August 11, 2008

Jonathan Jones urges museums to throw out the TV

Guardian critic/blogger Jonathan Jones wishes art galleries and museums would stop turning themselves into video lounges. "I don't think people realise how odd their behaviour is when confronted with the moving image in a museum. They stop, as if it deserves special attention. They bask in its light. Walk through the collection galleries at Tate Modern and it's always the video installations and little cinema spaces that are crowded. The oddest thing is that visitors often seem to act as if the moving image has more authority - that it is actually more important - than, say, a painting by Mondrian. In reality, of course, it's just easier to deal with because we are so used to watching TV. I think the reason I find this so bizarre is that I threw away my TV earlier this year. If you don't watch TV at home, the omnipresence of it outside the home becomes anthropologically startling. In museums, it stops people looking at art as it needs to be looked at. It takes time to watch a video: the illusion is reinforced that you don't need the same time to look at a still image. But to really see a great work of art takes hours, years, a lifetime. TV eats time, but doesn't give enough back for the hours it steals. Real art will reward you. Give it a chance." Read more.

4 comments:

It's difficult for a static painting to compete with moving images and sound. But that doesn't mean we should throw the baby out with the bath water.

What I dislike is the bad stuff. There's so much bad video art, but it nevertheless automatically comes with conceptual cool of being more au courant and contemporary than paintings. Video, for better or worse, seems more engaged in our everyday lives.

I think the core of the argument is about how much art resembles our everyday lives, pop culture, daily habits, etc. With average TV viewing times being hours every day, the general attitude of the watcher becomes "entertain me."

The attitude of art is definitely not that. Or not just that. And the attitude of the best TV isn't that, either. But it's a time-based medium that demands time and attention from museum-goers. Is that cause to ban it? No. But as a painter, I appreciate spaces where flat, still images aren't competing with the drone from the other room.

Like most things, I think it comes down to curators making better decisions.

Years ago at a huge Biennale-type survey show, I overheard two jaded young students, one said "Video-Art - that's like watching TV, standing up."

I never liked watching a lot of TV - staring at this little screen - when video got big, I resisted for this reason. Actually I think painting can easily compete with TV because it often asks us to look in different ways, more fulfilling ways.

There is an issue to movies – whether video/film/digital/DVD etc – being accommodated in art galleries, but I don’t think it’s about popularity or accessibility. And it’s not even about sinking into armchairs or benches provided – in a lot of video installations multiple screens or various disks or programs make it impossible to regard from a single vantage point anyway, (sort of the point) and even when there is just one screen, often it’s positioned in a way that demands a 3-D, sculptural response from the observer. The problem is really time.

With paintings or sculptures, the observer decides how much time and when to allot it to a work. But with movies (or music, speech or texts) the work itself has a temporal requirement. The work exists over a certain length of time, and even to assess it then demands that much time from the observer. I suspect this is why crowds inevitably form around them. They are in all respects, a captive audience.

So there is a fundamental difference between movies (of any sort) and the fine arts. That difference is usually allowed in the distinction of the performing arts. But as I say, so-called video art wants movies to do other things, to have an installational or site-specific expression. It’s really an uncomfortable hybrid between fine art and performing art, but one that art galleries fall to accommodating.

Does it distract from paintings or sculptures, or even other kinds of installations? I prefer to think it points to crucial differences, that it highlights what movies can’t do (do without time, basically) and that this might help people see just what it is that paintings, sculptures etc actually do. It’s not that they lack motion or sound, it’s that once we can do without motion or sound, we literally see much, much more. There is actually a whole new dimension (time given, rather than time taken) to our appreciation of works – and the world.