1. Working Definition of Performance Art|
A performance art piece is an authentic action performed before an audience, framed as performance art, and belonging more readily to the performance art genre than to any other genres.
2. Identifying It: Performance Art is Performance Art
In performance art, a performance art action is framed as performance art, and not as drama, dance, music, "the performing arts", film, video, painting, sculpture, mime, poetry, spoken word, oratory, circus arts, etc., although these and other art elements may sometimes appear similar to performance art, and they can surely be appropriated by performance art.
Performance art has an art history with lineage and evolution. Mixing two genres together does not necessarily give rise to performance art. However, there is no "usual" means or technology for achieving expression in performance art. Where dance usually employs bodies, film usually employs light, and painting usually employs paint, performance art can employ anything, or re-work the means of other genres to Dadaist extremes like bodies through a projector.
More than any other performative art form, performance art is defined by the presence of a performer, an audience, and a performer's action. Dance doesn't require an audience for dancers to dance; drama doesn't need an audience for actors to act. Without an audience, however, performance art ceases, becoming just action.
Performance art is sometimes compared to Drama because both genres employ action, but often they are dissimilar. First, performance art often lacks "acting"—performers may not "pretend" to be characters in other times and places who convey stories. Performance artists may address the audience directly, eschewing the fourth wall. When performing, performance artists may use objects as expected like an actor, but also invent bizarre new uses for them: where an actor might drink from a water glass, the glass to a performance artist might be a car, for example, or a toilet, or the performer's mother, or all three, figuratively or literally, sabotaging Drama's formula of Aristotelian mimesis.
And unlike Drama, a performance art piece may
lack any conscious narrative. There may be no speech, gesture, or movement. If a performance artist
makes a voice like a chipmunk, the performer is not necessarily pretending
to be, or imitate, a chipmunk—it may simply be the performance artist
speaking like a chipmunk, or the chipmunk-speak may have
no consciously rational reason for being used at all—performance artists
have been known to recite incoherent texts for hours.