this blog is the platform for publishing the research conducted by the students of the "Prehystories of New Media" class at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), Fall 2008, instructor: Nina Wenhart


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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Sam Reicks: Schism: A Critique on the Interaction of Traditional Media and New Media Art

Sam Reicks
Schism: A Critique on the Interaction of Traditional Media and New Media Art

I am by no means an art historian, but through my life and my studies I have visited my share of art institutions. With this experience I have developed a series of expectations in such institutions, a sort of platonic ideal of what an art institution is. Inherent in that definition is the ambience and the feeling within along with an assumed set of etiquette and frame of mind, which aligns with that ambience.
Last year I visited ZKM (Center for Media Arts) in Karlsruhe, Germany with a group of my friends. Upon arriving in the museum, I was prepared to experience it as I would most any other art museum. I would walk about examining the pieces, arms behind my back. I would stand at each piece for a calculated amount of time, breaking it down mentally into the meaning or feeling I gathered from the piece, the meaning intended by the piece, the techniques used to create it, and the art historical context.
I started working my way around the museum and came across a piece by Camille Utterback and Romy Archituv entitled Text Rain (1999). In the piece there is a screen with letters falling down. The viewer is to walk in between the projector and the screen, casting shadows onto the screen, which creates silhouettes. The falling letters are reactive to the shadows, as long as there is a shadow beneath the letter the letter stops falling and rests upon it. I could not feasibly maintain my pensive character while interacting with the piece as it was intended. So I started to play.
Soon I opened my eyes wider, to the whole of the museum, to which I was taken a back. I was not standing in a philosophical temple, but rather in an arcade, or fun house. There were people jogging from one piece to another with anticipation. Viewers would stay at an exhibit until they comprehended the interface, before taking off towards the next piece. As I realized the new protocol I participated immediately and realized how ridiculous was the effort I had made to restrain myself to a slow analysis of each individual piece. This was not an institution designed for that.
For the remainder of my time at the museum I followed the new protocol. I played music with my face. I rode a bike through a virtual city. I grew computer-generated plants. I played a video game with duct tape. Then over the loud speaker came announcement that the museum would be closing in fifteen minutes. I made a mad dash to experience the last pieces, which I had not had yet to play with. After done exploring my friends and I left the museum excitedly recounting the magic we had seen and played with.
With time I have been trying to define, what it was I experience, and how it fits into my traditional definition of art. A succinct definition of art is something far beyond my jurisdiction, or goal for that matter, as is the ability to prove what can and cannot be called fine art.
I do however feel familiar with traditional mediums of art and the context and humor through which they are traditionally consumed. Based on this knowledge I feel confident that new media arts defy this realm of traditional consumption of fine arts.
Traditionally, a change in the consumption of art would be classified as a movement. I do not feel comfortable in defining new media arts as a new movement in art for multiple reasons;
1.A movement is, by rule, taking the place of a prior movement, as defined by changing philosophical beliefs that serve to define that movement, and thus cannot co-exist peacefully with any former movements.
2.Though the medium is not succinctly defined, new media arts are categorized completely by medium and outside of the realm of philosophy.
3.Movements, based upon the logic that none of them outside of the current has ever endured, will in theory be ended to be replaced by a new movement.

