New Media in Late 20th-Century Art

Yiannis Mikalis
Art 335
Book Review

New Media in Late 20th-Century Art. By Michael Rush (New York: Thames & Hudson, 1999, 224 pp.)

“All art is experimental, or it isn’t art” (US Film and video critic Gene Youngblood). As a main opening stance for New Media in Late 20th-Century Art, author Michael Rush sets a premise for his collective exhibition of new wave 20th century work. This concept of experimentation lays the foundation for Rush’s exploration of the gradual shift from the perception of representation, once dominated by painting, moving into a new forms such as photography, video, and interactive digital space. Overall, the work attempts to use a semi-thematic succession of art pieces and styles that evolved over the 20th century in order to convey a sense of revolution in the persecution and construction of art, mixing themes of surveillance, uniformity, and political turmoil. Yet the biggest hurdle the book is met with is whether any of these new

The book both begins and ends with the discussion of time-art, establishing the major theme of detached time that unifies much of the digital art discussed. It continues into a discussion of the avant-garde in regard to cinema, and works its way into the use of the digital in most aspects of work including virtual reality. Eadweard Muybridge’s La Nature: Studies in Animal Locomotion, 1878 are mentioned, making a distinction between the previous perception of an art pieces role within time. Rush clarifies, “with photography, humans began to participate in the manipulation if time itself” (p. 12). This manipulation acts as a parallel to the manipulation of space, in which has already been worked with in many forms such as architecture and sculpture. With an inclusion of time, a shot defined a moment, yet that moment could exist without context. In this way, cinema could speed up or slow down shots, ultimately eliminating any structure in its time. Giacomo Balla’s Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash, 1912 displays a similar concept, yet through a still photograph. Her shot of a dog in motion, placed together allowed a still image to emulate motion. As a representation of memory, photography offers a crisp visual that can be claimed as more objective. While a painting offers a visual perspective of the artist, a photograph is captured though the visual of a machine, eliminating a bias of what is included in the shot.

An argument can be made however, of whether a lack of bias can ever express the true emotion of the moment. While a camera can be precise, a painting or sculpture allows for the input of the artists feelings in the work. But while the magnitude of artists input into the work seems to feel distanced, Rush offers a new take on the purpose of art itself. Rush uses examples such as Eye Blink (c.1961) to justify the impact the simplest of actions can hold. Yoko Ono’s right eye is filmed in multiple shots of time, revealing the smallest of details to an everyday action. Rush argues that the value of the video comes in its multitude of perspectives. With the multiple views of reality come multiple understandings of that same reality.

A key component of Rush’s declaration of the groundbreaking nature of the “new” media comes in the relationship of the work to the viewer. With introduction of video, artist could capture the responses of viewers to document the impact of a work. What was once a personal interaction between works to critics could now become the work itself. In this way the fundamental nature of the purpose of art adopted a new perspective. When Marcel Duchamp entered the artist scent in the early 20th century, he collapsed the previous conceptions of what could be considered art. Releasing works such as “Fountain” 1917, Duchamp posed the question of “What is Art?”. The Fluxus movement took used chance and chaos to redefine art. A radicalization of work exploded during the mid 20th century, and “fluxus events thus became the perfect embodiment of Duchamp’s dictum that the viewer not only completes, but actually becomes the work of art in his or her direct participation in the events” (25). As video evolved, the moment suddenly became an expendable concept for the utilization of the artist. Studio performances grew in popularity, and “the physical process of art making became the work itself” (p.48). Viewing the creation of the work was just as important as experiencing the final product.

Although these examples offer a unique way of visualizing and understanding the basis of time, in many ways, they remain limited to just that, an understanding. Both Muybridge and Balla display a representation of either a moment, or moments in time, but are bound to the same product that previous art has exhibited. It becomes apparent that as time progressed within the 20th century, art became less involved with new subject matter, and more involved with new perspectives. The documentation of the reactions of the viewers finally becomes visable, but doesn’t truly change anything in regard to what art has done for centuries: provoke. What is less clear now is whether art can be considered unique anymore.

From the early 20th century to today, photography has become a staple in today’s art forms, with almost all phones containing a camera of some form. From just a few photographers in the early days of the camera, to the millions today, the title of photographer and cinematographer has become more than an occupation. While this book offers a strong insight up to its publication in 1994, the entirety of art exhibition has changed dramatically, almost becomes out of date. The Internet was at an experimental stage during this point of publication, but since then, social media has reshaped the process of sharing a work. Youtube and Instagram release hundreds of thousands of ‘art works’ everyday, with no standard requirement for what can be viewed. Rush only brushed the surface of what would become of the ‘artist’.

