New Media

Digital Art History Chapter 1 Chapter 1, cont. Chapter 2 Chapter 2, cont. Chapter 3 Chapter 3, cont. Chapter 4 Chapter 4, cont. Chapter 5 Chapter 6

Chapter 2, cont.


Multimedia means a convergence of media, communications technologies, art, design, visual effects, and culture—an “intermedia.” Many believe that multimedia is a "new media;" but this is perhaps mis-stated. Many of the elements of multimedia--interactivity, artificial reality, performance, storage, etc – are well established with their own compelling histories. Technology, communications media, and culture use the history and context of interactive art and design as a framework.

In the digital world, film, design, animation, and hypermedia become new media, entertaining dissent. The historical context for interactivity includes the surreal, fluxus, and situationist movements of the 20th century, as well as the history of artificial reality. New media visions of the future will affect our sense of identity and what constitutes our physical bodies.

Individualist thinkers, artists are at the forefront of this technological revolution. Whether designing intermedia, computer games, producing web sites, writing software, or working on intelligent systems, artists work on a daily basis consuming and producing electronic cultural artifacts.

In new media art, a collaborative process and model is almost a necessity. This applies not only to the collaboration between curators and artists but also to collaboration among artists on specific projects. Some pieces require a whole team of programmers, designers, researchers, et al. In other projects, an artist sets certain parameters and collaborators create different (visual) manifestations of the work within these parameters.

New media art is more participatory. The work process of the artist who “employs” people to build components etc. is very different from the one required for new media works. In some new media projects, artists become “producers” who work with a whole team of collaborators. In most of these cases, the collaborators aren’t playing the role of contractors but are very much involved in aesthetic decisions. New media art is a very hybrid medium and often demands expertise in very different fields, which one individual alone can hardly acquire. (Paul).

Whitney New Media Curator, Christianne Paul describes her curating choices:“The institution definitely influences my focus but this has a lot to do with the place new media occupies within the art world at this point in time. It is an art form that still hasn’t found an established place in the arts at large. Many people are still scared of computers, technology, and interfaces and do not understand the inherent possibilities of the medium. I could easily curate a show consisting of projects that I find very interesting, and it would turn out to be a complete “geekfest,” entirely inaccessible to a larger art audience. Curating for a museum, I am aware that I’m still introducing many people to this art form, so I strive to strike a certain balance, choosing projects that are accomplished as well as engaging and accessible.Europe certainly has more venues (quite a few of them well established) when it comes to showing this art, ranging from Ars Electronica, EMAF, DEAF, Viper and Transmediale (to name just a few) to museums such as ZKM and Kiasma. I don’t think that more of this art is being developed in Europe; the new media scene in the US is quite large and many of the artists have been showing at the venues mentioned above. There are a few galleries in the US that have consistently shown new media art but museums have only fairly recently begun to embrace the medium. In my opinion, this situation is largely due to economics and funding models. So far, there are no established economic models for selling this art, and commercial galleries obviously need to sell in order to survive. There is far more government and state funding in Europe while institutions in the US have to rely mostly on private and foundation support; they are more cautious when it comes to being adventurous and showing art that is hardly established and doesn’t necessarily have a huge box office draw.”

Digital technology has had a major impact on the production and experience of art during the past decade and a half. Not only have traditional forms of art such as printing, painting, photography, and sculpture been transformed by digital techniques and media, but entirely new forms such as net art, software art, digital installation, and virtual reality have emerged as recognized practices, collected by major museums, institutions, and private collectors the world over.

There is a distinction between work that uses digital technology as a tool to produce traditional forms and work that uses it as a medium to create new types of art. Themes addressed by and raised by the art include viewer interaction, artificial life and intelligence, political and social activism, networks, augmented reality, networked performance, and telepresence, as well as issues such as the collection, presentation, and preservation of digital art, the virtual museum, ownership and copyright.

The history of new media in art must include discussions of film making, video, digitally manipulated photography, virtual reality, installation and performance by video artists such as Nam June Paik, Laurence Gartel, Vito Acconci, Marina Abramowic, Pipilotti Rist, Bill Viola <> and others whose seminal works have radically transformed the world of art with border-breaching unruliness.

Artists use the computer as subject matter, production tool and artistic medium, sometimes all at once. Today’s artwork is a coherent fusion of accurate observation with incisive expression of peceptions and emotions. Art photography was one of the first media to cut through the aura or mystique of traditional modes. Sherman, Kruger, Levin, Burgin, Rosler, Rauschenberg, and Simmons are notable examples of the new authenticity.

