Cinema and Media Studies New Media Art
by
James J. Hodge, Jacob Gaboury
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 September 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0110

Introduction

New media art is a relatively young discipline, though the objects and practices it describes reach back over half a century. Many of the earliest experiments by artists working with computing technology took place in the 1960s at universities and research institutions in the United States and Europe. Even earlier, in the 1940s and 1950s, several pioneering artists tinkered in garages and on kitchen tables with used military technology and cathode ray tubes to create exciting new forms of artistic expression. In this sense there is nothing new about new media art, and yet the popularization of the term and the increasingly widespread use of technology in all realms of artistic practice is a relatively recent phenomenon. The term “new media art” arose out of conversations between artists, curators, and academics in the 1990s, aided largely by the growth of the web. Through websites, forums, and listservs such as Nettime.org and Rhizome.org people discussed, debated, and organized new ways of interfacing art and technology. This “new” media art brought together multiple disciplines, each with different investments and perspectives on what the field could be. As such, this bibliography includes works from a wide variety of fields, from art history and museum studies to English and philosophy. This complex and sometimes contradictory use of new media art can make for a challenging but dynamic field of study. Since the 1990s the use of technology in all forms of art has grown exponentially, transforming traditional artistic practices and creating new questions as to how we define and understand new media art. Yet despite the increasing relevance of new media technologies, new media art is often marginalized within the broader field of contemporary art, where it can be viewed as too technical or even unaesthetic. Still, with early- 21st-century exhibitions by prominent new media artists at institutions such as the Whitney Museum for American Art and the growing popularity of art that engages new and emerging technologies, the field is perhaps more relevant now than ever. While the phrase “new media art” may no longer appeal to artists as it did twenty years ago, this complex field is increasingly important to those interested in the intersection of art and technology.

General Overviews

The field of new media art intersects a number of broader disciplines, making a wide variety of general overviews useful for a diverse set of perspectives on the subject. Indeed one of the challenges of the field is how to properly contextualize it, as many different fields have laid claim to its history and influence. Perhaps most generally, the field of new media studies often engages questions of art, visual culture, and computer visualization, making general readers such as Wardrip-Fruin and Montfort 2003 a useful starting point. Similarly, key texts within the field of new media studies such as Manovich 2001 and Bolter and Grusin 2000 offer crucial interventions on the question of new media studies and visuality, and as such should be considered essential reading. From the field of art history Paul 2008 and Rush 2005 offer comprehensive surveys of contemporary new media art but also situate it within a longer history of art and technology. Jana and Tribe 2006 and Wands 2007 also come from an art historical perspective but offer a broad survey of specific artists and projects that fall under the genre of new media art, making them useful surveys for those interested in concrete examples. Finally it is important to acknowledge that in the field of new media art the disciplines of design, architecture, information studies, and the sciences often converge. As such, texts such as Wilson 2003 offer drastically different but deeply relevant perspectives on what new media art can be.

  • Bolter, Jay David, and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000.

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    In this seminal text, Bolter and Grusin critique the modernist myth that new technology is revolutionary or transformative, offering a theory of “remediation” in which old media are repurposed by the new. Engages several key media technologies, though chapters 5–9 on digital art and visual media are of particular interest.

  • Jana, Reena, and Mark Tribe. New Media Art. New York: Taschen, 2006.

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    Rhizome founder Tribe and art critic Jana offer an analysis of new media art as a historical movement, defining the term and suggesting key themes. Addressing the challenge of institutional acceptance surrounding new media technology, the text’s most useful feature is the dozens of profiles of new media artists.

  • Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001.

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    What are new media? Manovich’s account of new media in terms of its formal dimensions constitutes a lengthy and controversial answer to this question. Examines a host of important concepts in new media aesthetics such as the interface, the screen, software, the database, and navigable space.

  • Paul, Christiane. Digital Art. 2d ed. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2008.

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    Whitney Museum curator Paul engages the history and influence of digital media on the field of contemporary art from the 1980s to the present. Distinguishing between digital media as a tool in traditional art practice and digital technology as a medium itself, Paul also provides several useful resources for researchers.

  • Rush, Michael. New Media in Art. 2d ed. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2005.

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    This early work explores the influence of new media on modern art in the second half of the 20th century, identifying the influence of earlier art movements such as surrealism and futurism on developments in video, performance, and digital art.

  • Wands, Bruce. Art of the Digital Age. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2007.

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    This image-heavy collection offers an analysis of the effects of digital media on a wide range of art practices, including sculpture, sound, software, and database art. Contains a number of useful resources, including a timeline, a list of artists’ websites, a glossary of key terms, and list of further readings.

  • Wardrip-Fruin, Noah, and Nick Montfort, eds. The New Media Reader. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003.

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    Montfort and Wardrip-Fruin’s edited volume offers decades of primary source material on the development of new media technology, from Alan Turing to Tim Berners-Lee. While not explicitly interested in new media art, the volume nonetheless contains key texts that have influenced the fields of electronic literature, computer graphics, and more.

  • Wilson, Stephen. Information Arts: Intersections of Art, Science, and Technology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003.

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    This comprehensive text engages the use and influence of art on a number of scientific and technical fields, from microbiology, nanotechnology, artificial life, and robotics. While not explicitly interested in the topic of “new media” it engages many key works in the field and offers a comprehensive survey.

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