Is Shia LaBeouf a performance artist? Performance artists weigh in

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Image Credit: Alo Ceballos/FilmMagic

The latest in the Shia LaBeouf saga — you know, his string of recent plagiarism accusations (and admissions) — is the belief that the actor is simply a performance artist in the middle of his latest act. Therefore, his tweets, copied works, skywriting, etc., are all in the name of art.

Now, we have no idea whether there’s any truth to that theory, and considering LaBeouf has yet to confirm or deny this, we were left with only one thing to do: Ask bona fide performance artists their opinions. We emailed a handful of artists to ask two things:

1. Is this performance art?
Nate Hill: “I hate to sound like a cold fish, but usually performance artists will say it’s performance art. If they don’t say so then we have to play this guessing game. I suppose that ambiguity could be part of the art, but we’ll never know will we?? Lol.”

Ryan McNamara: “It’s common for performance artists to discover their craft when caught in a tangle of lies; that’s how I came to it as well.”

Man Bartlett: “Not really. But he’s starting a broad cultural discussion that needs to be had.”

Wafaa Bilal: “It’s all about intentionality. Art is about assigning a value to an act or a thing — performance art is no different. If he’s intentionally doing these things and assigning it the value of being performance art, then of course it is, what else could it be? Otherwise it would just be a publicity stunt.”

2. What is your review of Shia’s “art”?
Nate Hill: “It seems there is some exchange between the performance art world and the celebrity or acting world, and I don’t frown on that. Like James Franco, Lady Gaga, and Marina Abramovic. I think art is big enough for everyone! Sometimes it is just frustrating when we have to guess though, since art is usually designated by the maker.”

Ryan McNamara: “It is very in keeping with contemporary performance practice for LaBeouf to hire someone like a skywriter to do his apologizing for him, although I feel that this occasion asks for a more old-school approach, perhaps carving an apology letter in his chest with a deer antler.”

Man Bartlett: “Well, I asked my Twitter followers for their reviews so that I could plagiarize them, but they told me I should write it myself, so here goes: I think it’s sort of interesting, although LaBeouf’s actions read to me as bordering on trolling, which I’m not such a fan of. That said, the skywriting was a nice touch. It reminded me of a Bruce Nauman piece from a few years back called ‘LEAVE THE LAND ALONE,’ which used the same medium. Out of context it was just this weird cryptic message, much like LaBeouf’s skypology likely was to the large majority of people that saw it in person. But taken as part of a whole it’s a rather absurd gesture that is either totally unhinged, or really quite clever, depending on who you ask. Additionally, his appropriated apology tweets made me laugh in the context of cultural critique. They were very much of their time/generation. Ultimately though, LaBeouf’s actions here are only as interesting as the conversations that come about as a result of them. The fact that they were started at all is a positive thing. But if James Franco were to somehow get involved, that would be a totally different story. Like, next-level story. Wait, maybe this IS a James Franco performance already!? We’re f—ed. Confession: James Franco ghostwrote this.”

Wafaa Bilal: “Performance art is about engaging people. If what he’s doing is intentional, he’s doing a good job.”

What’s your vote, PopWatchers? Is LaBeouf in the midst of a great piece of performance art? Or did he just get caught?

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