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When I was in Europe, I experienced as much theatre and art as I possibly could. While living in London, I saw an outrageous amount of West End productions, could often be found at modern art museums, and even sought out the theatre scene in Brussels and Paris, despite the fact that my French is on par with a Parisian four-year-old at best. I went into my time abroad with an open mind, hoping to experience all the art I could. Because of that mindset, I saw a lot of unconventional things.
I’ve been heavily involved with theatre since I was seven years old, and have been in school studying it for over two, so I’m pretty familiar with the various genres and mediums. However, London opened my eyes to a form of art that I had never experienced prior, and that is performance art – one of the craziest, most lenient, expressive forms of art I’ve ever seen.
One of the intentions of performance art is to show audiences that art can be found in everyday activities, not only in a rigid, theatrical setting. For example, I attended a piece where the actor brushed and flossed his teeth for seven minutes and then sat crossed-legged on the floor and shined his shoes. Is this art? Well, it’s up to those watching.
Another intention is to show the power of symbolism. Everything means something or stands for something in a performance art piece. Or nothing means anything, and that means something too. It is all up to what the artist wants to represent. Another piece I saw had a girl projecting her shadow on a giant piece of canvas as she removed her make up and sewed together the wipes. What did her piece symbolize? Well, I suppose that’s up to her. Or us. I’m not really sure.
I think the big difference between performance art and the standard, conventional theatre is for whom the piece is created. In staged, traditional theatre, the actors benefit greatly from the performance, finding meaning in their portrayals, but the ultimate goal is to provide for the audience. Theatre is for the audience. In performance art, those attending can benefit from their own personal experiences while watching the piece, but more than anything, the performance is a cathartic experience for the artist. He is portraying something that has meaning to him, that represents something he wishes to express. Performance art is for the artist.
I think what’s challenging about performance art is that there are no rules. I saw another piece where an actress got completely naked, invited a member of the audience to the stage, and then proceeded to eat an Indian curry dinner with him. There are no standards and nothing is too outrageous, as long as it means something to the artist. I am simply speculating about the art’s intentions; in reality, I have no idea. The intention lies with he who presents it, and the rest of us simply have to guess and take away from it what we will.
Personally, I’m not completely confident in my opinion of performance art. On one hand, I appreciate the freedom that it brings, the expression and symbolism it allows. But on the other hand, I don’t know that I want to pay to watch someone eat a banana. I absolutely believe that art can be found in everything, and that all people have different emotions and experiences while watching theatre. But I think I’d choose a play or a musical over a man whistling “Beat It” by Michael Jackson for an hour any day.