In my previous post  Green briefly touches on the Medium of the artwork, so I feel as though I need to look further into what this means before I can fully understand internet art as a subject.I’ve had a tutorial with Rachel and we had a discussion about the importance of the media and she suggested to look into theories about media, and the role of its a medium. In past seminars we have looked at the work of Marshall McLuhan who is incredibly famous in the art and media world for his views on the medium and the message. This fits perfectly into my project, so I now I want to delve further into what he means by the medium as the message, and the justification of it.

In 1964 ‘Understanding Media: The Extensions Of Man’ was published and in summary the book lays out all of the reasons why, with any media, the content is not the key bit of information, but instead what ever is used to deliver for the content. In the first chapter of this book titled ‘The medium is the message’ McLuhan insists that if you were for example to use a machine, people would be disposed to say that it is not the machine, but what one does with the machine conveys its real meaning or message (McLuhan 1964, p 23).

He elaborates on this greatly using many different metaphors and examples such as electric light. He explains that regardless of whether the light is being used for brain surgery or night basketball, it can be argued that the activities its used for are its ‘content’ since it cannot exist without the electric light. He strongly believes that it is this metaphor that underlines that fact that the medium shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action. (Mcluhan, 1964, p 24) By reading this book it has helped me really understand what he means about the medium being the message, a lot of his metaphors explain what he means, however the descriptions can still seem a bit vague about the term ‘media’, from what I can read so fear, media can be judged as absolutely anything. It would seem I am not the only one who think so, Chirag Mehta wrote a paper who also agrees that in the ‘Extension of Man’, he keeps a vague description of what he describes as media which leads the reader to have difficulty understanding that “that he was merely referring to any matter or force that amplified man’s five physical senses by any means or modes. And yet the world today, almost forty years after he authored Understanding Media, continues to exemplify his statement recurrently” (Mehta, 2002). Although this statement does seem over critical of the theories, there does seem some truth in the statement, and the fact that even though its vague people still refer to his theories often. However, I still agree with the words of McLuhan when applied in the right context, like with internet art for example. By applying his theory to GiF’s or internet art, we can see it’s not the content on imagery on the web or in GIF’s but the message is really carried out with the fact is shared through the internet and viewed only online, then can the message truly be understood.

It might be that I’m not the only one to be confused by the theories and their vague undertones, the book was actually adapted into a new book after being noticed by Jerome Jare, a writer and producer, who also teamed up with Graphic Designer Quentin Fiore to reproduce his work with graphic images juxtaposed throughout the book. The book also changed its name from ‘The medium is the message’ to ‘The medium is the massage’ in 1967. When you go to McLuhan website and visit frequent asked questions his son Dr Eric McLuhan explains that “Actually, the title was a mistake. When the book came back from the typesetter’s, it had on the cover “Massage” as it still does. The title was supposed to have read “The Medium is the Message” but the typesetter had made an error. When Marshall saw the typo he exclaimed, “Leave it alone! It’s great, and right on target!””. In the books refers a lot to human sensorium and how messages from the specific medias effect the human sensors (example picture below) so this make a lot of sense as to why Massage seems so much more fitting.

FullSizeRender(1) FullSizeRender(2) FullSizeRender(3) FullSizeRender

The graphic design from Quentin Fiore and Jerome Agel add another depth to McLuhan words and help the understanding of the media, even the book for example, by adjusting and completely re-formatting the composition of the words on the page, its is completley drawn away from the traditional book format, elaborating the old message in a new more understandable way. By McLuhan using the medium of the book it also allows for a narrative to take place with the use of imagery on each double page spread, the pace can be adjusted to add meaning and understanding when the reader turns the page. This all resonates with the ideas McLuhan was presenting in the first place and the importance of the medium, in his example, the book.

