You Won't Find These Videos at Blockbuster ; Video Is Taking over as the Medium of Choice for Artists, Reinventing the Language of Art

By Strickland, Carol | The Christian Science Monitor, December 13, 2002 | Go to article overview

You Won't Find These Videos at Blockbuster ; Video Is Taking over as the Medium of Choice for Artists, Reinventing the Language of Art


Strickland, Carol, The Christian Science Monitor


It used to be, when visiting an art museum, pictures stood still and viewers moved through the gallery at a brisk trot. Nowadays, with video art seizing more territory, the paradigm is reversed. Viewers stand still while images move before their eyes.

Nothing short of a reinvention of the language of art has transpired. This means viewers must learn to translate this language, based on pictures that flow by in fast or slow-motion.

Several New York exhibitions, displayed through Jan. 12, offer a chance to experience the new paradigm. In "Moving Pictures" at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the top level of the rotunda shows recent video art. Bill Viola's ambitious work, "Going Forth by Day," is installed in its own gallery at the museum. The Metropolitan Museum of Art's first large-scale video installation, "The Quintet of Remembrance," is also by Mr. Viola.

Video has entered a stage where attention must be paid.

As Anne Strauss, the Metropolitan's assistant curator for modern art, said, "It's a vital, thriving art form."

Begun in the 1960s by pioneers like Nam June Paik, Bruce Nauman, and Vito Acconci, video art was initially used to record performance art or conceptual art events. Gradually, video was used less to document art happenings and became art itself.

Now art based on moving images is "ubiquitous, pouring out of the video spigot," according to Tom Sherman, an associate professor who teaches video history, production, and theory at Syracuse University in New York.

Artists formerly working in traditional mediums, as well as young art students, are experimenting with video.

"It's a kind of explosion," Mr. Sherman says, "and I think it'll continue."

In its current form, video art is a hybrid that can combine computer graphics, digital video, film, animation, text, and special effects. And observers believe that it will only grow more widespread in this media age.

"Our visual culture is increasingly becoming a media culture, which is realizing itself in a change in art practice - in how artists work and what art is," says John Hanhardt, Guggenheim senior curator of film and media arts.

Now showing in our main gallery...

In museums, video has moved from background to foreground. "Video used to be shown by the bathroom. Now it's in the main salon, and whole shows are devoted to it," says Jillian Mcdonald, a video artist and assistant professor of computer art at New York's Pace University.

One reason for its growth is the increasing ease of electronic technology. Thirty years ago, the artist John Baldessari predicted a new generation would use video as the previous generation used a pencil.

"It's been one of the main mediums artists are working in for 10 years," says Chrissie Iles, the Whitney Museum of American Art's curator of film and video. With a camcorder and editing software, "You can make a movie on your iMac," she says. "It's easier than making a painting."

Digital equipment is affordable, compact, and easy to operate. For a generation that grew up with television, movies, mass media, and the Internet, "Video is as flexible as a sheet of paper, almost," Mr. Hanhardt says.

Because of young artists' comfort level with video, James Yood, who teaches art theory and criticism at Northwestern University, notes, "It will become more and more prevalent. The genie's out of the bottle."

In general, video art tends to be brief, a seven-to-12-minute loop of moving images. "Conceptual narrative is the dominant mode," Ms. Iles says.

As for production values, a work can be as simplistic as home movies or "as accomplished as anything out of Dreamworks," Mr. Yood says.

Be your own screenwriter

Unlike the dramatic narrative of cinema, the emphasis is on a sequence of events in visual and acoustic space more than a story.

"Artists tend to install narrative elements in nonlinear ways," Sherman says, "showing a scene where something happens, depicted in multiple ways, as in a Godard art film. …

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