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Forerunners of media art in the first half of the twentieth century
Dieter Daniels


Media replace art—art responds to media

Over the past 150 years the audio-visual media (photography, film, radio, TV, multimedia) have gradually taken over an area of human perception that used to be reserved for the classical arts and their various genres (painting, music, theater). Photography was invented in 1839 and expanded to mass status at a lightning pace, further boosted by new printing technology in the second half of the nineteenth century. Film rapidly rose to become an industry with wide-ranging influence all over the world in the early twentieth century, and radio almost exploded into being in the 1920s—which all shows the power wielded by these distribution and production instruments. Then from the 1960s television became the mass medium, hence the coining of the term. Only in the 1990s did it start to have some competition from the Internet and the multimedia platforms linked with it.

Each of the audio-visual multimedia technologies raises new aesthetic questions. This is true in two respects: the first is inherent in the medium (e.g. various forms of montage in photography, film and the


digital image media), secondly in the overall cultural context, i.e. how the medium relates to existing media and art forms. The death of painting was first proclaimed when photography was invented, and this cry was heard again in relation to film when television came along. Yet people are still painting and making films today. But the established art and media forms respond to subsequent developments: since Impressionism at the latest, but also in Cubism and Surrealism, painting demonstrates precisely those physiological and psychological aspects that elude photography. In contrast with the fragmented, highly vocal babbling mass of information offered by television, the cinema emphasizes the complete, emotionally binding story. And artists' videos and performances confront the perfection of industrial images with the fractures and disturbances of a new authenticity. So both avant-garde and mainstream have greatly affected each other in terms of both media technology and aesthetics since the early days of Modernism. The radical conclusion to be drawn from this is: «All modern art is media art.»[1]

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