SO WHAT IS MEDIA ART?
Art and Media:
The term "Media Art" is of course a
rather silly term. All Art is "media" Art.
However, the current (i.e. permanent) crisis of confusion and
regarding the meaning and value of Art suggests that dropping the
"Media" allowing a total dissolution into the category "Art" would
loss of opportunity to revitalize both concept and practice of
The problem then is to define a set of boundary paradigms which
separate (i.e. preserve) a healthy practical development from
misleading and unwanted dogmas.
2. Some Boundary Paradigms:
Media and Art:
Except for literature, which
essentially has natural language as immaterial medium, all art
are imbedded in a physical medium.
Even the electronic Arts are eventually perceived in terms of
light/sound patterns or controlled physical machines moving both
time and physical space. Telepathy, although long a dream of some
not yet a viable form of communication and one may seriously ask
did exist, would its lack of medium disqualify it as an Art form.
Surely, it is the sensory and aesthetic aspects of the medium that
an essential role in dividing Art from other related forms of
mental speculation such as Science, Religion or Philosophy.
It cannot be pure chance that categorization of Art forms
based on the medium used i.e. painting, drawing, photography,
The definition of the medium and the exploration of the
the definition are an essential part of artistic practice.
b. Form and Content:
By placing the concept "medium" central to art practice, one
immediately confronted by the traditional problem of "Form and
Essentially the problem arises when the duality becomes separated:
There is no "Form" without "Content" (i.e. meaning) and there is
"Content" without "Form".
Both Meaning and Form are based on relationships: Relationships
actions and materials within a complex nexus of definitions and
Form leads to Meaning and Meaning leads to Form. By creating
Definitions we create mental patterns of related phenomena.
Commonalities of function, construction or sensory nature in
phenomena lead to the construction of conceptual categories and
formation of labeled concepts.
By defining a Square we distinguish it from a Circle. The Form
then a direct result of the definition. Should we choose to
Square as being Static and Stable while a Circle is assumed to be
Dynamic and Unstable then it is because the Form of the objects
these qualities when being pushed or rolled around. Starting from
material universe we may choose to interpret the square in
terms of Stability, but we may just as easily wish to interpret
immaterial concept "Stability" in the material form of a Square.
direction of the relationship between (mental) object and its
interpretation is one of arbitrary convenience and not of inherent
Variations in relationship between phenomena determine
However the way phenomena are perceived (or interpreted) also
the relationships that can be discovered between them. For
characteristics of a person will change depending on how we view
-as figure of authority, member of family, enemy, friend or lover.
the way we perceive things affect the formal relationships between
but may also have emotional, practical, logical or
implications, possibly leading to conflict and paradox.
It is surely one of the tasks of "Media Art" to explore the
implications of variation in formal relationships.
c. Medium and Image:
Clearly, the artistic process
around the ability to use a medium for the generation of Images.
other words, the medium functions as a construction-kit for the
production of Images.
Just like any other construction-kit, a medium consists of a
of materials, or basic (elemental) objects, plus a set of
procedures which allow the basic elements to be modified,
transformed in some way or another.
Obviously, each Medium encourages production of some types of
and inhibits the production of others. Moving images are difficult
produce in stone and video images are difficult to hold in the
Sometimes, part of the fun of the game is trying to make Images
appear to transcend the limitations of the Medium -i.e. statues
breath, dancers that fly, paintings that open windows into new
At other times, this denial of the Medium may be denied and Images
produced which affirm the limitations (and qualities) of the
d. Physical Media and Conceptual
Just as construction-kits can
in complexity, so do Media. Some Media, such as photography,
complex mixtures of mechanical, chemical and optical systems while
others such as modeling and painting consist simply of the
subtraction of a basic material such as clay, wax or paint. It is
physical characteristics of the Medium that determine the physical
limits of the Image.
However, the possible is not always desirable. Different people
different interests and fascinations. Photography, for example may
viewed by one person as "Painting with Light" while another person
be more fascinated by the mechanics of the optical system, the
possibilities of photo-chemical processing, the recording process
its seemingly objective nature, the selective segmentation of time
space or even the psychological, social or cultural implications
images and their means of production. This personal approach to,
analysis of, the Medium we can call the "Conceptual Medium"
also (partly) determines the Images that may be produced by the
One could say that the Physical Medium creates the total of
possibilities of the Medium, while the Conceptual Medium restricts
possible to within the desired range of personal fascinations.
the Conceptual Medium can also extend the Physical Medium by
determining and specifying which limitations can be accepted and
must be transcended, often suggesting a way in which this can be
e. Physical Image and Conceptual
Human beings, although skilled in
manipulating their external environment seem remarkably poor in
modifying their own internal states. However, the external
does seems to affect the internal state.
