

  33. Performance art, in many people’s consciousness, collapses the concept of art and is thus anti-art and should thus not be called performance art but performance protestation. THAT is the problem with a lot of contemporary art, it is more visual philosophy than art.

    Love these vids 👌🏿

  34. Performance art is radical art but milquetoast theater.

  35. Performance art is the definition of narcissism.

  36. Sin embargo existe una falencia en sostener que una 'performance' pueda hacerse sin una estructura o una gramática visual. El "discurso" en el que se basa una obra es signo de que la obra es insuficiente para exponer una experiencia o comunicar algo.

  37. i agree with kyle can gogh's comment especially in reference to the commercialisation of art. i also enjoyed the conclusion at the end of the video

  38. For me it comes down to consent. Especially if you are living with mental illness you need the option to opt out or choose not to be put in a triggering situation at all. I feel that performance art sometimes violates audiences trust in the name of art. Scaring away those for whom leaving the house and engaging with the world was enough of a challenge.
    I don’t think performance art is alone in doing this at all but I think it’s more frequent than in some other more “passive” art-forms. I’m not saying you can’t make uncomfortable performance art but put out warnings about it just like you would if a light art peace could provoke epidemic fits or if a smoke machine could cause asthma.

  39. another underrated performance art in music is when bands such as The Who ended their concerts by destroying their instruments .

  40. you guys should make a bauhaus video!!!

  41. missed the circus .. that too is art and way ahead {now deemed by hipsters as cruel and old fashioned} of performance art… Check out Charlotte Moorman for performance art breaking barriers …

  42. For people who are part of a belief tradition that teach modesty where the human body is concerned, watching performance art that contained nudity would be uncomfortable. I'm part of a religious organization that teaches that modesty is a way of honoring the sacredness of the physical body. It isn't just a matter of feeling uncomfortable by nudity, it's that nudity in the public place is against one's religious beliefs.


  44. I didn't really understand the difference between performance art and theater or flexux, do they have scripts?

  45. wonderful channel! My opinion…since I studied at in my country I had a point of view on performance concepts I think after watched this well done video remains the same I only see: Catharsis (from Greek κάθαρσις katharsis meaning "purification" or "cleansing") is the purification and purgation of emotions—particularly pity and fear—through art or any extreme change in emotion that results in renewal and restoration. It is a metaphor originally used by Aristotle in the Poetics, comparing the effects of tragedy on the mind of a spectator to the effect of a cathartic on the body.



  48. Does anyone know what the title of the image of the gallery full of paintings is at 0:34?

  49. Feminism by definition divides humanity into separate groups, which is bad for society and bad for art. Art is about expressing individual feelings and emotions. When the artist see themselves as representing a group it becomes political, intellectualizing the message, narrowing the audience. Making art should be encouraged by everyone for everyone.

  50. "A performance art video" isn't a thing, you jackass. A video can be art, but performance art is inherently ephemeral, and it's the point.

  51. You forgot to show the pooping experience where people poop in public with see-through mirrors that only they could see out

  52. So is Fluxus considered performance art too?

  53. Okay this narrator seriously needs to talk a regular person. Fabulous content though

  54. I get it, but I still think it’s ineffective

  55. "they followed strangers" thats creepy Vito

  56. Art should not be like flying through an asteroid belt. Which supreme commander in chief selects space cadets among us to perform (or guide us though) these treacherous missions, and why? The skeptical and paranoid among us may suspect it is for no more than clearing out the main decks of the more reckless in our midst. What better role for those with such natural dispositions, than jobs as crash test dummy and guinea pigs? And as to those stuck in the back seat or worse stuffed among the cargo and baggage, surely one thing that repeatedly comes to our mind is "are we there yet?"

  57. Hello. My mind is filled with spiders. COME SEE

  58. A SUPER interesting summary and critique – Performance art is the future. CHeck out my performance art videos on my channel if you love performance as much as me ^.^

  59. No. the word "Performance art" is just an excuse for those bunch of untalented weirdo to do something weird. Those crap are not Art.

    1-Ask your child/nephew to do a painting.
    2- Invent and write a story that sounds intellectual.
    3-Find an art gallery that believes in your absurdity.

  61. You seem to generalize that performance art is uncomfortable in your closing statements. That is not always true

  62. You know, it still appears pretentious, with that "you don't understand how deep I am dad!" attitude that I find repulsive, as if other people's experience is shallow and needs basic attenuation. I cannot think of a single advantage this medium has over painting or theatre, writing or music. Honestly it feels like more of the opiod-infused attitude of Bauhaus, that nihilistic "fuck it, there are no hard answers so let's just do some abrasive nonsense." I have never been made to feel anything more than mildy impressed or mildly uncomfortable by artists who think messy laziness is somehow a Budhist holiness, as I can bet they've never actually been to a pristene temple of theirs.

    If art is just the "messiness of life," then stop trying to interject yourself onto the rest of it. If art is something more, than carry on with other, better mediums.

  63. It is a trash! 🐅

  64. Good performances don't make you uncomfortable. Unless is the specific intention of the piece. the treatment of the spectator, as a moving part it self, is an intricate and complex subject. Needs a life to learn and least understatement due to the new ways of contemporary art (conceptual for example)

Comment here