Performance Art · Recorded Art

Performance Art: works of art that unfold through linear time.

Recorded Art: works of art that can be explored in their entirety at any point in time.

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Categorising art in this way helps me consider its nature and reach.

When art began to emerge it was experienced as so valuable that it was committed to and passed on by memory, and through ritual. The aural tradition of story telling is an example of this evolution.

Examples of Performance Art are dance, opera, and drama. These art forms can be recorded, but any such recording would be of a particular live performance. Performance Art always unfolds in a linear time frame, and travels from the artwork's beginning, to its end.

Some art, like film, is only available as a recorded medium which might appear puzzling given its nature is fundamentally one of Performance Art (it takes a precise time frame to exist). Although film often plays with time by speeding it up, slowing it down, or repeating an event, these cuts and edits are experienced as a single entity (the film). With digital film, the audience has the choice of when to start, pause, and continue, but despite these decisions, the film continues to require its period of time to become. So although film is shared almost exclusively in the digital realm as a recorded medium (on disk, as a digital file, or via a streaming service), like music and dance, it is not available to experience all at once.

With recorded art, the whole work of art is available to experience the moment we come across it. Examples of recorded art include painting, photography, and sculpture. A painting for example is complete, but it still takes time to experience. In contrast, music, or a dance, require time to unfold: they are only 'complete' when experienced through time from their start to end.

Like film, music might also be viewed of as both performance, and recorded art. Taking my own music as an example. I compose music that is only available as a recorded medium (a digital audio file). It is not performed in a live context, however it is created using my performances. Performing the works I create in a live setting would however pose challenges because of its nature, my compositional method, and the sounds I use. Music is a performance art because, like film and dance, music requires time to exist, no matter whether it is performed or recorded.

The term 'Performance Art' is also used by art critics, art institutions and academies to describe an event when an artist uses their body and/or the bodies of others, or objects, that interact with an audience to express ideas. Live performance in this context acts as a linear medium. My personal view is that this is essentially conceptual art, in that ideas assume pre-eminence over any aesthetic experience, and that the evidence of craft is obscure, and often absent altogether. Performance and ideas do not by themselves define art, and I sense this is why so many feel bemused, dislocated, and unconvinced when exposed to it.

Literature is different. When I hold a book, the complete work of literature is in my hands. It is a recorded artwork. A work of literature requires time for me to read, but just like the painting, the whole work is there for me to discover from the moment I come into contact with it. Perhaps it is helpful to consider the difference between words and music notation to illustrate the difference in the nature of music and literature.

Notated music is a guide that helps musicians remember and perform sounds, but this written music is not equivalent to words (on a page, spoken, or sung). Without words there is no literature. The same is not true for musical notation. Sounds in time exist without music notation...

Perhaps poetry falls into both categories of performance art and recorded art. A poem may be spontaneously performed to an audience and heard only once, or a poem could be complete, recorded then read over multiple time lines. If I wish to discover a poem in reverse, or skip lines, or read in any other unconventional or experimental way, I have the option to do so. The power to experience art is often in our hands...

The Craft of Art