It’s TIME we look at advertising as a performance art. Or an act.

by greg stene, phd

We cannot continue to think of advertising as merely a print ad or TV spot. We need to include far more as advertising … including the actions of people and corporations.

Their Performance Art. And in contrast, their Performance Acts.

Real Performance Art is not just some dude dancing in a street. Or some Laurie Anderson musical performance. Or some geek sitting around reciting poetry that shows up on an HDTV screen in front of him in a restaurant while he’s eating raw buffalo meat.

Performance Art should also be considered the public’s encounter with the end-result of the artist’s work. The thing the academics call the artifact. It’s the Jackson Pollack painting. It’s the film by Coppola. It’s the painting by your kid on the fridge.

The performance of the painting, the film … has not become dead merely because the creation of the art has stopped. The creation of the art, the Performance Art, actually continues in true post-modern fashion, in the meaning-making in the eyes and minds of the viewers.

Performance Art (though you won’t see this definition in the text books), is art done with passion for doing the art. Or the passion in the viewer’s mind in the encounter with the art. The advertising of the art is a natural byproduct of the engagement. We tell others to visit a gallery, see a movie, read a book.

In contrast, a Performance Act (definition also not in any book) is the performance done deliberately with the advertising message as the desired outcome.

Performance Act is the politicians’ vapid smiles as they walk across a stage and wave at us. It’s the F1 and NASCAR racers who forgot why they began to race in the first place [when all they knew was the pure fun of taking a corner in go-cart] and replaced that passion with a bland dedication to the business of the job. It’s the business leaders who truly got into it for the passion of the vision and the idea of leading others to self-realization – replaced by single-minded greedhead negotiations to make multiple millions in their executive positions and damn the corporation, employees, and stockholders as their gather up their Golden Parachute from the jump.

In the end, Performance Art and Performance Act can both be seen as nothing more than advertising about what they are by the process of the performance. It’s just that Performance Art is indeed, art.

Where’s this going? TIME Magazine.

The April 14, 2008 issue, page 53. The issue with the Pope on the cover. In it, Time celebrates its 85th anniversary/birthday and engages in full Performance Act in the introduction to their celebratory article, “The 85 Years of TIME.”

The introduction reads in part … “[TIME’s] history is a vital part of who we are. We have been explaining the world for our readers since 1923, converting confusion into clarity, information into knowledge – and people trust us to do it fairly. … As ever, TIME is of the essence.”

A clean Performance Act. It’s advertising completely devoid of the passion for the journalism that would make it a Performance Art.

But what’s worse is the advertising of themselves as the arbiter of our social consciousness, social conscience, and social knowledge. TIME claims to have “convert[ed] confusion into clarity, information into knowledge.” Apparently our tiny little minds have been unable to cope alone, and the alchemist named TIME has accomplished the intellectual’s clichéd equivalent of turning mere information into the Philosopher’s Stone of knowledge.


TIME has brought us one version of the news. That is what they have done, but we must give them credit for that. And credit for some incredible photography.

In the end though, it is we, as a people, who have been the real arbiters of that information. The True Alchemists. We, as people, became the Performance Artists as we balanced information from a variety of sources, not TIME alone, and made our own reality.

TIME’s celebration of itself as arbiter of society’s knowledge appeared to show an institution unable to come to grips with the fact that we live in a postmodern world where the major corporations no longer define that world.

We, the people, are the ones who truly define our world. Not TIME, or any other corporation.

Oh, they may own the world. But no matter what they control, they do not own how we think about it all.

TIME, in a prime example of an advertising-driven Performance Act, showed its editorial irrelevance to the world on the celebration of its birthday in a sadly ironic attempt to claim relevance.

And at the same time, the public engaged in some essential Performance Art of its own and ignored them. At least, I don’t know of anyone who showed up for the birthday party.

Greg Stene has a hard decade in the advertising business as a copywriter/creative and strategist. He’s seen money well-spent, and money wasted. He knows what makes for the difference. He also teaches advertising at Wichita State University, with a total of 10 years or so in university teaching. His research specialty is in creativity. His wife’s an award-winning graphic designer, and as a team, they’re a creative/strategist boutique in traditional and new media.

E-mail Greg here.

3 replies »

  1. We the people may define our world, but the reality we construct and through which we mediate the media is a relational reality. In other words, a person’s relationship to TIME is what constructs reality, not TIME or people in their own abstracted realm.

  2. As a union-card-carrying-performance-artist-turned-big-business-puke, I either disagree with your definitions (I’m pretty certain I do) or don’t fully understand them. You seem to want to relegate the real performance artist, the actor, musician, storyteller, etc. to some cramped corner of … what … advertising? So, the passionate advertising copywriter who produced Mr. Whipple is a performance artist, but Brando’s portrayal of Stanley Kowalski is merely a “performance act”?

    Wow. The grandeur of advertising.