Over the past years, the audiovisual media which includes photos, films, radios, TVs, and other multimedia occupy a field of human perception that was previously reserved exclusively for classical arts and their various genres like paintings, music and theatre. When photography was invented in 1839 and its widely distribution, reinforced by new printing techniques in the second half of the early 19th century, the fast rising of film into a globally effective industry at early 20th century and the almost explosive dynamics of the emergence of radio in the 1920s – all this shows the power of these distribution and production instruments.
Each of the media techniques poses new aesthetic questions. Firstly, media-immanent, which forms of representation make possible and requires the medium such as various forms of montage in photo, film and digital image media, secondly is the overall cultural context, that is, what reference does it have to existing media and art forms.
After photography was invented, painting was proclaimed dead, this is repeated in television in relation to film, yet painting and filming continue to this day. But the already established art and media forms react to the following developments not only in Impressionism, but also in Cubism and Surrealism, painting shows precisely those physiological and psychological aspects that escape photography. In contrast to the piecemeal and multi-voiced mass of information on television, cinema emphasizes the closed, emotionally binding story. Against the perfection of the industrial images, the artistic videos and performances set the breaking points and disturbances of a new authenticity. The avant-garde and the mainstream have thus been in an intensive interrelationship, both in terms of media and aesthetic situ, since the beginning of modernity.
Why is media used by artists?
There are two reasons why artists use the media. First reason lies in a loss of the broad impact of modern art, and is profoundly felt as it is clearly recognized. Since the emergence of the advanced medias at the end of the 19th century, at the latest at the beginning of the 20th century with the Abstraction and Cubism, advanced art has lost the general acceptance of the aesthetic “commonsense” of the contemporary population. The use of new techniques such as film and funk, which are potentially mass media, is linked to the hope of leading the avant-garde out of its self-inflicted isolation in order to “reconcile art and the people”, as Guillaume Apollinaire writes at the end of his book on Cubism in 1912.
The 1920s – 1960s
This development of contemporary media art was interrupted by the Second World War and only continued in the 1960s. There is a crucial difference between the utopias of the 1920s and the practice after the war. In the early 1920s, the film and radio were still seen as potential art forms, as if they were a continuation of art history by other means. In the 1960s, on the other hand, resignation spread to what is now called “the mass media” and is considered a lost ground for culture. Individual artists are working on alternative models in order to reclaim the media, at least symbolically, but without being able to change the commercially and politically shaped media system as a whole.
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