With so many different expression of life, has “New Media” created a new form of art, or just found a new way to look at the same art? Art has become more interactive than ever, with video games and web codes responding to the consumer of the media. But each passing year, older art become “outdated”, making way for the new. As such, art begins to reflect the ‘modern’ culture, where quantity overtakes quality. Ironically, as time becomes more easily controlled, the impact of the moment seems to lose its edge, and an individual works seems to lose its importance. Rush ends his book with mentions of virtual reality to expand on the potential and possibility the future holds for ‘art’. The lasting question is whether this potential can ever become greater than life, or whether there truly is a limit to imagination. Just as Rush’s take has become dated, the perspectives of today will soon be dated. But in the end, these moments in time that constitute art will forever become part of the human experience. Rush leaves this book off with uncertainty of what is truly more important: the reaction or the stimulant.


Obama ‘Hope’ Poster



The Obama “Hope” Poster is an iconic image of the Barack Obama 2008 presidential campaign. Made by graphic designer Shepard Fairey, it was produced in one day and originally distributed and sold as a wall poster. As the Obama campaign grew, the poster became widely accessible via the Internet and became a defining symbol of Obama’s campaign. The original can now be found in the Smithsonian National Portrait gallery, however it can be widely found on the Internet, having found its way into popular culture. In this way, the Obama hope poster has been used as an advertisement and political propaganda piece for the Obama presidential campaign.

At first glance, the ‘Hope’ poster is a depiction of a stylized Barack Obama, balanced over the word Hope. The letters use a strong San Serif Font and frame the piece in a rectangular fashion. This frame is led with a beige edge that contains a strong contrast to the inner shapes of the work. The shapes within the center of the piece are highly polarized and contain many alternating colored vectors that are skewed and lean towards the left. The prominent colors of the vectors are a bold red, dark blue, lighter pale blue, and the pale beige. While most of the colors are solid, certain vectors of pale light blue contain a thin lined texture. The overall shape that is structured is very bold in its geometric form, and contains a high level of color contrast that gives a sense of depth.

Fairey’s ‘HOPE’ poster’s use of bold simplification in form and structure aid in is great deal of effectiveness. Sporting only four colors and the strong typeface of Gotham, Fairy creates a simple but strong concept that is easy to view. The text and shape work together to link the face of Obama to the idea of hope. It shows a great deal of effectiveness in its positive characterization of Barack Obama, affirmed by Obamas use of it during the campaign. Its form delivers a strong sense of Ethos, in that it appeals to a sense of comfort and good from Obamas face. Its use of the word ‘Hope’ gives a sense of comfort, being bold san serif, creating the feeling of confidence and power. For a man aiming to become the figurehead of the United States, this poster was very effective at persuading voters that Obama was the man to trust, as well as being strong willed enough to represent them. The blue colors are strong yet de-saturated, giving an aura of wisdom and trust. The Obama that is represented in the work is one of duty and grace, and the message of Hope became a key characteristic in Obama’s presidential campaign. On the other hand, the bold red color represents the strength in Obamas character. For a man aiming to become the figurehead of the United States, both colors are effective at persuading voters that Obama was the man to trust, as well as being strong willed enough to represent them. Yet above all, the colors are of the flag of the United States, a further part of Obama’s visual political image. Yet in the end, the piece acts as a work of propaganda, similar to that done in Germany and Russia (as well as many nations) during the period of WWII. They are art pieces that serve a nationalistic approach and build up a trust of potential leaders.


Marinetti’s introduction of Futurism

The artist known as Filippo Tommaso Marinetti was an Italian poet unlike many of the avant-garde of the time. At a time of dynamic cultural and industrial change within Europe and much of the world, a division had formed around the merits of technological growth and its relationship to the natural world. Marinetti took the side of the hard right, publishing the Futurist Manifesto on the 5th of February 1909 in La gazzetta dell’Emilia. With its publication came about the start of the Futurist movement, calling for a rejection of the past, and a celebration of speed, machinery, violence, youth and industry. Futurist artists experimented with the fragmentation of form, the collapsing of time and space, the depiction of dynamic motion, and dizzying perspectives. Marinetti, like many other Italian Futurist at the time, wanted a modernization and cultural rejuvenation of Italy, whatever the cost. For Marinetti, war was the perfect solution for a new and powerful Italy, a view that is represented in many of his works, most notably “Zang Tumb Tumb” c.1914. Despite a distinct style in the early Futurist movement, works like this offer a look into the spirit of the futurist movement and Marinetti’s loathing of the old.