So, if we don’t have a movement we must assume it is purely a new medium. Throughout most of art history artistic mediums were relatively restricted traditionally to a few categories; drawing, painting, and sculpture (metal/stone/wood). Though in the twentieth century we have thoroughly disposed of these medium limitations starting with Marcel Duchamp and the Dadaist. Today it is commonly accepted that art cannot be limited from using any mediums.
But, the introduction of these new mediums in art were hand and hand with a philosophy in which the new mediums were integral towards the philosophy of the movement and thus the aesthetics included with the new mediums was integral to the message of the piece.
Once the limit of mediums was thoroughly disposed of, it was nature to accept and experiment with all nature of matter as art, thus allowing an eventual place for new media technologies. The only barrier then existing for new media was the actual existence of and access to those technologies within the public realm.
But to accept new media as purely a new medium would require it to function and be consumed similarly to pre-existing media.
I then would argue that a line must be drawn, based on the manner of consumption of a new media piece. In describing these aesthetics of new media, I wish not to claim any of the statements as universals towards all pieces of new media, but rather as patterns, which happen sufficiently within the media to be accepted as a sort of traditional aesthetics and manner of consumption of new media art. Equally there are traditional medium pieces, which I would argue work more on the level of new media pieces
I feel new media art is very much reactionary to popular culture not purely in a critical vocabulary. Inherent in using media, which is traditionally used for pop-culture, the same aesthetics are mimicked by means although the message is typically different. I feel that in this right, new media art is successful in it’s ability to communicate towards a public whose mental processes have been transformed by the exposure to these media forms in popular culture, specifically the expectation for immediate gratification and the shortened attention span created by our immediate access towards almost infinite media resources.
I do not desire to discount the media or works of art throughout history, for any piece must work on multiple plains for it to be still relevant to the art dialogue. I do feel it is important to understand the perspective of the view for which the pieces were created, that is one who had extremely rare access to culture, even amongst the bourgeoisie of the time, encountering a piece of media/art, visual or otherwise, was a rare event. Because media was much more rarely encountered it was dedicated a certain amount of attention and effort in consumption due merely to the rarity of the occasion. Without the continuous access to media their minds worked significantly different especially in their approach towards art.
Thus, with the natural mental processes of modern man/woman who was risen within popular culture is typically not able to respect a piece of art or media which approaches him at a speed less than his typical rate of consumption. This psychological condition is not universal due to varying exposure to popular contemporary media, and also can be trained to be overcome, which allows for the consumption of traditional media within contemporary and historic artwork.
So, by approaching a viewer at a rate that they are familiar and comfortable with, it becomes inherently much easier for the viewer to obtain a relationship with the piece. Whether popular access to the piece puts it into the realm might be debatable. An important question is the success of the attention getting aspects of the piece to lead into the conceptual discourse of the piece, and the importance of a conceptual side towards new media art.
Although I understand there can be faults in this deduction, for the ease of the argument I will break artworks down into appeals of concept and attraction, both aspects of which are integral to a successful art piece. The attraction acts a conduit to allow entry into the piece.
In traditional art this was typically found in the skill of the hand of the artist, the strokes of the painting, the lines of the sculpture, the rhythm of a poem. They create awe, an interest, an emotion that draws a viewer to look at the piece long enough and with enough interest to make an attempt to deduce the will of the artist.
In new media art this is often created by a sense of wonder, magic, or curiosity towards the function of the piece. The question is does the conduit lead somewhere. In traditional mediums (at least within the last hundred years) if the piece lacked either aspect of the equation the piece was a failure, either being uninteresting or unapproachable.
Through my observations of the interactions and practices of new media artists, in most cases there is thought put into both ends of the equation. But provided the means in which one approaches a piece, through the rapid effect of curiosity and wonder, the speed of the stimulus of most pieces move the viewer at rate much too fast to be able to concentrate on deducing the concept of the piece. In my experience, it wasn’t until I left the piece that I was able to conceive the conceptual aspects.
I feel the fact that a piece can be enjoyed without reaching a point of philosophic dialogue does by no means discredit the piece. Rather it shows merit in its ability to appeal to the immediate spontaneous instincts of the mind without need for dissection and deduction. I feel this is very congruent towards realist painting before the invention of photography. In both the amazement of the existence of the piece, and the marvel of the craftsmanship and design was sufficient to move beyond merely an adornment.
To this point one might once again argue towards the similarities between the appeals of new media art and pop-culture. I would not dispute this, for I feel pop-culture is valuable in its ability to create emotion and response by its viewers. That is not to say I agree with all of the means it is used for or the extent to which it is consumed, but I feel that largely a result of the effectiveness of today’s pop-culture, and any other practice could be equally as dangerous if consumed and embraced to such a degree, including traditional art practices.
I am very curious about the future of new media art, once we have the distance from its origins large enough to see it within a historical context. I wonder if the continuing growth of technology in our quotidian lives will serve to remove the aspect of awe and curiosity to future viewers, or if the artists will be able to continue to conceive and create art, which will be able to work on those levels. Also, if the awe would be removed by the familiarness of the technology to the viewers, perhaps it would allow easier access to the conceptual due to a less excited mental state.
It will also be interesting to see the interaction between the two practices. Will new media art integrate itself into traditional museums alongside paintings and sculpture? Or perhaps there are others who share my perspective and they will divide fuller, not in opposition of one another, but in acceptance of the inherent difference is conception.
I have no interest at all in the destruction of either traditional art practices or new media practices, nor do I want to discredit one in preference of the other. I do however feel that the manner in which they are discussed together, and the sharing of many dialogues within the two practices seem much too congruent toward what I feel are actually two entirely different beasts.


Gere, Charlie (10/04) “New Media Art and the Gallery in the
Digital Age”, ”

Palmer, Daniel (11/2007) “Contemplative Immersion:
Benjamin, Adorno & Media Art Criticism”,

Palmer, Daniel (11/2007), “Media Art and Its Critics in the
Australian Context”, “

Postman, Neil (10/11/90) “informing ourselves to death”,

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