Friday, March 7, 2008

Esthetics, Richard Kostelanetz

Aesthetics, or the science of art, only the progressive systematization, always renewed and always renewing, of the problems arising from time to time out of reflection upon art.
—Benedetto Croce, “Aesthetics,” Encyclopedia Britannica (1929)

The questions of esthetics are unchanging—the definition of art (as distinct from non-art or sub-art), the function of art, the types of art, the effects of art, the genesis of art, the relation of art to history and society, criteria of critical evaluation, the processes of perception, and the generic characteristics of superior works. As esthetic thinking deals with properties common and yet peculiar to all things called “art,” the philosophy of art, in contrast to “criticism,” offers statements that are relevant to more than one art, if not fundamental to the arts in general—the presuppositions being that the various arts are more interrelated than not and that common artistic assumptions are more significant than differences in content and materials. Esthetics is, by definition, primarily concerned with “fine art,” if not with only the very best art. Although the philosophy of art customarily depends upon the established hierarchies of critical reputation for its choice of individual examples, esthetics provides more foundation for critical practice than the latter offers the former. Concomitant esthetic concerns include the nature of badness and/or vulgarity in art, and whether art is, or should be, primarily the imitation of nature, the expression of self, or wholly the creation of imagination; for these are questions that are most definitively considered with reference to all of the arts.
Esthetics is more self-reflective than criticism, as well as more dispassionate about particular art forms or works; for it evinces not only a breadth of interest that is ideally all-encompassing but also an objective distance from individual artists, certain styles, internecine disputes and fluctuating hierarchies of reputation. Different esthetic philosophies emphasize different issues, as their basic choices often, on one hand, reflect metaphysical or epistemological assumptions (which may not always be explicit) and, on the other, determine their approach to remaining esthetic issues. Whereas the aim of science is systematic structure, the philosophy of art, even at its finest, is a set of related propositions. Esthetic thinking also tends to be more prescriptive than other branches of philosophy, ethics of course excluded; the American philosopher Charles S. Pierce dubbed esthetics “the basic normative science.”
Esthetics has evolved as both a branch of philosophy (that currently has slight eminence within the American academic profession) and a collection of theoretical reflections by artists and critics, both making explicit those encompassing generalizations that are merely implicit in individual works; so that esthetic thought tends to come either from professional philosophers with an interest in art or from artists and critics with aspirations to philosophy. For these reasons, “esthetics” is not exclusively the domain of self-avowed estheticians, as the epithet is implicitly honorific, characterizing, first, a certain way of thinking about art and, then a level of both perspective and generalization that distinguishes true esthetic ideas from mere criticism about art. Since major esthetic theories emphasize not just different fundamental questions but different dimensions of artistic practice—the creation of art, say, rather than its perception; or evaluation, rather than generic forms—they generally do not possess sufficient common touchstones to invite easy comparison with each other. A further presupposition holds that art, as a particular kind of discourse differing from both expository argument and verifiable demonstration is best regarded as a second nature, so to speak, which is distinct from primary nature.
The answers to the classic questions of esthetics change in time, particularly as the success of a persuasive new style in art renders many old answers dubious, if not ludicrous. Everyone familiar with current art would find obsolete the favorite nineteenth-century categories of the sublime, the tragic, the comic and the picturesque, all of which were derived from a theory of literary and artistic kinds. The reason is, simply, that those qualities, so conspicuous in much nineteenth-century work, are just not particularly prominent in recent art. As Benedetto Croce wrote in 1929, “The chief problem of our time, to be overcome by esthetics, is connected with the [current] crisis in art and in judgments upon art produced by the romantic period.” It is a modern truth that the same art that seemed incomprehensibly innovative to one generation is likely to strike succeeding generations as all too familiar, if not obvious. Indeed, a great change in art, as in our own time, challenges the old esthetic principles and raises a demand for new formulations that bring traditional preoccupations abreast of new experience; one result of every decisive revolution in art should be a comparable revolution in esthetic thinking.
American esthetics between the World Wars focused upon three great themes—the eternal characteristics of realized art, the nature of subjective processes in artistic creation, and art’s social relevance. The first concern unifies, in retrospective intellectual history, estheticians as otherwise contrary as the neo-Aristotelians, with their emphasis upon the resolution of linear forms, and the New Critics, who claimed to derive esthetic criteria (as well as a critical method) valid for all literature and, by obvious implication, for all art too. A statement typical of the time (although its author’s principal theory of art as wish fulfillment put him outside of these two schools) was DeWitt H. Parker’s assertion, in The Analysis of Art (1924), “the general characteristics of esthetic form” could be reduced to six simple principles: “The principle of organic unity, or unity in variety, as it has been called; the principle of the theme; the principle of thematic variation; balance; the principle of hierarchy, and evolution.” Pursuing this concern with unifying structure, Parker followed Aristotle in defining “organic unity [as] the master principle of esthetic form; all the other principles serve it,” so that, here and elsewhere, the quest for unifying esthetic principles inspired an emphasis upon internal artistic unities. Even an esthetician-critic as instinctively eccentric as Kenneth Burke made his major theme the insidiously unifying impact of realized artistic forms.
