Performance Art

Performance art is a complex concept, especially in that it is, in part, a dustbin term in which all sorts of practices that don’t fit conventional artistic categories are often dumped. Other terms are sometimes used as synonyms for performance art, such as action art, music theater, multimedia spectacles, happenings, body art, live art, and sometimes conceptual art, although the latter can also function as performance art’s opposite. What these genres have in common are significant relations between media—often between music and art.

A useful starting point with respect to performance art is ancient Greece and Attic tragedy: this cultural practice blended the arts as we have come to know them (e.g., poetry, music, drama). Richard Wagner referred to this communion of the arts in his promotion of the art-work of the future, or the Gesamtkunstwerk, in the second half of the nineteenth century. This idea can be seen in a very different guise in the Serata Futurista, the Fluxus event, and even the Exploding Plastic Inevitable of Andy Warhol and the multimedia spectacles of Laurie Anderson. The blurring of distinctions between art forms can also be found in Fluxus objects, events, and writings, as well as in sound sculpture, installations, video/film works, and digital and computer art.