Staging Professionalization

“Staging Professionalization: Lecture-Performances and Para-Institutional Pedagogies, From the Postwar to the Present.”

For Performance Research Journal 21.6, “On Radical Education

The institutionally accredited artist—professionalized to a high-gloss finish and trained to exhibit bravura fluency in scholarly discourse—first appeared on the scene in the 1960s, a standardized product of research-based graduate education and the newly-popularized M.F.A. degree. Coding oneself as an artist in this climate became synonymous with internalizing the codes of formalized arts education. In a reaction to the shift toward compulsory academicization, radical pedagogical formats proliferated in artistic output of the 1960s. At precisely this moment, the lecture-performance emerged as a vital aesthetic form. Throughout the decade, artists mobilized the format to imagine how knowledge might be produced and disseminated outside the academy: within alternative institutional frameworks, beyond authorized communicative forms, and through embodied modes of performativity.

Bringing its hitherto nebulous history into focus, this essay traces the deployment of the lecture-performance by postwar artists, contending that the origins of the format lie in their critical responses to the university and the impetus to translate their studio output into streamlined verbal discourse. Recent shifts in the academy and the post-Fordist conversion of the educator into a manager of “knowledge assets” demand that we revisit these early pedagogical experiments with ever-greater urgency. Looking backward toward lecture-performances of the postwar period, this essay charts possibilities for radical modes of knowledge production, performative pedagogy, and zones of resistance in the present.