Michael Rush, PhD in Theology and Psychology from Harvard University, is the founding director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University. Most recently he was director of the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University. He contributes regularly art world publications and scholarship. His books include Video Art, New Media in Art, New Media in Late 20th-Century Art, Marjetica Potrc: Urgent Architecture, and he’s written monographs on Gunther Brus, Steve Miller, and Alexis Rockman.
This book is a well-organized, beautifully illustrated (124 of 267 illustrations are in full color) and straightforward history of new media in art. Rush organizes the text quasi-chronologically, but emphasizes modes of practice, with chapters entitled, “Media and Performance,” “Video Art,” “Video Installation Art,” and The Digital in Art.” Suffice it to say, Muybridge and Marey, and Duchamp are the technological and conceptual benefactors, respectively, whose ideas are experimented with and added to over the next century, first by artists migrating from other disciplines and eventually by first-generation artists.
This is especially the case with video art, which I’ll emphasize here for its techno-socio-historical relevance. To wit, by 1960, 90% of American households had televisions. Video art used the same technology of the corporatized, consumer society to level its attack against the television nation. Artists were further attracted to it for its “capacity for instantaneous transmission of image … in addition to its relative affordability …. Video revealed instant [italics mine] time” (89). And all with “a sense of intimacy” (90).
“What is so vibrant about video art is the fact that it embraces both high and low end budgets in equal measure” (117).
“Its seemingly endless possibilities and relative affordability make it increasingly attractive to young artists who have been raised in an era of media saturation. Video is a way of participating and reacting to media overkill; it is also a manageable means to communicate personal messages” (121).
Skipping ahead to the digital revolution and the interactive technologies, now the viewer does more than complete the piece (per Duchamp), she helps create it. The medium changes radically with every change in technology, and information is now an aesthetic endeavor. Rush is a bit precious regarding art (see his “art vs. the artful” sidebar), and dismissive of scientists as artists. Manovich (2003) meanwhile, in his “New Media from Borges to HTML” says the scientists are the artists. I side with Manovich here; I never understand cleaving to narrow definitions when your topic is innovation.