Along my journey I have seen many different forms of theatre, as well as many different forms of visual art. Yet the differences between the two begin to fade when you encounter performance art, and avant guarde theatre, let alone spontaneous public work. So is there really any difference? When you get down to the roots of it, not really.
Art is creative expression. Theatre is a performed narrative. These are the nut-shell definitions. But these definitions intertwine, and create a grey area. The line between visual art and theatre is painfully thin. In many ways theatre is a form of art. It is creative expression. On the flip side, art also maintains theatricality in production and presentation.
Society is comfortable with classifying things in order to better understand them. Often times visual art is classified as that which is in a gallery, or museum, and theatre is classified as that which is on a stage. However it is not that simple.
Looking back at the Prague exhibition floor, I remember all the national exhibits, and how they were displaying “theatre”. In reality what they were displaying were photographs, model sculptures, textiles, and various other artifacts. All of these pictures and items were taken out of the context of their story to be presented at the national exhibits, and in this way they became visual art.
Theatre as a whole is a narrative in motion, yet the pieces and parts that make up this narrative are works of art.
This concept is reinforced by the fact that scenic models and costume renderings were on display at the Prague National Modern Art Museum, as works of art.
The concept of the stage also has many pit falls. What is a stage? Is it a frame through which we see a picture? A platform? A venue with an audience? In this regard museums are stages for visual art.
You can take a work of art, and develop it into a narrative, a montage, or a dialogue – in this sense it develops a theatricality about it, which can be classified as theatre.
The narrative does not have to be in motion, it can be in how the audience reacts to it. This is best exemplified in John Cage’s 4’33″, where a musician enters the stage and performs the piece for precisely 4minutes and 33 seconds. While no actual notes are played it is the sounds of the audience that creates the piece. Similarly the reactions to visual art maintain this same sense of theatricality. The narrative and movement are not as obvious as they are in theatre, however a dialogue exists either way.
There is no form of art that breaks the lines of classification as abruptly as public art. True, art is in the name yet it is neither on a stage nor in a frame. The term public art classifies all works of art found outside an established museum, gallery, or theatre. You find it on the streets, in schools, hospitals, parks, abandoned buildings, etc.
Often times public art is commissioned by the government, however today we see a lot of public art that is installed spontaneously by the artist or artists involved. Some may call this graffiti, street theatre, performance art, renegade artists, protests, even advertisements are a form of public art.
Public art responds to a public, either to inform, disturb, critique, or simply to get one to THINK.
No matter how you look at it public art is produced by the public, for the public. It is a direct relation to the population that lives there, usually incorporating site specificity to enhance how rooted this work is to the locale and people that live there.
What I mentioned earlier about John Cage’s 4’33″, is essential to understanding how public art thrives or dies in a society. The way public art responds to an environment impacts the people living there – and the response of that public to the artwork is as important as the artwork itself.
My public theatre piece that was part of Six Acts blends all lines of classification. It was a spectacle, a moving artwork responding to the Fransican Garden. Similarly the public art I saw in both Berlin and Konstanz served to enrich the lives of the people that live there, while giving them a hint of the history the city was founded upon.
Public art, good or bad, shapes a society. It defines locations, such as the Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty, and in smaller venues such as the Astronomical Clock of Prague, churches have been using public art for years to maintain an identity with saints and angels, the Berlin Wall, and in Konstanz we have our fountains.
Visual art and theatre also come from society, they are created and performed for a society. To enrich lives and open eyes.
While society tries to differentiate visual art and theatre by their context, public art finds its context in society thus creating the synthesis of all art forms – creative communication – straight to the public, whether they want to be impacted by it or not.