As a political writer and poet, Marinettis works emulated the feelings and aggression of his environment. Written just one year before Italy’s entry into the First World War, “Zang Tumb Tumb” acted as a precursor to the violence, a visual and auditory glorification of war. The book is an account of the battle of Adrianopolis (Turkey) in 1912 in which the author volunteered as a Futurist-soldier. Its use of strong visual language (most notably in the cover) sets up an image of battle, set up bold and confident as a solute to the practice. It does so through different typefaces, some hand-designed, of various size. The tuuumb repeated on the cover emulates the sound of battle, ringing and dynamically growing. The title of the work is written skewed and bold along the Tumb, continuing the visual representation of the intensity and chaos of battle. Despite the intensity and movement of the cover, the image of the war is made in a encouraging manner rather than fearful. The onomatopoeias ring with valiance and confidence, seemingly encouraging the act.


“Zang Tumb Tumb” Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, 1914

Not but one year after the publication of “Zang Tumb Tumb” Italy had joined the war and had begun a movement into fascism and aggression, a reflection of Marinetti’s will. His publication of the manifesto brought about an era that linked up to Italy’s place in the world, inspiring many like Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carrà, Luigi Russolo, Gino Severini, and Giacomo Balla. Although much of Marinettis credibility and favor ran dry with his support of Mussalini and fascism, his influence of the culture of art in Italy cannot be denied. His vision for Italy would hold strong for many decades until fascism finally ended in Italy.

Why Did Japonism Flourish in France?


Before the Art Nouveau period had taken its grasp on European Art, a drastic change was taking place within the European Nations. The industrial revolution had taken place, opening up for highly commercialized civilizations with a major emphasis on production. The period between the 18th to the 19th century witnessed the progression from the romanticism movement, to the realism movement, to impressionism, and into the Art Nouveau period. Throughout this time, the idea of the artist and the ‘work’ had shifted dramatically, corresponding significantly with the culture of the time.

To understand the culture means to understand the art, and by the mid 19th century, a major shift had taken place in countries like France, where the burgeoning middle class suddenly money and spending was at its highest. With the Art Nouveau period came a thirst for something new. When the Japanese finally opened up their borders to foreign trade, that something was finally found.

There is no doubt to the significance of Japanese art on the Art Nouveau period. French audiences heavily sought after the Ukiyo-e woodblocks for their unique style on the print technique, which had become very prominent in the French Culture. In a time where French prints and posters were dominated by Western visuals and society, the Japanese prints represented a culture that seemed pure, untainted by time. Artists such as Katsushika Hokusai and Kitagawa Utamaro became icons of the Japonism movement, with their depictions of edo-period life. The style that was brought over revolutionized the graphics world. It introduced a composition of space that was based around flat color and crisp lines. This deviation from the one-point perspective can be seen in many works, including Toulouse-Lautrec’s poster for the nightclub Le Divan Japonais.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Divan Japonais, c.1892-93

With a more flat area of color and asymmetrical composition, it is very reminiscent of Utimaro’s “Woman Playing with the Mirror” c. 1796, even within the characters expressions.

Kitagawa Utamaro, Women playing with the mirror, 1797


This sense of Japanese movement and expression is translated along with the erotic nature of art that was becoming apparent in the Art Nouveau period. A lot of Hokusai’s art involving humans contained high level of eroticism, such as his piece “The Adonis Plant (Fukujusô)” c. 1815.


Katsushika Hokusai, The Adonis Plant (Fukujusô), 1815

This portrayal of the erotic had made its way into Art Nouveau work, shown in the work of Gustav Klimt. His piece “Beethoven Frieze” c.1901, reveals a level of eroticism, shown through the expressions of the nude woman.

Gustav Klimt, Beethoven Frieze, 1901



In a culture so heavily transformed by the Industrial Revolution, the introduction of Japanese woodprints must have come as a refreshing backtrack. From a culture that was changing so fast, the Japanese culture, with its traditional practices and unique style represented the exotic new. With a large theme of the art Nouveau period stemming from breaking tradition, the influence of the Japanese works seems ironic yet fitting. It was a style they had never witnessed before, with a clear divide in the western and eastern transformation of art. In this way, the Japonism that took place in France couldn’t have taken place at a better time. But with the movement out of romanticism and the opening of Japanese borders, it seemed it was meant to be.