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Understanding and Exploring the Basics of Performance Art

As you get a fine arts degree, there are several art genres you will encounter and explore in-depth. Not all of them will necessarily take on traditional or classical forms you may be more familiar with. Performance art is one such unusual method, which calls attention to a specific issue or examining a certain aspect of life. You can find out more about performance art during your fine arts education, but the following can help you get started on understanding this type of art. 

Performance Art Defined

What exactly is performance art? This type of art, which has been around for decades, involves live events that artists use as artwork. Rather than displaying a painting or sculpture, for example, artists might use their own body or props as part of a live event. Performance art originated back in the early part of the 20th century with Dada cabarets and other events. The Beatniks of the 1950s and 1960s were considered early examples of performance art with their poetry readings. 

 As an art term, “performance art” only started being used in the late 1960s and 1970s. During the 1980s, technology began to play a role in performance art events. This kind of art has also included dance, poetry, films, music, and more over the years. 

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Open Score (1966) by Robert Rauschenberg. Image courtesy of Jerome Abel

Elements of Performance Art

What makes an event performance art? In general, there are certain elements that performance art events have in common, although their individual themes or subjects vary widely. Performance art events are live events instead of displays or static exhibits. These are mostly considered experimental in nature, so there are no actual guidelines for them. One of the defining characteristics of performance art, though, is that is isn’t for sale. You can stop by and see this type of art as it’s being done, but it’s not something that you can put a bid on. Keep in mind that performance art events are allowed to have admission tickets on sale. 

Performance art can include a wide range of artistic works, such as opera, dialogue, lasers, flames, sculptures, and even animals. In some cases, artists focus on body art for their performance. This might involve putting themselves in a certain setting or using certain props in order to make an artistic statement or encourage people to think about a particular concept or issue, whether social, cultural, or even political.

In 2009, Christian Marclay put on a contemporary music concert using hundreds of live performers. This performance art, called Berlin Mix, featured Barclay in a former train shed in Berlin conducting performers who came from a wide range of musical genres and forms. In 2015, Marclay pushed his art with sound further with White Cube, an exhibition featuring canvas and paper work that incorporated onomatopoeia based on comic books.

In 1966, Robert Rauschenberg created performance art that combined technology and art. This work, called Open Score, included a tennis match played by two painters with rackets that sent transmissions anytime the ball touched their surfaces. This performance art also included a projection showing infrared footage of hundreds of people roaming around in a dark setting. Open Score also included a Tuscan folk song being sung by a girl with a spotlight shining on her. 

From 1980 to 1981, Techching Hsieh combined artistic work with industry through his One Year Performance (Time Clock Piece). This performance art featured the artist punching a time clock every hour 24 hours a day for one year.

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One Year Performance (Time Clock Piece) (1980-1981) by Tehching Hsieh. Image courtesy of WSJ

Academy of Art University offers a wide range of various art and design programs, which are available both in-campus and online. Request information from our admissions representatives to know more about the courses offered, financial aid options available, and others. The Academy is accepting applications for summer and fall semesters, so submit yours today.