Video in Art

From the beginning, mankind was using any means in order to make life less complicated, there fore more accessible and understandable. Some of the issues involved were not entirely materialistic, and thus a need to develop a craft or kind of action, which would address those issues, was born. Whether this was expressing one’s opinion, or confronting one’s own psychological problems, its own existence seemed as necessary as any other craft. And this particular craft was named art.
Art has many different branches. From the ones considered ancient or classic, such as painting, sculpture and music(literature), to the more contemporary -compared to the previous-such as photography. But all of them have something in common. They are long established, by means of being needed, depended upon even, at a certain point in history.But art had always been evolving in order to satisfy the evolving needs of the contemporary world, and relatively recently there has been invented a different kind of art. For some, video has yet to establish itself among its ancestors.
‘If video is truly a new form it must, to a greater or lesser degree, reintroduce on its own terms qualities and principles that are timeless and universal. At the same time it must remain true to the special qualities that differentiate video from other forms. Otherwise, one might wonder, why video at all?’ (Battoch G. 1978: xviii)
Previously all types of art had managed to distinguish their importance through the differences between the art type and its counterpart in the materialistic needs, for example one would be able to tell the difference between a poem -a story in effect-and a logistics book. Their main difference would be the purpose of each text.So one would say, in order for video art to rightfully exist, it needs a different purpose than, say, television. But things are not always so simple. Because in the end, in order to satisfiably explain the differences between video art and video used for other needs in the contemporary society, one would need first to define art, and identify its idioms. For this purpose there will be given a few opinions on the matter first, and then attempt to scratch the surface of the relevance of video art and the common television.
There is the belief that art is not for common people, not for the every day life. But this belief seems sort of self defeating. Art just like any other craft, was born to fulfill certain very common human needs, such ass the need to express one self, to depict situations, pass on information through history, and communicate with each other. The examples are endless. The other quite opposite belief can be summed in a Joseph Beuys phrase. Everyone is an artist. That is, the word art is not defined in the same way as the belief above, but rather that every type of craft is a kind of art, and such, anything that involves movement, effort and creation, is defined as art.
Taking the second option it becomes easier to understand how video evolved into art form. But then the need to distinguish differences and similarities rises, and thus, compare, video art and the other forms of video such is a documentary or a television program.
In terms of similarities, one is the most distinguishable. All kinds of video were first invented in order to either pass on information or record information in such a way that it can be shown to as many different people as possible. Indeed, video was not recognized as a kind of art form, from the very beginning of its existence.
‘All the artists discussed in this article have created works that were not primarily intended as art. That is, they serve a twofold purpose: the works were made for pragmatic purposes first, and only second do they stand as artworks […] rather than using the medium as a documentary tool, Fried and Glassman approached it from the point of view of film making. Their first efforts were not documentary–instead they created performances not with an audience in mind but with the video viewer in mind. The result was a different kind of staging, one with a single viewpoint from the camera and without audience participation’. (Van Baron J. 1978: 169-170)
It seems that along the way of art’s history, some artists started to look at video from a different point of view. Video art developed into something that was not exclusively made for information, documenting or passing on. Its purpose rather varied depending on the motives of each artist. One example would be using the video content for expressing ideas in a very different way, a sort of pictorial way that includes motion, time and sound at the same time as vision.
‘He works in time with time as the actual space of the encounter with meaning, using time to split open seams in moments of consciousness […] for hill, meaning, consciousness, and the very act of seeing are full of ambiguity, their only existence tied to the physicality of the body […] in a medium (video) that is particularly fluid, Hill works toward subjects (meaning, consciousness) that are elusive, in a way that seems as basic and mysterious as the way an object enters the eye and becomes cognitive thought.’ (Bruce C.1994: 35)
Another example far more different than the first one, would be using the video equipment itself as a means of material for the artwork. One such artist is Nam June Paik
Included in the exhibition are Paik’s “live feed” works in which the closed circuit image displayed on the TV monitor is real-time video captured on camera. For Paik the use of live feed video was his exploration of the increasing blurred line between the real and the represented in the electronic age. In his signature installation Enlightenment Compressed (1994), a bronze statue of Buddha sits to reflect upon his image on a television monitor. The Buddha meditating upon himself points to the self-reflexivity of the experience of the television viewer—a wry comment that equates the TV viewing experience to the practice of Zen meditation as means to achieve a higher level of consciousness.’ ( “Exhibition of Pioneer Video Artist Nam June Paik Opens at the James Cohan Gallery”).
There are of course artists who have both elements of those examples in their work.
The video installation piece in itself also has several unique properties that make it fertile for exploration and rewarding for the artist and the viewer. It is essentially sculpture-sometimes environmental, sometimes a sculptured object. But it is a sculpture with sound (often) and it is sculpture with time, because the work’s static elements are part of the temporal event unfolding on the screen. Finally, the video image creates another, entirely different space for the three-dimensional configuration that sculpture normally inhabits. The room, the hill, the desert on the monitors are of an other dimension than the one the work as a whole occupies, and so the work extends into the room, the hill, the desert even as it remains in the space. If there is no image on the monitor, it becomes spaceless and so intrudes its nondimensionality on the work. (Wiegand. I. 1978:183)
Not all artists have the same opinion about video work. Some think it is a very good medium for expressiveness, communication and the exploration of the artist’s full power, because it takes away from the “object” itself. Certainly there have been quite a few artists who have found the video media an interesting material to work with.
[Gary] Hill’s art is itself a meditation on being an artist and the struggle to remake technology into a poetic instrument. Like Kiefer, Hill confronts himself in his art as a thinking being seeking to strip it of the decorative and ephemeral so as to retrieve a sense of self and memory. For Kiefer it is the poetics of a personal history and painting; for Hill, the poetics of language and media. (Hanhardt J.G. 1994:66)
But there are also some artists, who reject video art, for various reasons. According to Terry Fox,
He adamantly feels video is a bad means of achieving (communication). There is, in Fox’s view, too much sensory deprivation in video for it to function properly as communication and thus art. For Fox, then, video remains a tool that is used for, but does not adequately relate the actual experience of, art. (Van Baron J. 1978:172)
On the other hand, Douglas Davis chooses another reason to reject video, one that seems to be based on a more creative philosophy.
In renunciation and rejection there is indeed a singular beauty. By turning against something, or someone, we force out of it attributes that might never otherwise have appeared. […] the greatest honor we can pay television is to reject it. For me, this means literally ignoring video, and certainly the preconceptions about what ‘video art’ is all about. That doesn’t mean that I ignore the picture plane and the camera, any more than I ignore this paper before me and the typewriter keys that are striking it. But I know the words will be reset in another type and read on distant papers at differing times and perhaps in languages that I cannot even understand. To telecast takes us even further away from physicality… (Davis D. 1978:33-35)
In conclusion, on the question whether video can belong in art or not, the answer has to be that, it depends on the point of view of the artist. But what can be definitely said is that it has been used by a lot of artists for various reasons, and as technology gets more advanced, video has a bigger effect in every aspect in a society, and art cannot be an exception. A lot of conversation has occurred about media/video, and its rightful existence among other types of art. Many artists that use video as their medium do not even classify themselves as media artists, but rather something depending on the subject they feel their art is addressing (if indeed, it is addressing any subject at all).
Gary Hill: Backing up for a minute, your statement about the relationship between performance and video is too important to pass up. I’m much more comfortable with the idea that this is close to what I still do in terms of that sticky categorization: “video artist.” In fact, sometimes I think of my entire oeuvre as being performance. Even the “installations” are performance. Video, electronic media has lost much of that momentum. It has traded the performative implications of real time cybernetic interaction for large-scale, high-resolution, slick, and glossy production. Many of the early single-channel works I made were technically performances. That is, I set up a system (a “patch”) configured around an idea and recorded it in real time. Some of these I still perform now and then for an audience. (Copelad C. 2009:19-22)
Moreover, many artists get criticized about their video work, because very often it is hard to interpret and a certain kind of previous experience in the given subject is needed first to comprehend the idea, something which is not always a necessity for other kinds of art that can ‘stand alone’. Of course this is not a rule; but there is often the tendency to generalize in categories and perhaps this could be one of the possible reasons as to why video has not been always fully accepted a kind of art.


