While the fine line between broadcast television and video art may appear vague at first glance, author Michael Rush establishes some important differences between the two. Broadcast television, for example, exists to convey information outside of aesthetics to its viewers, whether that be for sports, entertainment, or news. Because art lies in the intentionality of the artist (Rush 87), video art can be called “art” since that is the desired intention of the artist whom created it. Broadcast television, while it can be artful in terms of filtering, camera angles, and mis-en-scene, it cannot be defined as video art due to its intention to serve other purposes. Video art only as one purpose; created a personal expression of the artist, art intends only to convey art to the viewer. According to Canadian author Marshal McLuhan, “[broadcast television is] not a way of relating us to the old “real” world; they are the real world an they reshape the old world at will” (84). What McLuhan was suggesting here is that society had a new dependency on television to provide them in information, and consequently, television has the power to reshape and remold society’s views. Video art, on the other hand, sets out to mock, or recreate, or celebrate the real world.
Korean artist Nam June Paik created his own piece of video art while filming the Pope during one of his visits to the city. One may wonder the criteria in determining why Paik’s film is any different from a journalist’s, but again, the answer lies solely in the intention of the artist. While journalists and news anchors would film the Pope in order to complement a story for the media, Paik intended only to create a non-commercial product that was his own personal expression (87). Like Paik, many artists chose to mock society’s newfound reliance on television, which at the time was not only affecting low tier forms of entertainment like theater and video art, but was able to affect the profits of a dominating film industry. In one art piece, Paik turned a television on its side with a vertical line running down the middle; in another, German artist Wolf Vostell placed six televisions in a wooden box behind a white canvas (91) symbolizing television’s new role of superiority in the twentieth century.
There are numerous ground-breaking material that is being created today in the field of media. For example, given the increasing progressive movement around the world, more issues relating to homosexuality and multiculturalism are being incorporated. While many artistic issues in the past related to race and gender, like Dara Birnbaum’s Wonder Woman, were once controversial in their time, they have since become accepted to the point that they lost the shock value they may have originally intended. Except for the evangelical right-wing sect of the world, artistic issues relating to gender and sexual identity are much less controversial that they were in say, Andy Warhol’s era when he created video art films such as Kiss and The Chelsea Diaries, partly because as society involves it becomes more accepting of other views and cultures while at the same time, shock value has been overcome by desensitization. Currently, however, there are topics being touched upon in art that even Warhol would likely not touch, and that is a new-found respect for multiculturalism, immigration, and particularly the Muslim faith.
The notion of self-reflectivity in art allows the artist to express a personal narrative, or in other words, reflect a quest for identity through his or her art, often expressing his or her desire for sexual, cultural, or political freedom (111). According to Rush, artists tend to turn to self-reflective art as a means to express their own economic hindrance and social inequality. Warhol’s Kiss, for example, as taboo as it was, allowed him to express his own repressed homosexuality through art and also hint at (homo)sexual liberation. Homosexual artist Sadie Benning filmed a young woman blossoming into sexual maturity (116) as a way to publically express her own sexual maturity with which she struggled. And artist Bill Viola, created a piece in which he could control images from the outside by a signal and even made his own self disappear (114). Viola’s work plays with the concept of the self vs. non-self that is taught in many Eastern ideologies such as Buddhism and Taoism, but also reflects his own desire to disappear on a whim when confronted with challenges. Performance artist Marina Abramović, known for her tremendous ability to utilize the concept of mind-over-matter by putting her body in unusual, and often difficult circumstance, performed one of her most challenging pieces in a exhibit called The Artist is Present where she sat motionless for over seven hundred hours, not even cracking a smile, while participants sat across from her. This was Abramović’s attempt to demonstrate the possibilities of limiting the body while enhancing control of the mind. In the early century, video art was an effective tool for an artist to publically display controversial issues. However, as the artist sacrificed her own body, she risked social persecution. In the current age of information, with the advent of the Internet and social networking, artists are allowed to convey their socioeconomic struggles and agendas to a whole community, and have the option of doing this anonymously. This gives the artist more resources to share her art throughout the world.
Rush discusses many different approaches of art. There are formalists who are mostly interested in the technical aspects of the video itself, including lighting, set design, filtering, editing techniques, and camera angles. Other artists concern themselves more with the social response from the audience that their video emits. Arguably, Andy Warhol could be considered both as he paid special attention to technical detail while also dealing with controversial subject matter and striving to produce communal responses. Paik is an example of a formalist. With Paik’s filming of the Pope, for example, Paik wasn’t out to criticize social norms, but merely concerned with the aesthetics of the video itself. Rush states, “For Paik, it was the video capacity for instantaneous transmission of image that was the most appealing” (89). Paik loved the idea video art as a way to recreate and transmit images on a screen solely for aesthetic purposes. Many female artists at the time, particularly but not limited to lesbians, were more preoccupied with conveying a social idea to the audience in the form of art. Cuban artist Ana Mendieta created performances that expressed her oneness with the universe (104). In one her pieces, she mimics an Earthquake, and then she appears lying naked under the rubble. This piece, while aesthetic in itself, also hints at the common bond that humanity shares with the universe; in this case, Mendieta was “born” from the rubble suggesting that society is bred by the catastrophes of the planet.