From the dawn of time mankind has learned to manipulate Media to
produce and modify Images in order to produce and modify Concepts,
Thoughts and Feelings. To generate, explore and manipulate
conditions through external Images.
f. Ideas and Concepts:
Concepts are not static Ideas like
"God is good" or "Racism is bad", but are dynamic clouds of
"mental categories" which in fact form the basic parameters of
space. Time, Space, Mind, Body, God, Goodness, Race, Nation,
Colour, Context and Concept are all Concepts. We assume they
often assume that they are self-evident, and yet they are almost
impossible to define convincingly or to prove conclusively.
are like a mental "Medium" which allows us to develop Ideas. These
"Ideas" are like mental "Images" and represent more stable
relationships between the concepts probably stabilizing them by
Concepts and Ideas are to be explored, not to be expressed. They
useful as points of departure and valuable as conclusions but are
boring when unmodified by the experience of producing the work. On
other hand it is our "Idea" of what the work is about that
how it should develop.
Interesting questions are: How do Concepts get abstracted
from our experience of the external world, which Concepts are
to an understanding of Media and how important are Media in
the way we develop our concepts and view the world around us?
g. Cultural Media and Private
One can buy a mass produced
construction kit in the shops, or try to build ones own kit. One
follow standard construction rules or develop ones own rules, use
standard materials or adopt new ones.
The more one follows standard procedures the greater the chance is
the resulting Images will be similar to those of others, although
surprises may still sometimes be possible. Traditional materials
modified by new techniques or old techniques can be applied to new
materials. Often these developments have interesting implications
the Image, such as the way Film allowed the exploration of moving
Images but also encouraged Futurist painters and sculptors to
the suggestion of movement in static images.
As Techniques and Images become commonplace among certain people
form a Social Language and become part of the Cultural Identity of
people who use them. By exhibiting new Techniques and Images in
Cultural Market Place one can enter the public discourse, or one
remain aloof from the masses and develop ones own private esoteric
dialogue. Paradoxically, the greater the divergence between
Images and publicly accepted Images becomes, the more the
cultural and social value of the private images may be increased,
their chances of being socially acclaimed will become less. This
because although the Images may suggest radically new areas of
exploration the Social Context through which they can be evaluated
understood is, by definition, missing.
h. Producers and Consumers:
Art can be seen as a game in which
Image is the Medium for a game between the artist and the viewer,
whereby the artist's Image forces a confrontation with the Images
dormant within the viewer, in order to find its own new place
their internal library of Images.
However, the most important (and critical) viewer must always be
the artist themselves.
i. Laboratory and Communication:
Art is not about communication of
ideas, this is for designers and propagandists.
Art is about using a medium to explore the internal and external
of the artist. The Conceptual Medium and the Physical Medium in an
Image generating dialogue. It is the art that should make the
and not the artist that should make the art.
Without research we have little to say, by pretending to explain
our research to others we clarify it for ourselves.
j. Formalism and Abstraction:
By externalizing our thoughts
Images imbedded in a medium we literally give them form. The
externalization also offers us the opportunity to distance
from them and to view them more "objectively".
By making the internal Images externally explicit, they also
more formalized in the sense that they can be manipulated by rule
systems. Although in the arts these rules are often more intuitive
the usual formal (scientific) systems. Nevertheless, the medium
has its underlying set of rules, the vision of the artist usually
some consistency otherwise the artists "style" would be
there are also socially accepted artistic conventions which may
influence the way the Image is developed, rules of clarity of
presentation and last but not least -aesthetic rules. By applying
rules intuitively over a number of works they too begin to become
explicit as experience develops and we can see which aspects
which remain constant in different circumstances.
The search for similarities and differences between our internal
and the potential external images that represent them, together
the discovery of emerging patterns of consistency within the rules
use to manipulate them, develop our awareness and mastery of
abstraction in the process of creative thinking.
k. Multidimensionality and
Aesthetics is not about academic
of superficial beauty, it is about the dynamic balance between
apparently opposing forces. It is about the balance between the
personal and the impersonal, the unique and the universal, chaos
order, intuition and rationality, ernest and humour or any other
dialectic one can imagine. It may even be worthwhile to consider
relationship between Aesthetics and Ethics.
