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How to Write About Performance Art Correctly

How to Write About Performance Art Correctly

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Photo of Performance Art, Nyugen Smith
Photo of Performance Artist, Nyugen Smith

Why is it that I see writers go on and on about a work of performance art without speaking to the artists? If they were covering a painter a studio visit would be in order. Performance art is more direct and deserves a direct approach for its review. And, please know that cruising performance on the internet is not full investigation of the work, unless of course you are going to write about how a piece lives on the internet, not what you think it is in real life.

I need writers to get smarter about writing about their friends work as well. Especially the pieces they have not seen. YES, you have seen your friends work many times before but let’s not get lazy and write about an experience you didn’t have just because you want to promote your friend. And, on the reverse end of that, lets write about work that is of interest regardless of friendships. Write about a performance scene that is outside of your normal aesthetic. Visit that scene regularly. Delight as you watch artists make breakthroughs in their work. Learn and judge the entire body of work not just the one piece. I know this last one won’t always be possible but I think it should be the ideal.

If you did not see all of the work, you didn’t. I don’t care of it is durational. Don’t write about it as though it has been fully investigated if you only saw the first half. No one reviews half of a painting. (Although that would be fun to see!) Perhaps time won’t allow a writer to give 3 hours to viewing one piece. Acknowledge that you only saw the first half when you write about it.

Lastly, I need the writers of performers to become a little more savvy regarding artist documentation. Stop being seduced by a good photo. Sometimes the documentation is better than the actual work. Experience the work in person and if it holds up to the photos, that’s great. If it is better than what is depicted in video/photo documentation, even better.

Let’s set the overall bar higher for the coverage of this genre.

Editor’s Note: online publications getting it right–aside from us of course-

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