Film Art vs. Video Art

25 01 2007

Film art and video art – apparent, the moving picture world is not big enough for the both of them. A survey of important studies of motion picture arts finds one excluding the other, as if it did not exist. In it’s 550+ pages David Bordwell’s “Film History” manages to mention seminal video artist, theorist, and aesthetician, Nam June Paik only once.

Similarly, Illuminating Video, a collection of important source readings on video art, fails to mention experimental film makes in its “history”. One article traces technology in the arts starting with the industrial revolution and continuing through still photography to the half-inch portapak video recorders of the sixties, but it completely ignores the rich history of experimental filmmakers such as Maya Deren.

Maya Deren

The distinction between narrative and non-narrative is weak because many filmmakers such as Stan Brakhage have no narrative traces while many video artists working in the underground documentary style feature many narrative elements.

Some will also make a distinction between video artists who are seen as more concerned with experimenting with the medium itself (again, Nam June Paik), while filmmakers are more concerned with mise-en-scene and editing. Again, there are sufficient exceptions to those generalizations to make them effectively worthless.

Why is there this divide? Is it simply over the medium and/or production technique? Filmmakers use 35mm stock while video artists use half-inch tape (or miniDV today)? This seems to be a rather arbitrary distinction. What if pianists failed to recognize percussion instruments simply because one sits to play the piano while one stands to play percussion?

Who knows.

Nam June Paik


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