Theres a small contingent of artists who get together on alternate Tuesdays in one of several venues in Durango. Its mostly social: a few beers, something to eat, but also to be among others who understand what it means to be an artist. The group has no official name, and the number of people who show up varies from as few as five to as many as 20.
Most of the Tuesday discussions are about upcoming art events or exhibits to see, or occasionally someone brings a work in progress for peer feedback.
From time to time, a controversial issue is raised, and the conversation gets heated but never ends in blows such as happened in the 1950s at the Cedar Tavern in Greenwich Village. Thats when abstract expressionists such as Pollock, de Kooning, Rothko, Kline, Frankenthaler and Krazner would drink until closing time or be thrown out for unruly behavior.
A couple of weeks ago, the Tuesday topic of conversation was performance art: what it is and what it isnt. It seems performance art and the performing arts share similarities: They both are live, often are one-time events, and theres nothing for sale, per se. Both may require a ticket to attend and can include one or more participants using various props, object or equipment. Alas, the similarity tends to stop there.
As an art form, modern day performance art had its start in the 1960s with the Beat poets and musicians, but it also incorporated film and other visual art mediums. As the result of their ephemeral nature, they became known as happenings. The roots of performance art can be traced back many centuries, but its present incarnation stemmed from the Dadaists and the Bauhaus experimental theater workshops.
In its most successful format, performance art is social commentary, pure art so to speak, but then of course we are back to the question of what is art?
The recent Showcase of the Arts implied that art is ubiquitous and includes coffee and beer making, but then there is also the culinary art, or Zen and motorcycle maintenance, or the art of ... well fill in whatever you think fits. Just because a self-proclaimed artist calls an event art, does that make it so? The point is, If everything is art, says my sweetheart, than nothing is art, and perhaps she has a point.
Acts of self-mutilation in front of an audience such as Marina Abramovic cutting a pentagram into her stomach, or Chris Burdens 1971 Shoot, in which he was shot in his left arm by an assistant, can be interpreted as artistic statements of protest. In Burdens case, it was about both the war in Vietnam and the American right to bear arms.
Arguably, while the majority of people cant fathom why such an occurrence is called art, there probably were, and maybe still are, an equal number who dont get abstract art or didnt understand cubism or Impressionism. But then, by its very nature, art is subjective, and that is about as good a definition as you can ever expect.
Stew Mosberg is a freelance writer and has written about art regionally and nationally. Reach him at email@example.com.