The term is used frequently, but there are differences of opinion about its precise definition. A medium is a means by which one communicates a message, the vehicle carrying the message. Thus, if you take the term 'media art' literally, all art is media art. After all, each artwork must have a vehicle, such as a piece of paper, a block of marble, or a video tape. Even if you have an idea, and wish to see that as an artwork, you must communicate that to your audience in one manner or another, before that audience can recognize it as an art work. Thus this literal definition is not very useful.
The term media art is however also used to indicate a certain group of art works. In general, the term media art is understood to apply to all forms of time-related art works which are created by recording sound or visual images. A time-related art work is a work that changes and 'moves', in contrast to older art forms that are static, which stand still, such as paintings, photographs and most sculptures. Time-related art works include works in the fields of sound, video and computer art, both installations and internet projects, and single channel works. Single channel works are video works that are shown by projection, or on a monitor screen
Because media art includes so many different art works, we will here explore only one part of it more deeply: video art.
History of video art
Since 1965 video has had a place in the realm of visual art, and over that time has developed into one of the most used forms of art. After the successful introduction of video equipment for consumers in the United States in the 1960s, Europe followed somewhat later, and artists began to experiment with the new medium. The Netherlands played a pioneering role in this, particularly with setting up facilities and workplaces for this new art form, with internationally known institutions such as the Lijnbaan Center, Jan van Eijk Academy, Monte Video and De Appel. Partly because of the open climate of its liberal society, many young artists were drawn to The Netherlands, to establish themselves here as artists, and many became involved in video. They were a stimulus for setting up video workplaces. The video circuit that arose in this way consisted of a distinctive hybrid of local and international tendencies. Precisely the period from the beginning of the 1970s to the mid-1980s proved to be a turbulent time in which the new medium steadily became more mature. Artists discovered the creative potential of the medium, experimented with its documentary authority, but had to defend their choice of the new medium against an art world that did not yet appear to have adjusted to this new form of art. The exhibition 'The Luminous Image (Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 1984) was a turning point. In the production process the slow integration of new, simpler and less inexpensive montage techniques marked a major change in video art, which freed up the way for its assimilation into the art world. From the 1990s video art was manifestly an accepted fact in the visual arts.
The earliest video art was primarily a reaction to mass media. This could vary from an aggressive confrontation with this media, to the production of alternative television. For the first time world crises, such as Vietnam and Algeria, were seen daily on television, often in the form of gruesome images. Video offered a chance to break through the one-way traffic of television and gave artists an opportunity to formulate an answer in comparable language. Video artists buried television sets and deformed television images, but also made abstract video images and underground reportage.
'Television has been attacking us all our lives, and now we can attack it back.'
(Nam June Paik)
In addition to social 'anti-television', video art was inextricably linked with experimental film. The introduction of the video camera in the 1960s enabled almost anyone to become a filmmaker. It offered possibilities for filmmakers to step outside the realm of the cinema and film world. The maker/artist could assume multiple roles as director, cameraman, producer and lead actor. These films/videos often have a shorter running time that regular films, and are characterized by a very personal approach and choice of subject. Recording
Only at the end of the 1960s did performance and conceptual artists involve video in their work. Video was frequently used in performance art as a replacement for film as a medium for recording events. Recording the event is an important part of performance art, because having a visual record of a performance on video or film permits the public to see it again at a later date. In this manner a performance can be 'preserved', and presented to a larger audience. Video was also used by performance artists as a sort of mirror in which the artist could review the performance and alter it. For conceptual and performance art the primary concern was having a record of a process, not the end result. These are artworks that exist in time rather than as objects. Medium specific
Once video had made its entry into the art world, it increasingly developed as an independent medium. All sorts of medium specific qualities of video were employed and analyzed, and for a number of artists this was the point of departure for their work. Here it was not only visual elements such as color, light and shape that were important, but also less tangible elements having to do with content, such as time, spatial effects in video, and the inclusion of live images in the work. Narrativity
At the moment when video art was able to find its own place in the world of visual art, there arose a second generation of artists who showed little interest in the concerns that had moved their predecessors. Beginning in the 1980s narrative work made its reentry. Now that the medium was accepted in the visual arts, artists once again devoted themselves to creating fiction.