Participatory Art

Participatory art is an approach to making art in which the audience is engaged directly in the creative process, allowing them to become co-authors, editors, and observers of the work. Therefore,this type of art is incomplete without the viewers physical interaction. Its intent is to challenge the dominant form of making art in the West, in which a small class of professional artists make the art while the public takes on the role of passive observer or consumer, i.e., buying the work of the professionals in the marketplace. Commended works by advocates that popularized participatory art include Augusto Boal in his Theater of the oppressed, as well as Allan Kaprow in happenings.

Artwork that is interactive and participatory may be referred to as "participatory art;" it may also be categorized under terms including relational art, social practice, community art, and new genre public art.

Folk and tribal art are also considered to be "participatory art" in that many or all of the members of the society participate in the making of art. As the ethnomusicologist Bruno Nettl wrote, the tribal group "has no specialization or professionalization; its division of labor depends almost exclusively on sex and occasionally on age, and only rarely are certain individuals proficient in any technique to a distinctive degree ... the same songs are known by all the members of the group, and there is little specialization in composition, performance or instrument making.”

In the Fall/Winter issue of Oregon Humanities magazine, writer Eric Gold describes "an artistic tradition called 'social practice,' which refers to works of art in which the artist, audience, and their interactions with one another are the medium. While a painter uses pigment and canvas, and a sculptor wood or metal, the social practice artist often creates a scenario in which the audience is invited to participate. Although the results may be documented with photography, video, or otherwise, the artwork is really the interactions that emerge from the audience's engagement with the artist and the situation."


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