Media Art

You have probably heard the term Media Art frequently in recent years, which is referred to over a wide range of art from the video media utilizing ones like video art to computer utilizing ones. It should be researched further, however, the term media art seems like used first related to the Pop art. That is, the perspective is that the media art started from the pop art’s introduction of mass media like newspaper, magazines, and TV and is trying to define media art in terms of the mass media criticism. It also limits the video art as the art using video technology and defines separate genres of art from the media art. Therefore, we will first try to define what the media art is. Based on that, we will further study about media art details.

What Is The Media Art?

Media art can be applied to all art because they are all performed by a physical ‘media’. However, the media in modern society means mass media which tries to deliver a lot of information to the public. Therefore, the media art in current definition means the art of applying mass media technology, i. e., major communication tools of high impact to the public in modern society such as photography, movie film, TV, video and computers.

We can define media art into broad sense and narrow sense. As a broad sense, the media art can mean general art utilizing the mass media and its technology. It is based on the mechanical reproduction and replication of image, and the mass distribution of image, which started from the invention of the photograph in 1839.

Electronic Superhighway by Nam June Paik
Electronic Superhighway by Nam June Paik

In the narrow sense, media art was started to be used more frequently in 1990s and to describe the creative act based on using computers. So it represents the area of the digital art or new media art separated from the old media art. The media art in this narrow sense extends the area from the works using a CD-rom to the works done over the internet and now accepted as several other names like interactive art, digital art, web art or internet art.

If we define the broad sense media art as the general art utilizing the mass media and its technology, we can review the aspects of the media art according to the progress of the media technology. We can roughly divide the progress of the media technology into three era: mechanical age of photograph and movie invention, TV centered mass media age in 1950s, and digital age after 1990s.

In this article, we will briefly review the aspects of the art adopting the progress of the media technology and what they mean. Also we will review how the artistic concept and its surrounding cultural environment change when the technical and cultural aspects of media combine with the art.

The historical Evolution of Media Art

The invention of the photograph in 1837 is very important in the history of art. Through the Renaissance art from the ancient Greek art and up to the 18th century classicism, ‘Mimesis’, the concept of imitation or reproduction of nature, is dominated in the history of Western classical concept of art. However, painting now needed to seek new identity because photograph emerged as the new visual media formats which can not only accurately copy the objects but also mass reproduce the image by mechanical devices.

The emergence of new technology medium of photography ends up influencing not only the format of the art but also the concept of the art itself. In other words, art starts to move to the abstract after Manet and the Impressionists art, and modern artistic concept becomes established.

On the other hand, trying to use camera to record movement provides the foundation of the birth of the movie. As a result, the movie was born as a form of popular culture in 1890s. This formation of popular culture combined with the industrialization and urbanization resulted in the break from the past traditional culture and started the division of the fine art and mass culture.

The photograph and movie were the main media in 1920s and TV becomes the main media in mass media age. Because of TV’s image transmission ability as an electronic device, mass media can configure a communication environment that can cover a wide range of areas at the same time. As a result, the influence of indiscriminate and unilateral information transferring mass media was achieved. That is, the era of mass media cultural domination had arrived. The mass media weakened the status and meaning of the fine arts and at the same time demonstrated the direct and comprehensive strength in the role and influence of the culture.

In 1960s, 90% of households owned TV and commercialization of TV broadcasting was completed. On the other hand, a portable video camera was introduced to the market in the mid-1960s. The video camera shared many technical characteristics with TV, yet unlike the unilateral communication style TV, the mass can participate directly in production and can also provide the feedback using the camera. There were two types in early video art – the documentary video related to the alternative news style and so-called artistic video.

Digital art is a collective term referring the art form based on the recent emergence of digital media. The first computer EINAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) was made during World War II. While the computer technology progressed steady since then, it is in 1990s when the digital environment becomes common.



By the 1980s the public became easier to access computer and established artists who mainly work with other media began to use computers to find new representation. As the use of personal computers growing fast, digital arts are also growing fast in computer graphics, animation, digital image, cybernetic sculpture, laser show, kinetic and telecom event and interactive art events. Digital art area increased explosively since the 1990s.

Based on computer and internet, digital media arts transform an image to information and enhance the image synthesis and editing. Further, the work is not completed by the artist but is an evolving process through the interactive involvement with the users. The space performed these works and the virtual reality in the work is not a traditional art museum but the virtual concept of art museum.


The formation of modern art concept itself can be explained in connection with the emergence and consequent changes in the cultural landscape of new media.  Also the combination of technology and media arts will impact the modern art concept. Therefore, we are now no longer able to stick to the traditional art concepts.

But on the other hand, the combination of media technology and the arts should not just ‘surrender of the art to technology’, and should be a true combination which is based on the question of the artistic basis of media art and not on the thinking that the emergence of new media will make everything.

Of course, the conceptual paradigm transition for the art would have to be made prior to this question. A new art concept may be something combining both the life and culture, unlike traditional art concepts which is based on artistic autonomy by accepting the context of visual culture and visual communication.

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