Blogging as Performance Art

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Jon Husband has picked up an interesting concept from Evelyn Rodriguez and Matthew Dallman: that blogging could be considered a form of performance art. This has a kind of ego-stroking visceral appeal to bloggers (it sure beats the mainstream media depiction of bloggers as ‘a million guys in pajamas’). But does ‘performance art’ actually describe what we do?

Go through the history of the terms ‘performance art’ and ‘performing arts’ and you’ll quickly end up in a quagmire: There is no consensus on what these terms mean and what they include and exclude. So let’s go back to the roots and discover what the words originally meant:

perform = to give what is needed through some means or vehicle
art = an imitation or reflection of nature, life or reality

The first definition explains why we use the term ‘perform surgery’ ñ a performance can as easily be scientific or religious (‘perform a ritual’) as artistic. The only requirements for performance are that the actions fill a need and that they do so in an intermediated way, through the body or some other ‘medium’. And that need can be a personal one rather than one for an audience: one might even wryly describe masturbation as ‘solo performance art’.

By these criteria blogging certainly qualifies as performance, even more than most less-interactive forms of journalism. And there is no question that all forms of writing qualify as art by the second definition. So blogging is a form of performance or performing art. Arguably, as Evelyn points out, so is participation in World of Warcraft or Second Life. Even masks, piercings, clothing, and body painting meet the above definitions of performance art.

What does it mean to say that blogging is a performance, or performing, art form?

Most performance/performing art is narrative: Blogs, like most music, films, interactive writing, and for that matter most theatre, often tell or retell (artistically) stories. I have argued that blogging is a form of conversation, with unequal roles for, but a tacit contract with, the audience, the other participants in the performance.

But “theatre isn’t about narrative, narrative isn’t necessary”, quotes Evelyn. So performance art need not be narrative, provided it meets a need. She argues that performance art should be participatory ñ it needs to engage the intellect, the emotions, and/or the senses ñ and blogging can do that.

Matthew Dallman goes further, arguing that blogging is “a vehicle for the emergence of informed intuition”. Between these two definitions, the four Jungian forms of knowledge and learning are represented: intellectual, emotional, sensory and intuitive. And I’ve argued before that good presentations (another form of narrative performance art) can be either informative or entertaining. So it seems as if the ‘what is needed’ that is provided by performance art can be either (a) the acquisition of knowledge or appreciation, or (b) diversion or pleasure. In so doing it does not have to be either narrative or participatory.

In that respect, blogging is no different from any other performance art: What fills person A’s needs may not do it for person B, and vice versa. Its ‘success’ at filling a need is a function of the needs, openness and capacity of the audience to get value from the presentation: How ready, willing and able they are to appreciate the performance’s message.

I would argue that the greater the participation of the audience (even to the point the roles of performer and audience get blurred), the more receptive the audience becomes to the performance’s meaning and value. For example, a good novel will get the reader caught up in the story to the point that s/he becomes a participant in it ñ and imagines himself or herself there. Except when they too tell stories, this is very hard to do in blogging.

Fortunately for bloggers who aren’t good at storytelling, there are simpler ways for a performance to succeed. Give me a useful take-away that I can relate to my own experiences, and you’ve succeeded in giving me what I need, and I’ll applaud the performance. Example: In Evelyn’s bio she quotes Goethe:

If you must tell me your opinions, tell me what you believe in. I have plenty of doubts of my own.

This is brilliant advice for bloggers, in one terse sentence. By including it prominently in her blog, Evelyn shows herself to be an accomplished performance artist. That may have something to do with the fact that Goethe was a genius. Or it may have something to do with the fact that I am ‘ready’ for this message, that it resonates with my worldview and that it meetsa need of the moment. Why she succeeds doesn’t matter. As bloggers, our job is simply to perform, to practice our art in public. Any applause is just a bonus.

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2 Responses to Blogging as Performance Art

  1. etbnc says:

    A maintenance note: the link to returns an error, at least for me: “access from has been denied”I’m tempted to riff a bit about whether that observation also counts as an opinion, a belief, or a doubt. After trying it out, however, I think my little skit might need some work before it’s performed on street corners or blog comments. Cheers

  2. Meg says:

    I think blogging is too diverse and varied an activity to be called anything but “blogging.” Hence why a new word sprang up to describe it. Is posting random links art? Maybe.Is posting about your goiter art? Maybe. Is posting marketing items to increase your website SEO art? Maybe. Is putting up pictures of your grandkids art? Maybe. Is putting up quizzes art? Maybe. But genuinely, I think it can’t really be placed in terms we currently possess.

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