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From the 1920s to the 1960s

This development of early forms of today's media art was radically interrupted by the Second World War, and was not taken up again until the 1960s. But there is a considerable difference between the 1920s utopias and post-war practice: in the 1920s, film and radio were still generally seen as potential art forms, as though they were a continuation of art history by other means.[10] But in the 1960s, there was an increasing sense of resignation about what were now called «the mass media,» and considered a lost cause for culture. Individual artists were working on alternative models so that they could win the media back at least symbolically, but without in any way being able to change the commercially and politically slanted media as a whole. The thesis «all modern art is media art» (see above p.26) was thus radically and pointedly re-emphasized from the 1960s: all media art is anti-media art.

Politicization and propaganda in the 1930s

This radical change of attitude can be traced back to the 1930s, when artists started to address the


increasing use of the media as political instruments. With respect to radio, as early as 1932 Bertolt Brecht was demanding to «change this apparatus over from distribution to communication[11] Walter Benjamin pins his hopes on a new, political function for art, above all in film: «Mechanical reproduction of art changes the reaction of the masses toward art. The reactionary attitude toward a Picasso painting changes into the progressive reaction toward a Chaplin movie.»[12] But these ideas for a revolutionary social role for the media greatly underestimate the powerful economic and direct political constraints under which the new technologies were developing. Hopes for an emancipatory function for the media were quickly dashed by their propaganda use under Fascism and Stalinism in Germany, Italy and the USSR. Here artists from the pioneering days like Ruttmann, Vertov, Eisenstein and the Italian Futurists devoted themselves to political propaganda. The 1920s pioneers who emigrated to the USA had very little opportunity to continue their experimental work, but like Brecht or Fischinger found that all the media formats there were just as heavily commercialized.

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