McLuhan states that in the name of “progress” our culture strives to force the new media to do the work of the old, but not only that but humans find pleasure in new medias as they expands their abilities to perceive the world (McLuhan 1967). These thoughts can be applied to internet/GIF artists who become interested in new medias in the name of progress and make traditional art in a digital format, but also in contrast there may be some artists who use it to completely move away and reject the new, much like modernism. It expands their abilities to reflect on the medium, and adapt it to create a new message in content of the work by changing the medium used.

In the back of both books there is no reference list, which means that McLuhan was basing all his theories and investigation on his own knowledge, this isn’t incredibly helpful for my research and doesn’t allow me to have much background on where he was coming from, so what I have chosen to do instead is briefly look into the history of Art and the ideas that changed it, and where the medium of the work comes into that. I read ‘100 Ideas that changed art’ by Micheal Bird, where I found Fontanta, who I have actually mentioned in a previous post (Researching contexts: Lecture notes 4).

Lucia Fontana’s is famous for ‘Spatial concept ‘waiting’’ (1960). Previously the canvas was an essential tool in for twentieth century artists but Fontana was one of the late twentieth century artists who co – opted the physical qualities of canvas as part of his work (Bird, 2012) [18]. He is deconstructing the materiality of the canvas and allows us to deconstruct and understand what a canvas should be, and question what we expect from the material. By just looking at the canvas the viewers immediate attention is taken straight to the tear in the fabric, before even recognising that, the canvas that is typically painted, isnt. I feel as though McLuhan must have taken a strong influence from this particular artwork as the idea behind both is incredibly similar in theory. especailly as his book was released only four years later.

Spatial Concept 'Waiting' 1960 by Lucio Fontana 1899-1968

The combination of his theories and Fontana’s work also allow me to have a far greater understanding of the role of materiality of any  artwork and the message it holds. Only now I can take an educated look at internet art, and consider why they have used that material, and not just examine the content of the work, as the real message often lies in the medium used. With the popularity of internet based art we can assume that what we previously understood about materiality is changing. Art is no longer fixed to museums and high-class collections, it can instead flow about on the internet, available to everyone who can then even save and transform it if they so wish(Grammatikopoulou, 2009) [17]. It’s important to consider that when mentioning the basic aesthetic of internet influenced art it can almost always assumed it will be presented on a screen, and found through an internet connection ‘shared’ by other users on social networks and communities. This information is a key part of the medium and materiality, and acts as the criteria for internet art. It is work that exists purely for the purpose of the internet to be shared on specifically chosen online platform or webpage, and that remains constant. The device or screen size might change, but that materiality factor will always stay the same. This factor is always a conscious decision by the artist of illustrator, as it has been throughout history, and as McLuhan suggests.

My assumptoins of interent are are now based on the theory of the importnace of the medium by McLuhan. This will help me understand the importance of the internet as a medium. Wit this information I want to look a little further into the theory behind internet art, besides the importance of the medium. In conclusion, although McLuhan is not even talking about internet art or the exact theory behind it, all of his theories apply perfectly ans give a deeper understanding of the movement as a whole, which will also inform my further research into the theory of internet art.

References for this Post:

Bird, M., 2012. 100 Ideas That Changed Art, United Kingdom: Laurence King Publishing.

Grammatikopoulou, C. (2009). Beyond Materiality: A digital revolution in life, art and logos . Available: http://interartive.org/2009/06/hypertext-digital-art/. Last accessed 6th November 2014.

http://marshallmcluhan.com/common-questions/ last accessed the 28th November

McLuhan, M., Fiore, Q. and Agel, J. (1967) The Medium is the Massage. Germany: Gingko Press, Inc.

McLuhan, M (1964). Understanding Media: The Extensions Of Man. Canada: Signet Books. p23 – 25.

McLuhan, M., Fiore, Q. and Agel, J. (1967) The Medium is the Massage. Germany: Gingko Press, Inc.

Mehta, C. (2002). A critique on the works of Marshall McLuhan. Available: http://chir.ag/papers/mcluhan.shtml. Last accessed 27th November 2014.


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