The Top 3 Reasons I am a Performance Artist

As I’m rubbing the sleep out of my eyes and waking up enough to write coherently, I’m becoming aware of how much my body aches.  Last night I performed two physically demanding pieces.  In one I play a violent game of Duck, Duck, Goose and smash pottery with a hammer, and in the other I climb and dangle from a rope while wrapped in a bedsheet that I paint from the inside using my whole body.

God help me, it always sounds so crazy when I put it into words.  Why do I work in performance art?

The first time I learned about performance art (as an undergrad studying art), my initial reaction was pretty much this:
But then I saw some work by Janine Antoni and it lodged itself in my brain.  I found her pieces Loving Care, Lick and Lather, and Touch especially beautiful.  In contrast to her gentle work, I was also inspired (albeit shocked and terrified) by the work of Marina Abromavic, the grandmother of performance art whom you may watch Lady Gaga drool over on Youtube.  I discovered in a sculpture class that I wanted to be literally inside my artwork, so I began creating artwork for critique that housed my body.  I then became confident enough to strip away the elements of sculpture and work with my body instead.

I could attack and defend performance art as a medium all day, but more concretely, I want to consider why it’s the one I consistently use.  SPOILER ALERT:  I am not a badass.  These reasons are not hardcore, lofty, or mind blowing.  They are pretty honest, and maybe even a little embarrassing.


1.  I love preparing for my work.  It gives me an excuse to daydream.  I painstakingly select my materials and go over every detail to ensure that it makes sense with my vision.  This preparation gives me opportunities to philosophize, solve problems creatively, and develop a sense of playfulness and wonder about life.  Also, if I set a date for a piece, I am forced to follow through.  I find it difficult to allow myself time to create, and I am more motivated by a social obligation with a deadline than my raw drive to make stuff.

2.  I am an introvert, and performance art allows me to share deeply personal thoughts and emotions with others in way that is comfortable for me.  I feel safe when my work is complex enough to provide some space between my viewers and my own heart/mind/soul.  But I enjoy my work when it is also clear enough to engage viewers in personally meaningful ways.

3.  When it’s gone, it’s gone.  Because I am highly critical and growth oriented, it’s often not helpful for me to look back on my old work.  I am acutely aware of my mistakes and can relate to art student owl on this one:
I’m sure other artists with old sketchbooks know the horror of flipping through old work…  With performance art, I am never haunted by a single poorly executed image.  I can sleep easy knowing that I don’t have terrible work that someone paid good money for hanging in their living room.  While I document each piece and reflect on what I can do better next time, there is SO MUCH freedom in being able to move on as soon as a work is finished.  It also helps that I value intangible things way more than tangible things. ❤


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