Lenny

Video Didn’t Kill the Art Star

Video killed the radio star
Video killed the radio star
Pictures came and broke your heart
Oh-a-a-a oh

Michael O’Sullivan’s eloquent review a few years ago in the Washington Post made a powerful point about art videos. Read it here.

 And when I first read it in 2005, it really brought out some thoughts and words out of me.

I have never hidden the fact that in my experience most art videos (which I have sometimes called artists’ home movies) leave me pretty ambivalent, especially as I try to view them as art, (rather than entertainment) next to a great painting or sculpture.

I love movies, and maybe that’s why my brain has such a hard time accepting most - not all - “art videos” as art, rather than “artists home movies.”

In the nearly 70 year history of artists’ home movies, I can probably count in one hand the number of them that I would even remotely consider them as something more than a low budget attempt at making a film, and most of those on that list start before the VCR was invented.

Is making a film the same as making a painting? or an etching? or a sculpture? I could argue that case on both sides, I think.

Nonetheless, it is a fact that most of the voices in the art world that count and weigh in a lot heavier than mine, do still view video (pun intended) as the leading edge for creativity in the modern dialogue of the visual arts (even though the genre is now in its 7th decade).

Witness the recent video overload in this Whitney Biennial list as the most recent evidence.

A history lesson for anyone born after 1980 or so: Before everyone had VCRs (already some folks have no idea what a VCR is!!) or DVD players in their homes, if you wanted to see a movie, you generally had to go to a movie theatre, and if you wanted porn or nudies, many American cities had a seedy neighborhood where porn theatres were concentrated - when I was a kid in Brooklyn, that seedy area was in and around Times Square in NYC.

And just like video killed the radio star in that song, it also killed seedy porn theatres all over the landscape but concurrently it gave the porn industry a huge new life that they had never hereto dreamed of!

It also gave them access to the privacy of the home as it eliminated the requirement to visit a seedy theatre in order to view a porn movie.

And as O’Sullivan intelligently deduced a few years ago, now the old news of Vlogging Revolution handed us all a brilliant opportunity to once and for all do for art videos what VCRs and DVDs did for the porn industry (in a sense), but in this case somewhat remove them from our galleries and museums and put them on the web, where we can watch them whenever and wherever we want!

This is a win-win situation for nearly all; except (I think) video, ahem… artists.

Not for us mossbacks, but it will open up gallery and museum space for other artsy stuff, whatever else “new art” may be lurking out there now disguised as technology (I predict some sort of hologram-type stuff).

I like whatever technology brings to art, but I don’t like it when critics and writers and art symbiots opine that technology erases other art genres when we enter the modern art dialogue.

And for art video aficionados, it will deliver an exponential growth in the genre, as millions of weekend arts and crafts projects now take to the web and populate millions of sites such as YouTube full of new videos.

Did I write “will”? How about “have delivered”!

And I think that as soon as your Aunt Elvira (I do have an aunt so named) sets aside her weekend watercolors and oils, and picks up the new family digital camera (now fully capable of recording movies) and starts making art movies by the millions, I can guarantee that curators will leave tire tracks on their way to find something “new” in art.

The allure of the “new” in art has been an interesting topic for discussion over at Thinking About Art, and I found the below comment by Lou Gagnon right on the point of the issue:

“Innovation, in technology, is important in that it offers ‘new’ tools and techniques. What is made with these new tools and techniques is typically derivative of what was made with the old tools. Most innovation is fueled by a desire to make an existing process more efficient.

Humans have been mixing pigment with fat to document the human condition for tens of thousands of years. The innovations of fresco, oil or acrylic are derivative improvements. Photography offered efficient alternatives to painting in the already established need to document contemporary life (events, people and places). Video offers alternatives to photography in that the linear format has the potential to distribute a more explicit narrative.

Efficiency and effectiveness are not the same. The limit to a tool’s effectiveness is in the imagination of the maker. In art, I believe effectiveness is measure by the power of a work to engage people. Does the engagement temporarily distract someone from his or her daily existence or does it shift his or her paradigms and actions? Work premised on technology will be irrelevant when the technology changes. Work premised on the human condition has the potential to be timeless. Have there been innovations in light, color or form? What about fear, love, desire, freedom or apathy?

The ‘new’ in art is that unique intimate engagement between an individual and his or her relationship with these larger issues. That fragile union between the ephemeral and the eternal is magic.”

Amen! Long live to video and long live to all the other genres of art!

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