Performance Art Criticism

By Green, Gaye Leigh | School Arts, December 1996 | Go to article overview

Performance Art Criticism


Green, Gaye Leigh, School Arts


Art criticism has been defined as "talking and writing" about art. While learning how to talk and write about art are the standard components of a successful art criticism program, I suggest that there are performance activities through which works of art can be understood and appreciated. These modes of inquiry are endeavors that involve critical thinking skills, such as analysis, application, and evaluation, and that constitute not only the interpretation of works of art but also necessitate using this information to create a critical work.

Consider, for example, two ways in which works by William Wegman were interpreted through performance activities. A consummate photographer, Wegman is best known for the photographs in which he poses his dogs in various situations, disguises, and settings. While the photographs are typically humorous and comical, their content often belies more serious social commentary.

Remaking a Theme

We began the lesson by viewing a series of Wegman's photographs taken of his dogs Man Ray and Fay Ray. We discussed the thematic nature of the works, their formal qualities, how the works were created, and their position within an art historical context.

Next, I introduced a plastic bag of stuffed animals and a series of reproductions of Wegman's dogs. The toys I displayed were a menagerie of pink elephants, multicolored dinosaurs, panting dogs, and grinning teddy bears. After the laughter subsided, I set the task for the students, to choose a reproduction by Wegman and one of the stuffed animals. Using the two items, the students were to create a scene that exemplified the theme they believed was expressed by the photograph. They could use any props and location around the school and had one hour to conceptualize a representation of the theme. After they had created their reenactment, I photographed their presentations.

Wegman-lnspired Works

Needless to say, the variety of ideas was endless. The first example involved a pink and green dinosaur, who when squeezed emitted a soft roar. To interpret Arithmetic, a photograph by Wegman that features a forlorn looking dog placed in front of a chalkboard upon which is written 1 + 6 + 3 + 8 = 16, the students placed a toy Brontosaurus on a classroom stool. …

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