The first forms of performance art began in the Middle Ages, in the forms of itinerant poets such asminstrels, troubadours, bards, and in some cases jesters. These were artists who often composed and performed their own works. In the case of minstrels, their poems were often composed spontaneously, and bore direct relevance to the audience and their society. thus, they constituted an early form of performance art. This evolved into various forms in various cultures, such as Commedia dell'arte in Italy, pantomime in Great Britain, mime artists (which are quite distinct from pantomime), harlequinade in various European societies, skomorokh in Russia, and folk plays in various countries.
In modern era, there continue to be some paradigmatic roles which fit this function, such as buskers.