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The twenty-first century will be the century of play
Brian Sutton-Smith
Art—Action and Participation
By Ernst Lurker
In 1968, Frank Popper’s "Origins and Development of Kinetic Art" appeared in the English translation. It was considered the most comprehensive study of this art form.

The title Art – Action and Participation appeared later in 1975 with a number of overlaps of these two studies as the term "action" refers primarily to the kinetic elements in art. However, by then these elements had penetrated almost all disciplines of the avant-garde. Only a partial list includes architecture, Dada, Constructivism, Action Painting, Environmental Art, Conceptual Art, Process Art, Body art, New Media and Multi-Media, happenings and events, even poetry, theater, music, ballet, photography, cinema and video art. Many of these media merged and became "polysensorial and polyartistic spectacles".

According to Popper "…underlying all these manifestations is the definite wish to involve the spectator both actively and totally in the event." He labeled this new activity of the public "spectator participation," and he uses it almost exclusively throughout the book.

A critical theme is introduced when Popper speaks of the "progressive liberation of the spectator from mere participation to creative action." In fact, he commits an entire chapter to this idea; however, he only deals with superficial and unsatisfactory concepts. He mentions Homo Faber but not Homo Ludens. The entire principle of the book becomes uncertain when he speaks of the "realistic observation that people refuse to participate." Critical bystanders and busy passers-by are generally not inclined to get involved in a sporadic art event. They are often inhibited and dismissive of such productions and in order to overcome such obstacles, these people need to adapt a playful mindset. This mindset needs to be skillfully facilitated and the issue of play needs to be brought into the foreground. There is nothing gained by avoiding the subject or even the term itself. In this respect, Popper seems to be a victim of prevailing attitudes, very much like the majority of our society.

He uses the words "play" or "playful" extremely sparingly and usually substitutes them with the Latin "ludic". Occasionally he quotes artists with expressions such as "play objects" or "play elements". He is not at all familiar with the term "PlayArt". Nevertheless, up until 1975, his study can be regarded as the authoritative precursor of any writings about PlayArt. The index contains 1,325 names, a sizeable number for two contested and often ignored trends in modern art.

Ernst Lurker,

Brian Sutton-Smith  |  Our Playful Culture  |  Museum Animation  |  PlayArt’s Cool Factor  |  Culture and Play in the Emirates

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