High Wire, No Safety Net

By Seid, Steve | Art Journal, Winter 1995 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

High Wire, No Safety Net


Seid, Steve, Art Journal


It is rare when you can draw a line around a thing and call it a history. Often obstructions, like cloudy recollection you and unanticipated complexity, rise up to impair your efforts. The history of video art is a special case because it exists within living memory. Younger than many of its practitioners, we assume video art to be in its infancy, perhaps in its adolescence, but, hoping for a long life, certainly not in its dotage. So the question arises: what can we learn from video art's earliest moments that will help us better understand its present state--something of a theory of child development applied to an art form.

The initial impulse toward video art came from a culturewide preoccupation with television. The object of contemplation was television's singular inescapability, but the modes of address, the ideologies, and the envisioned reforms that primed this fascination were diverse. The thinking about the great wasteland of the televised didn't come simply from artists. Theories of mass communication were widespread in academia, socially directed institutions had grown restive over television's dubious impact, and even the broadcast industry questioned the status quo, discerning broader outlets for the coming generations of viewers. So the early sixties saw an agitated ground swell of interests waiting for the critiques, the insurgencies, the redirections of this thing called television-all was welcome but cessation.

In the watershed year of 1967, two antipodal developments occurred: Sony decided to seriously market its inexpensive Portapak, a portable l/2-inch video system, and the Rockefeller Foundation funded the TV labs at KQED (San Francisco) and WGBH (Boston) to the tune of $425,000. By 1969 video art had its prototypical exhibitions-- Television as a Creative Medium at the Howard Wise Gallery and The Medium Is the Medium on WGBH-and a smattering of formative shows by such pioneers as Bruce Nauman and Dennis Oppenheim. This same year the New York State Council for the Arts (NYSCA) began supporting video artworks, with Aldo Tambellini being the first grant recipient. This wasn't simply any first grant; this was the first grant from an arts council that was in the vanguard of funding patterns. Soon thereafter the recently formed National Endowment for the Arts would add its own fuel to the fire.

The sudden infusion of funds into the video art community inflated expectations. Such significant support validated this nascent medium in an unprecedented way, making the stumbling block of expensive hardware-partially obscured by access at the TV labs and partially circumvented by lowtech strategies--seem realistically surmountable. Use of the tools of America's most beloved medium was exhilarating, expressive, and seductive. Never mind that production costs-which would ironically escalate as the technology was improved-was a daunting reality when weighed against the cost of paint, brush, and canvas, a canvas Nam June Paik assured us would be replaced by the cathode-ray tube.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

High Wire, No Safety Net
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?