Participatory Art

What is Participatory Art?

Participatory art, much like interactive art, engages the spectator to become a part of the artistic process in some way. Although, instead of interactive art, which uses audience interaction as a way to express the true meaning of the piece, participatory art engages the spectator to help complete the piece, almost making him or her the part of the artistic team.

The intent of participatory art is to challenge the way art is created and consumed in the West, in which a small class of professional artists make the art while the public takes on the role of consumers. Participatory art changes this dynamic by allowing the consumer to become a part of the creation.

Types of Participatory Art

Public art is a great example of participatory art. It brings together members of a community in order to create a large scale piece of art that multiple people contribute to. An example of public art would be a mural that students help design and paint, bringing in members to help shape what the final look and feel of the piece will ultimately be.

Folk and tribal art are generally considered to be types of participatory art because many members of a society or tribe take part in creating art. There is no distinction of who the “artist” is, and every member takes turns contributing, which helps to challenge the Western notion of an artist and the consumers of art.

Famous Participatory Artists and work

A famous example of participatory art is the Theatre of the Oppressed. Created by Augusto Boal in Brazil in the ’60s and then further expanded into Europe, the Theatre of the Oppressed allows the audience to become active, in turn transforming into “spect-actors” by exploring, analyzing, and altering their reality. The audience becomes both the spectator and the creator by participating in these pieces, thus bridging the gap between the audience and the artist.

In 1957 Allan Kaprow coined the phrase “happenings” to describe an event or art gathering with a select group of people that would get together to create art or performances. These “happenings” are often difficult to describe as each event would be completely different from one another. A “happening” of the same performance would have a different outcome every time because each event depends on the participation of the audience. These “happenings” were intended to break down the fourth wall between performer and spectator and create a sense of support instead of criticism. They also emphasized the organic connection to art and its environment, and were highly unpredictable as they had no set agenda or philosophy.