James Franco digs performance art.
As if his mad actor, film director, screenwriter, film producer, author and painter skills weren’t enough to make me swoon already. Not to mention killer good looks. But back to the performance art.
In this online article from the Wall Street Journal, Franco details his love for performance art, and most importantly, agilely describes the eyebrow-raising artistic medium.
As the article mentions, performance art sprouts from the emphasis on process in art beginning early in the century. Franco mentions Jackson Pollock‘s paint splatter paintings in the 1950’s as the seed of performance art, where but I believe many are already lost by that point, whipping out the ol’ “my kid could do that” argument, so let’s back it up to impressionism instead.
The impressionists (mid 19th century) denote when Euro-centric paintings started to actually look like paintings instead of embellished mirrors of reality. Before then, many painters had gotten quite good at this game of trompe l’oeil, until a pesky new invention stole the deck and shuffled the cards: Photography. What painting was once best at, another could now to better in less time,skill, and money. This plunged painting into a serious existential crisis, forcing it to reinvent itself. What could it do best? What was unique about it? The answer was simple, really: The paint! In a sense, painting was freed by its new artistic sibling, because it no longer had to worry about trying to fool anyone. Painters were now proud of their paintstrokes, exotic colour choices and distorted perspectives, seen in works such as Vincent Van Gogh‘s, now all assertive qualities of paintings instead of lazy faults to hide.
We can get back to Jackson Pollock now, so fast forward 100 years. We are in the 1950’s, New York, New York. Art has been freed, period. The 20’s introduced the Dada and their conceptual art. Marcel Duchamp takes a urinal, flips it upside down on a stool, signs it and calls it art, because he beleives the idea to do so is the art. To this, Pollock pales in audacity. But the thing about Pollock’s art is this: Much of the art in his painting is defined by how he him lays the canvas on the ground, about how he waltzes obsessively over his art, energetically flinging, glooping and dripping of paints. Art can now be about the process.
Hi! You still here? Okay. Fast forward again. DZZZRRRRROOOP! 1960’s. Artists such as Yoko Ono (cut piece), Carolee Schneeman (interior scroll), Joseph Beuys (I like America and America likes me), Yayoi Kusama, and Allan Kaprow (happenings) make the process the into whole shabang. Live actions, non-actions and reactions are analysed, discussed and critiqued through the language of the Visual Arts, like one would talk about a Van Gogh or a Pollock, or perhaps more apt to comparison, to a Jean-Luc Godart film. In performance art, the process is the art, entirely.
Similarly to the performing arts, with performance art “you just had to be there, man”. A performance repeated will never be the same twice, because in another day and time brings inevitable changes in the performer, the audience, and the environment. There is often a great deal of control exerced during performances. The performer manipulates sets of conditions to impose on themselves or the audience (Abramovic, the artist is present). Whatever these conditions, it is ultimately about the experience. The context, the frame of the artwork, is life itself. Performance art is nearest and dearest to my heart as an artform because it packs the biggest punch to my life. Could you look away from Yoko Ono as strangers publicly cut her out of her clothes? Could you forget Carolee Scheeman pulling out a scroll from her vagina to read it? Art should jolt you out of contemplancy and make you question your perception of reality. We live by a set of rules and expectations. On the busy subway, you ignore the stranger’s shoulder, the other’s arm, and that lady’s big butt grazzing suffocating your body. Every night around the same time, you brush your teeth ritualistically. What is art if you can’t apply it to life? With performance art, the two are one of the same.
So James, hats off to you. It is a delight to see a celeb with as much brains as brawns who uses his spotlight to bring light to a phenomenonal medium, often phenomenally misunderstood and under-appreciated. Oh. And he chit-chats on video with none other than grand mother of performance art, Marina Abramovic. No biggie, right? No biggie.