In performance art, the artist’s medium is the body, and the live actions he or she performs are the work of art. The term, used loosely at first, arose in the early 1960s as American practitioners sought a way to refer to and describe the many live events taking place at that time. Performance art usually consists of four elements: time, space, the performer’s body, and a relationship between audience and performer. Traditionally, the work is interdisciplinary, employing some other kind of visual art, video, sound, or props. Although performance art takes the form of live action, it has reached a large public audience through documentation of the performance.
To explore more, click on each artwork thumbnail, then click again on the larger image that appears in the box above.
An object used to aid or enhance a story or performance.
A term that emerged in the 1960s to describe a diverse range of live presentations by artists.
The materials used to create a work of art, and the categorization of art based on the materials used (for example, painting [or more specifically, watercolor], drawing, sculpture).
VIDEO: Marina Abramović: What is performance art?
Questions & Activities
Elements of Performance Art
Performance art usually consists of four elements: time, space, the performer’s body, and a relationship between audience and performer. Reflect on the work of the performance artists discussed in this section. Choose one of the performances and write four paragraphs, each describing how this artist’s work embodies these four elements.
Performance art takes the form of live action, but it has reached a large public audience through documentation of the performance. Now that you have explored performances by Abramović, Acconci, and Schneeman, consider how each artist chose to document their works. Does the documentation add anything to your understanding of the work? Would you change anything in the documentation of any of these works? Write a short essay (200 words or less) reflecting on these questions.