Any form of art which has writing as its central core and incorporates other artistic disciplines in a manner which is harmonious and beneficial to deeper understanding of the text. Text art has a distinct relationship to performance art. Performance art typically defines a performance discipline at it core and uses text tangentially or extraneously. However, text arts maintain the artistic integrity of the written word, while seeking ways to broaden its impact.
Examples of text art include:
plays or monologues
While many of the text arts above are subsumed into established artistic disciplines, they could exist on their own without those disciplines. A play can be read in book format. A poem can exist singly on the page. However, what enlivens both of these types of text is performance.
Why Create Yet Another Category?
The phrase text arts was coined by Christina Springer in response to insinuations that performance poetry was not literature. She also began to assert a new category because of a perception that performance poetry was not performance art. Her final motivation came when she noticed that certain types of writing were considered literature and other kinds of writing were relegated to other categories. For example, a granting agency has a panel for literature, but screenplays are asked to submit in the media category. Performance poets are invited to submit in interdisciplinary, however, the panel which judges the interdisciplinary applications made comments to performance poets that they should apply to the literature panel. Taking a clue from history, she coined a new phrase and began asserting it as a viable definition.
The definition of text art is in response to a prevailing notion in the art establishment that propagates an idea of high art and vernacular art. Springer found that it was easier to get funding to produce a show of text art, than it was to produce a poetry show. Text art seeks to break down the barrier between perceived need. When funders thought poetry, they thought podium, microphone, small stage. When funders thought text art, they thought sound engineer, lighting technician, large stage.
Interestingly enough, individual text artists still get penalized for crossing disciplines, even by the established performance art community. After almost 80 years of performance or interdisciplinary art from the Dadaists to the Happenings to the well funded video installations of Nam June Paik, clear definitions have been made. This is completely hilarious because the origins of cross disciplinary work are deeply rooted in challenging the arts establishment. Factors which contribute to this this new rigidity within the performance art community may include: increased acceptance of performance art, interdisciplinary artists becoming faculty members of universities and increased funding from granting agencies. The current drive for specialization is highly encouraged by the academy. For example, at one well known university, students in the computer science program are not allowed to take any classes outside of their specialty ….especially philosophy or fine arts. In English Departments across the country, Sonia Sanchez and Amiri Baraka are taught only as poets, not as playwrights or creative non fiction writers. Therefore, text art becomes a method of inviting people to think beyond narrow boundaries. It encourages people defy specialization. It promotes an idea that art is a fluid, changing thing. However, in pursuing this definition, it becomes critical to not make the same mistakes as the past and become the very thing you fought against.