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The Fine Art of Video in a YouTube World

From the description on the below YouTube video: “The exhibition includes important examples of single-channel video, video sculpture, and video installation. California Video locates a distinctively West Coast aesthetic within the broader history of video art”.

I know what you are probably thinking after watching this video. WTF. It is VERY uncomfortable to watch. The insanity of it all is obviously a major arc of the work. As you might expect just from watching, this video has not received a lot of views. It was added to YouTube almost a year ago and today has 2041 hits. I found the video in my RSS feeds from a posting of a guest blogger based in Oakland, California, Joseph del Pesco, for Eybeam’s reBlog. Eyebeam is a progressive art space in the Chelsea district of NYC that wavers between the definition of a gallery and museum. Pesco found it via the simple and very broad art tag on del.icious.

The video comes the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles as part of an exhibit that ran in 2008 featuring the work of ‘58 artists, duos, and collectives including Ant Farm, John Baldessari, Brian Bress, Nancy Buchanan, Chris Burden, Allan Kaprow, Mike Kelly, Suzanne Lacy, Bruce Nauman, Martha Rosler, Bill Viola, and William Wegman.’

Within the context of the fine arts world, the works in this video are considered by many people to be some of the greatest, most defining art of our times. When I studied art and design in NYC in the early 2000’s, Bill Viola was the Britney Spears of video art.

What does YouTube mean for this classical tradition of video art? What is the “value” of this video now? Some will say its determined by ad revenue potential on 2000 views while others will explain the cultural significance.

Two observations:

First, not a lot of people appear to be interested. It’s not surprising from what we know about what we want: information and entertainment. It’s very difficult to become satiated with this work; it’s abstract and hard to understand. It’s more disturbing than entertaining in this particular case. Here I am making more of a statement about the fine arts in general. Traditionally, few people have delved into the arts because it is so unaccessible. 

Second, it’s interesting to consider that this kind of experimentation and thinking is actually going on in droves now all over the YouTube platform. The amount of people with artistic ideas now participating with the video medium has increased dramatically in just a three year period. How will this effect the medium of “Video Art” in the future? Will there be outstanding “video artists” to represent future times? Or will the new Bill Viola’s be seen as just a bunch of YouTube crazies?

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