We can get some insight by following the early arc of digital artist and filmmaker, Laurence Gartel (see for illustrations):

Gartel is a founding "pioneer" or Godfather of the Digital Art movement. He could also be considered the father of the ‘Paintbox’ era (circa 1986), actually starting this technique 10 years prior to any software being written for painting and photo-manipulation. He used digital synthesizers, TVs and then output photographically as a dyesub & Polaroid prints, 10 years before Warhol did his Amiga prints of Deborah Harry.

His early works represent a time of pure experimentation. In 1975, Gartel was at Media Study/ Buffalo, an experimental nonprofit organization funded by the New York State Council on the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Here, artists were able to experiment with rudimentary electronic equipment to produce works of art. Most of the works were crude videotapes that required large and cumbersome 1-inch reel-to-reel machines. There were no storage devices as we know them today, and ways of capturing ephemeral images were created “on the fly”.

While working at the Center, Gartel met video guru, Nam June Paik who thought Gartel’s work was highly “avant garde.” While everyone else was making moving works of art, Gartel saw the still image as a way to capture the “motion.” He therefore set up a camera on a tripod, and photographed the video screen. Technically speaking, this was a difficult thing to do: the motion of the scan lines on the refreshing monitor has to be synchrononized with the shutter speed of the camera, to avoid big lines across the image.

Gartel used several innovative machines, including the Rutt-Etra Synthesizer, named after its designers: Steve Rutt and Bill Etra. This apparatus bent images electronically. The Paik-Abe Synthesizer, named after Paik and Shuyasha Abe, also modified images. The Paik-Abe Colorizer stripped in color on otherwise black and white images. In other words, various gray values were exchanged for different colors.

”Metamorphosis” was a collaborative series of sepia toned images created purely as an experimental session. In the late '70's, the only creative equipment available was embryonic. As an artist, one didn't know what the potentialities were. It was all new. Gartel was experimenting with merging two video cameras together, while working a special effects generator to achieve unique forms. He merged positive and negative images together, manipulating dials on the generator, turning up chroma values to see what would happen. The resultant images were photographed directly off the monitor using a still camera. To this day, this series still seems fresh and interesting. Subject matter has a lot to do with the longevity of how an image is received and appreciated.

After 1978 Gartel returned to upstate New York for grant-funded work at the Experimental Television Center, in Owego, New York. The facility there was similar to Media Study, except there were different machines such as the Jones Keyer/Jones Colorizer, Wobulator, Voltage Control Amplifier.

Only in 1981, was the first digital computer, the Cromemco Z-2 available. This computer had a 12 inch floppy disk with 2K of memory. In later years (1985) the Center added a Commadore Amiga Computer. Gartel created work at the Experimental Television Center from 1978 to 1986. The Center itself is still in existence with updated digital computers and editing facilities. Gartel discloses some particulars of his third decade in the medium:

“1992 SERIES: The year 1992 was indeed a mélange of many software programs. I was experimenting with many different pages. There was the incorporation of 3D forms from Stratavision as in the piece called "The Pedestal." I also used the first Kodak DCS 200, a two-megapixel camera that was as heavy as a tank. The Gartel image, "Birth" was the first digital birth picture. It sounds so rudimentary today, but back then, it was almost inconceivable. "Flower Face" was another Gartel that was unique at the time. I incorporated pictures from Canon’s 570 Still Video Camera and then used the program “Illustrator” to make the outlined face on top of the flowers. "Love Child" used a program called “Typestyler” which is the backbone today of “Photoshop's (version 8)” type enhancement tools. "Castle" is an image that utilized the software program “Infini D” and another program called "Oasis" from Time Arts.”

Cybertechnologies have created responsive environments, new contexts for human interfacing, shaping and understanding culture. Teresa de Lauretis claims, technology "shapes our perception and cognitive processes, mediates our relationships with objects of the material and physical world, and our relationships with our own or other bodies." Like it or not we are now immersed in the dynamic field of computing arts.

