Why is it important to study the different periods and performance venues in the arts?

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When you are studying any form of performance art, you are studying something that is embedded in a context. Without knowing something about that period and context, it is difficult to understand a work of art.

One of the major difficulties with studying performance is that, paradoxically, with a very...

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When you are studying any form of performance art, you are studying something that is embedded in a context. Without knowing something about that period and context, it is difficult to understand a work of art.

One of the major difficulties with studying performance is that, paradoxically, with a very limited number of exceptions, we are not actually studying the performance. For example, when you study Antigone in a classroom, you are reading a book containing an English translation of a Greek text. Antigone, however, was not written in English and was experienced by its original audience not as a text but as a performance. If you watch a video of Antigone, you are experiencing a medium that was invented over 2,000 years after the death of the playwright Sophocles. Moreover, 21st century interpretations may be very different from the original staging. Many of the gender issues in both ancient and Elizabethan drama were affected by the fact that female characters were played by male actors.

Even if your interest is only in contemporary performance theory, many of the traditions of modern performance are grounded in historical traditions. For example, it is difficult to understand the notion of "breaking the fourth wall" unless you have a sense of how the proscenium arch evolved and the development first of realism in drama and then the rebellion against it.

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The "arts" can be understood as a loose humanities term that encapsulates dance, theater, music, opera, the visual arts, and many other disciplines and mediums. While it is important to define the arts as a whole, definitions of the arts are derived from the venues, artists, and movements that have occurred throughout the history of the arts. 

Historians create their narratives of art forms, whether it be Japanese theater or country music, by looking at the movements and venues that have defined them. For example, hip hop cannot be understood without looking at the city of New York, as well as the venues and block parties that allowed the art form to flourish in the 1970s. 

In summary, periods and performance venues are important to study because they are the points of reference used to describe the arts. Discussing periods and performance venues when discussing the arts allows a tangible and grounded conversation, as opposed to a vague and general conversation. 

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