A New York Times article written by Ken Johnson, "If It Involves Performing, Does That Make It Art?" got me to thinking and asking the same question.
Johnson writes, "After attending 'Performa Ha!’ and Simon Fujiwara's ‘Boy Who Cried Wolf’ - and witnessing six different performances, I find myself wondering, what is performance art anyway? At ‘Performa Ha!’ I wondered what is the difference between smart and inventive comedy and comic performance art or performance art masquerading as comedy?"
I started thinking of Saturday Night Live and the wonderfully ridiculous characters with all their antics and thought farther back to the Johnny Carson days when he would don his turbaned hat and portray Carnac the Magnificant and make his silly psychic predictions and I had a hard time dividing these comedic performances from what is called Performance Art in the legitimate art world.
Wikipedia defines Performance Art as “a performance presented to an audience, traditionally interdisciplinary. Performance may be either scripted or unscripted, random or carefully orchestrated; spontaneous or otherwise carefully planned with or without audience participation. The performance can be live or via media; the performer can be present or absent. Performance Art can happen anywhere, in any venue or setting and for any length or time. The actions of an individual or a group at a particular place and in a particular time constitute the work.”
These are artists such as Laurie Anderson, a pioneer of electronic music, who experiments to this day with her man-made instruments and performance art. In the 1970's she performed "Duets on Ice", which she conducted in New York and other cities around the world, which involved her playing the violin along with a recording while wearing ice skates with the blades frozen into a block of ice; the performance ended only when the ice had melted away. Here in St Louis we have the longest running New Music Circle in the world. In the early 90's I saw and heard a performer break a clarinet into two pieces, place both pieces in his mouth and play a very weird sounding sort of non-melodic tune.
And our own artist/entertainer Larry Krone has shown his works of art and performed at the Contemporary Art Museum in St Louis, in New York and around the country. Krone is well-known for his eclectic interests in music, performance, collecting, and American vernacular culture. Krone's last exhibition here in his home town invited visitors to move at will through the works and through the years of his life, much like one randomly revisits a family photo album.
The St Louis Art Museum has recently opened a new exhibition entitled "An Orchestrated Vision, The Theatre of Contemporary Photography" The art museum magazine describes the exhibition as "playing at the boundaries between fact and fiction. Today's message seems to be found in the twilight world of the playhouse where the viewer suspends disbelief and dream-like slippages occur."
I don't know if Ken Johnson of the New York Times answered his own question on how to divide straight comedy from performance art, but I have found that the boundaries are unclear and that we just have to keep open minds in the arts and not expect the same old same old, because the lines get awfully fuzzy between traditional art forms and works that are more experimental.
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
Arts Aficionado Nancy Kranzberg has been involved in the arts community for some thirty years. She serves on numerous arts affiliated boards, including The St. Louis Art Museum, Laumeier Sculpture Park where she is the Co-Chair, The Sheldon Arts Foundation and the Sheldon Art Gallery Board, Jazz at the Bistro, The Missouri Mansion Preservation Inc., The Mid American Arts Alliance, and the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis. Nancy was named Women of Achievement and was awarded the Distinguished Alumnae Award at Washington University Nancy is a docent at the St. Louis Art Museum and is an honorary docent at Laumeier Sculpture Park. At age 60 she became a Jazz singer. She performs with the Second Half which features Chancellor Tom George on the piano.