Thursday, September 3, 2009

Cartoons as Performance Art

by Drew Martin

I am a cartoonist; therefore I am a performance artist. I create characters who perform a specific act to make you think differently about yourself and the world around you. The action begins when you look on and ends when you turn away. Even though there is no audio, you know what the characters’ voices sound like just as you know what they have been up to and what they are going to do because a cartoon does not dictate a situation; it asks you to get involved in the action and to add colors, dialogue, motion and a story. Most importantly, a cartoon is the original performance. It is not a recording of a past event captured in video, photography or writing.

The energy of a cartoon is not in the creation of the image but in the conception of the characters, which is why it has as much to do with biology, anthropology and psychology as the arts. Additionally, a cartoon does not lose much value and quality when it is reproduced so it will provide the viewer as similar an experience on paper as it does online. This is because of its immediacy, which transcends the medium. It is pure, cerebral information. Since cartoons are in the family of drawing, the proposition of cartoons as performance art raises an interesting question of the performance value of any medium. Certainly we understand the performance in the creation of certain works, such as Jackson Pollock’s action paintings but which painter for example starts with a completed painting as the beginning of a performance? Edward Hopper was the master of this because his paintings set the stage for action to take place. Cindy Sherman’s photography includes mock film stills with her posed on the cusp of drama. Andy Warhol’s Sleep brings the viewer bedside to watch a man in slumber for eight hours. Stan Brakhage’s films are so experimental you feel that you are witnessing a moment of creation. Alexander Calder broke the mold of sculpture with the invention of the mobile and other kinetic sculpture, which react to real-time influence of air movements and gravity.

For anyone interested in performance art, it is important to survey all media through the lens of performance value and discover which writings, photographs and other creations are merely recordings of performance and which are in and of themselves performances. For the artist, filmmaker and writer this understanding is essential to create work with temporal quality.