Types of Performance Art

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  • 0:00 Performance Art
  • 0:28 Language-Based
  • 2:30 Music-Based
  • 3:43 Other Forms
  • 5:01 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Della McGuire

Della has been teaching secondary and adult education for over 20 years. She holds a BS in Sociology, MEd in Reading, and is ABD on the MComm in Storytelling.

In this video, we'll discuss a variety of different kinds of performance art in terms of their purpose, style and theme and the media used, along with the location or size of the audience. After, check your new knowledge with the quiz questions.

Performance Art

Performance art comes in a variety of forms, based on language, music, and live arts. Regardless of the media, purpose, theme, style, location, or size of the audience, performance art can contribute to culture, create community, and provide outlets for expression. Let's take a look at some of the different kinds of performance art and see how they are alike and different.


Poetry may be performed for an audience using original or published works. The Beat Generation of the late fifties ushered in a revitalization of the cafe poetry readings popular during the Enlightenment Age. Technology and easy access of self-publishing digital media has led to a poetry renaissance in online cafes and chat rooms. Poetry usually relies on classical rules of structure and critical analysis.

Spoken word is sometimes similar to poetry in its focus on cadence and rhythm. For example, preachers use the spoken word during sermons, while protesters use the spoken word at rallies, both generating compelling support for their causes. Often, the spoken word form of a digital podcast or video is used to share a monologue or a speech with a larger audience. As purists like to distinguish between classical poetry proper and the modern adaptations that break most of the traditional rules, the spoken word differentiates from poetry.

Storytelling is one of the oldest means by which people communicate. The human brain processes information by putting it into a story. Programs, like The Moth and Ted Talks, have highlighted the universal love of sharing stories. Storytelling may be done in a variety of places, like an auditorium or theater, a classroom or library, a small group or church, a coffee house, or under a tent at a festival.

Protest as performance art has been an effective means of change since the cultural revolution of the 1960s. Frequently, an artist performance is done solely for the purpose of advocating for a cause. For example, in 2004 Chinese protesters seeking religious freedom dressed as prison guards in New York. Their protester allies lay in a cage at their feet, mirroring the conditions of that religious practitioners.


Theater-based performance art includes dramatic plays, improvisations, or musical theater. Some theatrical presentations are new and original, while others have been performed for centuries. Often, these older plays make for popular modern adaptations, with Shakespearean comedies and tragedies serving as some of the most popular translations for modern audiences. While theatrical productions can involve a large cast and crew, other forms of performance art may be more easily accomplished by individual performers.

Music can be performed individually or with a group of any size, comes in several genres, and dates back to the dawn of humankind. Before people could speak, they communicated by singing, which to the modern ear might sound like yelling. Music may or may not involve instruments. A capella music is singing that is not accompanied by musical instruments.

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