Bruce C. (1994) ‘In the Process of Knowing Nothing (something happens)’ In Henry Art Gallery, Gary Hill, Seattle, University of Washington, p.35

Hanhardt J. G. (1994) ‘Between Language and the Moving Image: The Art of Gary Hill’ In Henry Art Gallery, Gary Hill, Seattle, University of Washington, 66

Davis D. (1978) ‘The End of Video: White Vapor’ In Battock G. (ed.) New Artist Video, New York, E.P. Dutton, p33-35

Wiegand I. (1978) ‘Videospace: Varieties of The video Installation’ In Battock G. (ed.) New Artist Video, New York, E.P. Dutton, p183

Van Baron J. (1978) ‘A Means Toward an End’, In Battock G. (ed.) New Artist Video, New York, E.P. Dutton, p169-172

Battock G. (ed.) New Artist Video, New York, E.P. Dutton

Spaulding K. L. (1996) The Emergence of Video Projection, New York, Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, p42-44 “Exhibition of Pioneer Video Artist Nam June Paik Opens at The James Cohan Gallery” [online], 30/04/2011

Brent P.S. (2003) ‘Between Cinema and a Hard Place: Gary Hill’s Video Art Between Words and Images’ Criticism [Feature Article], V 45 no1,, p. 109-27

Ferri, P. (2005)‘Gary Hill’, Flash Art (International Edition), [Exhibit]. v. 38, fmt=C p83

Rumsby M. (2006) ‘Our Method is Madness: Two Videos by Gary Hill’ [Feature Article], Millennium Film Journal no. 45/46 fmt=C p.108-16

Kee, J. (2000) Global entertainment. [Exhibit] Afterimage v. 27 no.6 fmt=C p.13

Townsend C. (2006) ‘Gary Hill: Fondation Cartier, Paris’ [Exhibit], Art Monthly no. 302 fmt=C p. 26-7

History of video art presentation