The Performance Art course is a fun and beneficial elective for Beacon College students, particularly those who are either pursuing a minor in Art or are interested in the pending Studio Art major. While elements of this art form have been incorporated in other art courses, this summer course was the first to be devoted solely to this artistic medium. Performance art resists definition, but is broadly considered a form of contemporary art in which meaning is created through incorporating real life into the work and envisioning the reaction/ interpretation of the audience.
Students in this class are given ample opportunity to create performance pieces and have them critiqued by both professors and peers. For their first assignment, students were expected to ruminate on the concept of “nothing” in relation to art. They were asked to imagine losing everything and being left with only themselves as a possible artistic medium, with performance thus becoming the only viable option for creating art. Students were required to develop a plan for a performance, actually perform and document it, and draft an artist statement reflecting their creative intentions.
For the first critique, students revealed their documentation, read their artist statement, and listened to feedback from the class. Everything from the artistic concept to the writer’s statement to the actual performance were evaluated. Ultimately, each student had to determine whether or not their piece could be considered a performance and, if so, if it was a successful one. Students in this course are challenged to consider concepts such as authenticity when determining whether a piece should be considered performance. The artist statement is an integral component, combining with the performance to create a cohesive artistic work. Writing one provides good experience, as this is required for exhibitions, grants, or other submissions of works of art. All of the elements had to work together to create a unified piece in order for it to be deemed a success. This first assignment helped students recognize the unpredictable nature of performance and the necessity of effectively predicting audience reaction.
For this particular assignment, students took the idea of “nothing” and turned this into concepts ranging from the idea of labeling/categorizing to that of hiding from fears. One student addressed the notion of emptiness and apathy by opening an empty box, the box acting as a metaphor for the emptiness within herself. Another taped the class secretly, wondering if trivial incidents would take on greater significance once the class viewed them. The performance deemed most successful by the entire class revolved around the desire to blend into one’s surroundings, to disappear. Over the course of a 45 minute performance, the student painted a wall white and proceeded to, little by little, paint himself as well, eventually “disappearing” into the canvas. Everyone found the tape engaging and meaningful, and all agreed this would work well as a live performance.
The Performance Art course introduces students to another possibility for artistic expression. According to Russ Bellamy, Art Assistant Professor, this course provides a “new medium for creative art and philosophical creation.” Students support this notion. Regarding the course, Hadiyah Lewis says, “It’s challenging, but it’s really exciting and also enlightening in a way.” Hannah Walk declares, “Performance art is very different from a lot of the other media we are learning because it gives us more opportunities for self-exploration and commentary.” Students will invariably leave the course with another option for expressing what they want to say in a unique and meaningful way.
~ Gretchen Dreimiller