'Velocity' is the key word of his thinking, the post-modernity treasure, and the modern society capital. Reality is no longer defined by time and space, but in a virtual world, in which technology allows the existence of the paradox of being everywhere at the same time and being nowhere at all. The loss of the site/city/nation in favour of globalisation implies also the loss of rights and of democracy that is contrary to the immediate and instantaneous nature of information. McLuhan's global village is nothing but a 'World Ghetto'. (Virilio)

There are historical, theoretical, aesthetic, conceptual and technical challenges presented by the relatively recent collision of art, culture and computing power. Through envisioning information as popular media, science fiction, computer games, marketing tools, and artist's projects, technology has been and will continue to be a key component of culture rather than just a digital wasteland. Art itself can be a powerful communal stimulant.

“Know Brow” Technoshamanism

‘Know Brow’ art is the product of new media – ars electronica -- that transcends the dichotomies of high and low brow. More than “consumable” commercial media, it is digital art that stands the test of time.

Know Brow implies the knowledge, attitudes and skill sets necessary to produce art with highly technical processes, but also the visionary capacity to see multiple layers of meaning through direct experience. This knowing uses “knoware” for its discovery process, a seeking, a gnosis that cuts a path through the mindscape of the ‘now’ toward the future that remains perpetually undefined. The future “pulls” these artists forward.

We commune with the past to inform our present, not just as a homage, but to gain initiation to that transtemporal way of knowing and honoring our cultural roots. For example, in his latest series (2004), “Slashers: A Cultural Commentary on Today's Political and Economic Climate”, <>, Gartel created a suite of techno-portraits (with complementary audio voices), which in retrospect reminded him of the slashed canvases of Lucio Fontana. They let us see the chaos that lies below the surface of the persona. But this work is not about the past. The content is strongly reflective of the present, the NOW:

“The first question anyone asks an artist about his/her work is: Where did the inspiration come from? Where did the ideas emanate from? So in looking at the overall series, one might inquire: "What happened to you?" (Hahaha.....) Nothing really...but I believe that an artist's work, if he/she is in tune with the world, or is sensitive to people's current emotions, depicts the state of affairs that is currently taking place. It is not for nothing that Andy Warhol depicted Jackie Kennedy or Marilyn Monroe, or the Watts Riots. It is the same as Otto Dix painting the horrors of both World Wars and just as valid as Bruegel's depiction of peasant life during the Renaissance. Truth is, every artist of any great measure says in his own personal style what is taking place in society.Alas, what IS going on in the world right now? History will look back and see this series and look at our culture, asking what is going on? - A cyber world for one, where people are one face over the internet, and another face in reality. It can also be two faces in reality as well. America's President George Bush saying one thing, but things happening behind the scenes. Are we not slashing faces in reality, invading a country and tearing apart their culture? What is fact and what is real? "SLASHERS" illustrates the answer of people that have been lied to. So the psychology here is NOT what is going on with me the artist personally, but reactionary, to what is taking place in the world. This is first and foremost. The art is an emotional out pouring of false images, facades, and sense of isolationism. Like a normal "GARTEL" work, it is filled with interaction with so many puzzle pieces, like all my collages, talking and communicating to one another. Here in "SLASHERS" the subject is completely alone. Beckoning for reply. Talking outward. It is indeed a sad state of affairs, that we live in a time when there is no sense of fellow mankind support and comfort. We needed a tragedy for people to ban together. Almost three years later since 9/11, the reverse has taken place. There is no sense of community but only of solitude.”Looking at the art, there is pathos. All that might have been beautiful is now torn apart, in a post war view of devastation. Each face could represent a country, a city, a community, an individual. Once magnificent, now disfigured and taking on a new persona. Beauty and ugly, but the look of desperation and desire. Living in the region of flora and fauna, and perhaps the unofficial "Riviera of America," no one would ever feel the penetration of this pain. All appears to be beautiful, elegant and pristine. High-rise buildings with marble lobbies, oak wood appointments, and magnificent furnishings cloud our view of what's behind the door to the rest of the world. The opulence of wealth is abundant in the area I am surrounded by. "SLASHERS" would be considered an "amusement" for no other reason. To the rest of the world, it is a flag raised, in the form of understanding the human condition outside this lovely peninsula called Florida.”

Defining the ‘hidden curriculum’ in media schools makes a strong statement about the missing element of art history in technical art education, and the silent blocks in the system to its fulfillment. More traditional institutions have been remiss in honoring the rightful place of digital fine art as the wave of the future.

‘Know brow’ art, as a movement, encourages the active, constructivist acquisition of artistic knowledge and openness to new forms and media, as well as technical capacities. We want to inspire more than digital “factory workers” or proficient craftspeople.