Art too is not about one thing but has many aspects, the material,
visual, the mental, the unique, the common, the individual, the
the practical, the visionary and maybe even the financial.
It is the personal aesthetic choices each individual artist makes
balancing the different aspects of an art work that makes the work
exiting and gives it its value for the viewer who is presented
paradigms of equilibrium to consider. It is the exploration of the
consequences of the aesthetic choices within the work that makes
artistic process so exiting and valuable for the personal
of the artist.
l. Multidimensionality and the
Definition of Art:
"Art" has a different function for
different people. For some people it is decorative and is part of
furnishing (in the house, the office or even the town center). For
others "Art" means cultural status, is material for financial
investment and profit, cultural conditioning and control or even
some a mystic experience.
Obviously, each of these definitions implies a different set of
qualifying characteristics. For some "Art" will be defined by its
decorativeness or even its beauty. For others, it will be its
acceptance by a social elite, its financial value, its social
its public popularity or the even the visibility of the magical
radiating hand of the artist.
m. Multidimensionality and the
Function of Art:
Because "Art" means different
to different people so that the same work may be evaluated
differently (even contradictorily) by different people, one should
avoid falling into the trap of believing that the definitions do
mean anything and are simply subjective equivalences.
In fact the definitions, the criteria, and the resulting
are vitally important in determining the reactions of the
concerned, dependant on the way a specific work functions within
chosen world of activity. The task of the artist is to make art.
Therefore the definition of art is of vital importance to the
They would therefore be wise to choose a definition based not on
of others (although these may be of interest) but to choose a
definition for themselves which helps them in the production of
a. The Student as Medium:
Perhaps the artistic process can be
seen as a metaphor for the teaching process. The teacher as
final student as the art work and the starting student as the
Just as the art work must be found within the medium, so must the
potential artist be found within the student.
Just as the artist should use their experience and vision to
the work without forcing it to express their a priori dogmas, so
the teacher refrain from forcing their dogmas and curricula on the
Perhaps the most important role for teachers is as a viewer, to
the student to understand how others view the work and to
these views into their own viewing process.
b. Internal and External:
The introspective nature of the
artistic process, both as student and as professional artist can
generate a tension between the need to look inward and the need to
By ignoring the surrounding world, the artist or student can
a wrong impression of their own uniqueness and value. They can
become isolated from ideas and practices which may be of value to
By focusing on the surrounding world, the artist or student can
be seduced by trivial contemporary fashions and lose the power of
concentrated reflection required to produce interesting images.
In a pedagogical context, it is the task of both student and
to work together to maintain an optimal balance between internal
external worlds, between students, between students and teachers
between the school and its (social and cultural) environment.
A diversity of interests, external contacts and focus of activity
essential for a stimulating educational team. There may sometimes
advantages in a "splendid isolation" but they should not be over
estimated or exaggerated.
c. Chaos and Coherency:
Encouraging the personal
of a group of individuals without the aid of a fixed curriculum
certainly presents a problem concerning the continuity of the
with and between students. Knowledge and skills which a teacher
have which could be useful to a student may be difficult to
simply because the opportunity to determine the need and to
information is not easily available. This is especially true when
subject cannot be treated fully in a single session.
The need to personally determine which skills are required -plus
struggle to find them, to master them and to integrate them into a
personal working process make the task of the student difficult
However the task of developing and applying skills need not, and
not, be attempted alone. Students with special skills can help
practicing and improving their communication skills at the same
Instructional documentation should be available and students
learn to use it. Students should also discuss both practical and
creative problems with their teachers before attempting to solve
There is also a need for formal contacts between students and
Regular meetings with a mentor with special responsibility for a
of students gives an opportunity to monitor progress and give
Group meetings allow viewpoints to be exchanged and common
be discovered and explored. Communal discussions allow
development of common themes or solutions to common problems. They
help to clarify divergences of meaning or intention. Practice in
keeping of appointments and the fulfillment of commitments is also
useful if students intend a professional career. Sharing the
responsibility for personal progress with a teacher can also have
advantages during the half-yearly assessment especially if high
standards are to be maintained.
d. Task and Expectation:
The production of artists should
not be the primary aim of an art education.
If a student is able to develop and sustain a self-supporting
process which can function as an intelligent dialogue between
object, demonstrating the ability to use their mental and
environment as a medium for personal growth, then they will have
developed skills that may be useful in any professional or
If artists cannot develop meaningful skills which go beyond a
scream of self-expression they will be of value to no one but