Just as representational painting was followed by cubism and abstract expressionism in an effort to find truth and art in the immediate reality of the medium, the screen as a medium is on a similar progression. We find ourselves in High Renaissance of high-definition screen narcissism, placing ourselves or things of our experience in the Internet-scape or inside the representational molds created for us in video games. When will the rejection of the representational and the embrace of the screen as an array of pixels come? Thus far, only with my cracked Macbook Pro screen.
Cracked Screen / 36″x48″ / oil, elastic string, yarn, thread, acetate
Humankind in its narcissism naturally gravitates towards the representational initially, as it is easier to grasp conceptually. Just as in Plato’s Cave, we only know the shadows which we see, and it is not till we exit the cave that we conceptualize the source of these representations as existent. The acceptance of novel concepts is easier to bite off and chew with a bit of previous knowledge to wash it down. We find comfort in the familiar, and therefore in the Art World in terms of the Western Canon have always focused on representational images before evolving to the broader thought of the medium as able to convey its own new idea. For example, let’s take painting as a medium to dissect. The earliest paintings to our knowledge are composed of representational subjects, and for the most part, remain this way—gradually striving for a more “life-like” form with the chiaroscuro and sfumato of the Renaissance, for instance—until the medium has been mastered to the point of hyper-realism. In Marshall McLuhan’s words, “the ‘content’ of any medium is always another medium.” At this end point of the axis of representationalism, the artist is forced to search in the opposite axis of meaning: rather than ignoring the medium, embracing it as the meaning itself. With an absence of recognizable objects, the audience is forced into acknowledging the piece as an object in itself, identifying this as the point of conversation rather than its “content.” Painting embraced this with the coming of cubism and abstract expressionism in the early to mid 20th century: “Cubism….the most radical attempt to stamp out ambiguity and to enforce one reading of the picture–that of a man-made construction, a colored canvas.”² It is here that rather than imitating something, creating a stimulating effect, they are creating within our own reality. While the audience once looked at the subject of the painting, they are now looking at the paint as an object in itself.
Puget Sound on my iPhone / 20″ x 20″ / oil, acetate, thumbtacks
The other day, my little sister asked me why art seems less prominent and influential today than it seemed in history. My response was this: the screen is a neglected medium. Today, we are surrounded by art 24/7 without the acknowledgement of it being art. We instead see it simply as a means of communication, but we neglect that this is a definition of art as well. McLuhan speaks of a stride in society towards a “medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action,” such as screens have been performing for years, simply not recognized as an artistic medium. This may come from our use of this medium as almost solely representational, as we have not reached the point of medium-awareness on the timeline if screen art: “if it works, it’s obsolete”², and we have yet to master the screen, thus it thrives as a medium found in front of everyone’s noses. Screens have been utilized in art for their social safety barrier, allowing some who has rejected or been rejected by their reality to find an alternate reality in which to reside socially: “there was already a term for people like them in Japan, hikikomori — meaning “pulling inward, or being confined” — teens and adults who withdrew from society into fantasy worlds constructed by anime, video games, and now the internet.”¹ Because of this use, developers aim to make this alternate social reality as life-like and representational as possible for ease of access and application to certain aspects of the user’s life. Particularly in the realm of first-person gaming, you have your parallel to a Renaissance painting: “Again, here we can understand this group as people who have failed at the real world and have checked out of it and into the fantasy worlds of internet forums and video games.”¹ Hyper-realistic representationalism that provokes empathy with an imagined subject rather than a real-world experience with a physically created one. So if we have achieved our Mona Lisa of screens, where is our Mondrian?
nipple.jpg / 48×72 / oil on canvas
If we continue with the screens as we have with all other mediums on the proposed timeline, we will inevitably know the medium well enough for our Mondrian to surface. However, at this point, the only instance where I have experienced a thorough grasp on the screen as a medium is in the cracked screen of the Macbook Pro from which I construct this very argument. I don’t know how the crack came to be, but there is a clear point of impact to the glass and while the glass is unharmed, the sensor behind it shattered at the point and painted an array of multicolored vertical and horizontal lines, lightly vibrating and fluctuating with my laptop usage. It has no reach towards another object in terms of emitted meaning; it is seen and understood as a screen—pixels—and nothing else. The sole other instance I have witnessed the screen perceived as an object of value and communication in itself is in the work of Rafael Rozendaal. Rosendaal uses the internet as his medium, not just the screen; his website formats inform his concept as much as his pixels. However I discredit him to having fully embraced the screen as a medium because in a majority of his screen-related works, he does include “content,” therefore pulling from other media, in his use of perceived space rather than truth to the flatness of his surface. He also includes representations of pre-existing objects, such as an egg in his work egg alone .com.³ Yet in other compositions such as cross divisions .com and task unrelated .com, he successfully exposes the medium, allowing it to radiate its message at full capacity.³ This however is not enough for me to believe we have made it to this point on the timeline of screens in a historical sense; society as a whole lags behind Rozendaal who is paving the way for his concepts to one day become mainstream and common.
Porcelain [Censored] Bra / 2017
McLuhan set us up on a template timeline of mediums; a general course which history proves designates the path of each medium’s evolution. The same is true for the screen. We find ourselves in the Screen Renaissance of representationalism, and the creation of an entirely virtual world referencing the one we live in while providing an escape to something safe and relatable. Rozendaal has taken that first step towards cubism for us—who will follow him next?
- Beran, Dale. “4chan: The Skeleton Key to the Rise of Trump – Dale Beran – Medium.” Medium. February 14, 2017. Accessed April 18, 2017. https://medium.com/@DaleBeran/4chan-the-skeleton-key-to-the-rise-of-trump-624e7cb798cb.
- McLuhan, Marshall. “The Medium is the Message.” In Understanding media: the extensions of man. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1994.
- Rozendaal, Rafaël . “Rafaël Rozendaal – Websites.” Rafaël Rozendaal Official Website RSS. Accessed April 18, 2017. http://www.newrafael.com/websites.