We want to enable the student to make, shape or organize with a telos, a meaningful purpose that has deep psychic rootedness: one who invents, not adopts; who shapes not copys; who builds not assembles; who is capable not merely competent; who is efficacious not just efficient; who experiments not just conceptualizes. There is a bliss that comes from within one that energizes the human desire to enact, to enable, to engage, to outwork it, i.e. to transform oneself and the world (bizarre and grandiose as this may sound).

Art is a discipline of consciousness, whose ecology is to recycle itself.

The Postmodern era ushered in a hodge-podge of styles harking back to bygone eras. Postmodernism began in the 1970's, when the dominant styles of art - Minimalism and Conceptualism - seemed to no longer fit in a world struggling with a myriad of social problems. As a result, a plurality of styles developed. Some Post-modernists forcefully expressed a desire to do away with art that seemed to have no meaningful content, and began to turn back to figurative art and the establishment of meaning.

Other Post-modernists attempted to extend modern art in new ways by appropriating earlier styles, which they modified. Due to the sheer variety of sources and styles it is difficult to categorize Post-modern artists with the same ease of earlier styles or movements. The post Postmodern era saw the development of new media, such as digital fine art, digitally modified photography, digital animation, multimedia, holography, computer generated imagery (CGI), interactive gaming, even virtual reality, etc., with styles all their own.

Computer enhanced images are produced with a stage of manipulation in digital language using computer software. It can be applied to other media, such as photographs or scans of traditional media, or 3-D objects. This awesome technology is used by photographers, filmmakers, the advertising industry, web designers, graphic designers and increasingly available to fine artists.

Museum quality prints can be made by the enhanced giclee or other processes. (Giclee [zhe-clay]; literally means little squirt in French. It is the latest digital printing technique enabling "print on demand". Originally it was a term used by Iris printers but rapidly became the generic term for top quality digital prints using archival quality inks on heavy weight paper or canvas.)

Suddenly, the entire history of art became fodder for a raw-image-hungry medium that gobbled up, digested, and spat out a pot pourri of historical, fantastic, and futuristic iconography in the digital vernacular. Rapid cut clips are the visual equivalent of ‘sound bites.’ We see the familiar old images – here a Michelangelo reference, a Van Gogh homage, or a Duchamp pun -- but they have become virtually meaningless in the new context…a fractal blur.

There is nothing new under the sun, the saying goes. In art, it means there is rarely anything truly innovative, and that most imagery is a rehash of previous work, in which the statement was perhaps more succinctly embodied. Virtually any work can be considered derivative or deconstructed by its critics. The exceptions are works of genius, milestones in the history of art. They foresee the future, hunting it down in the forest of kaleidoscopic potential creations.

Gauguin said, “There are only two kinds of artists -- revolutionaries and plagiarists.”

Revolutionary work marks a transition in a civilization’s worldview. The CybeRevolution marked such a transition. Arguably, today’s marriage of art and science is embodied in new media: digital and electronic arts. Highly technical media have made new images possible through programs that render images virtually as fast as we can think them up. But it requires a lifelong learning curve that is daunting and unrelenting. It requires we continuously update our skill and knowledge base to realize our creative dreams.

Experimentation with new compositional programs can yield surprising results moving artists into heretofore-unexplored territories in their work. Still, even new media’s novel appearance can echo the iconography, moods and textures of past eras and their styles. It is the same in fashion where looks and eras are recycled deliberately but interpreted in today’s fabrics and cuts. It all depends on how you accessorize it.

Innovation requires more than sampling and restyling. It requires a personal archaeology that means digging up that unique portion of our human depths that wants to come to birth through you…that which comes to be through a conspiracy of necessity and coalescence.

One must commit to the image and let it speak for itself in the now, with little or no thought to the past or future. When one opens to the moment, to the process, a flow emerges. Serendipity and synchronicities require fluidity of imagination, an inner eye for what could be important to incorporate, as well as fluency in technical procedures.

Style emerges as the result of habitually reiterating creative choices and recycling favored elements. The same ideas roll around over and over, evolving into variations on a theme. Some artists stake their career on this rather uncourageous course instead of evolving further. It may be less a desire to maintain commerciality or please their public than simply lack of fresh inspiration. That inspiration can be rekindled by immersion in new exciting fields of imagery, new mindscapes, new places, new media, great art.

Just as our prehistoric ancestors painted their own reflections on the walls of Lascaux – history comes full circle, or as T.S. Elliott wrote in the Four Quartets, "my end is my beginning."


What's New with My Subject?


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