Another school of American esthetics, influenced by the Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce (and to a lesser extent by Henri Bergson), emphasized intuition, as opposed to intellect, in an expressionistic theory of art. This had much in common with yet another theory that was derived from the impact of Freudian psychology upon esthetic thinking—regarding all works as expressions (and, thus, symbolic revelations) of the submerged, non-rational psychic constitution of its creator. However, both the Crocean and the Freudian positions were ultimately neither objective nor systematic enough to forge philosophical statements with more profundity than obvious platitude; and though the Freudian position often informed illuminating literary criticism, its descriptions of creative processes remained too abstract and mechanical—too divorced from the real problems of artistic choice and construction. (The European origins and dissemination of these traditions perhaps explains why Jean-Paul Sartre’s esthetics, say, or Theodor Adorno’s, also seem so similarly abstract and amorphous.) Moreover, the decidedly objectivist, self-effacing character of nearly all contemporary art, especially since 1959, makes expressionist theories appear even more irrelevant.
It was characteristic of the American philosopher John Dewey, in contrast, to be less concerned with the creation or art, or even with George Santayana’s earlier emphasis upon esthetic pleasure, than with the audience’s experience of serious art. In his single most influential esthetic text, indicatively entitled Art as Experience (1934), Dewey first characterized the pattern of human experience and perception—intrinsically unending, yet full of short-term conclusions. He then defined art’s function as the coherent organization of experience, which is to say the creation of conclusions. This definition leads Dewey to suggest that the materials available to art can include anything in the world, and then that any practical or intellectual activity, “provided that it is integrated and moves by its own urge to fulfillment, will have esthetic quality.” It follows that all successful art is “clearly conceived and consistently ordered,” no matter the quality of the medium’s surface; for in true esthetic perception, “A beholder must create his own experience.” (This emphasis upon the experience of art identified what became known as “contextualist esthetics”; its primary exponents have been Stephen C. Pepper and Irwin Edman.)
As persuasive as Dewey was in characterizing ideal esthetic experience, his book resembles much of his other philosophy (as well as Emerson’s and Thoreau’s) in making essentially normative statements in a descriptive, matter-of-fact style. Secondly, the persuasiveness of his position is somewhat undermined by Dewey’s evident ignorance of individual works and his equally evident insensitivity to issues of artistic quality. Finally, this emphasis upon the audience’s experience becomes outright subjectivism in Curt John Ducasse’s eccentric but influential The Philosophy of Art (1929), which holds that esthetic value depends upon individual experience and, thus, that works of art cannot be objectively compared. It is scarcely surprising that those philosophers and critics regarding Art as the diametric opposite of science should advocate a contrary intellectual methodology as more appropriate to esthetic discussion.
In the decade after the Second World War, no philosophy of art seemed more dominant in America than that expounded by Suzanne K. Langer, first in Philosophy in a New Key (1942), and then in her most sustained esthetic exposition, Feeling and Form (1953). Her theory of art as symbolic representation is indebted to the German philosopher Ernst Cassirer, for symbolism became Langer’s “new key” for generating philosophical answers. “The edifice of human knowledge,” she wrote in the earlier book, “stands before us, not as a vast collection of sense reports, but as a structure of facts that are symbols and laws that have their human meanings.” The words of human language she regarded as one strain of symbolic activity; the non-discursive material of the non-literary arts became another. Both of them are devoted to “the creation of forms symbolic of human feeling,” and a symbol is, in Langer’s definition, “any device whereby we are enabled to make an abstraction.” Thus, to answer the question of how artistic order is created, Langer suggests that the artist endeavors to create unique symbolic structures that nonetheless present “semblances” of familiar feelings—a creative process that, as Langer describes it, scarcely draws upon unconscious materials. “The function of art,” she writes, “is the symbolic expression not of the artist’s actual emotions, but of his knowledge of emotions.” If the symbolic presentation is true to the form of a certain feeling, then this formal abstraction will not only give esthetic pleasure by itself; it will also function to instigate that particular feeling in the spectator.
The intellectual achievement of Langer’s esthetics is a richly supported theory of art-as-emotion that avoids traditional schemes of expression and individual personality on one hand, and explicit universal myth on the other. One evident presupposition is that the ulterior meaning of non-linguistic forms can be universally understood; in truth, however, cultural anthropology documents this last assumption as needlessly naive—the color white, for instance, suggesting to Eskimos feelings quite different from those it inspires in Bushmen. A more critical limitation of Langer’s esthetics is the general sense that her ideas best characterize American art that was prominent in the 1930’s and 1940’s—the representational music of Aaron Copland, the programmatic dance of Martha Graham, the poetry of T. S. Eliot, and post-cubist abstract painting. The sensitive historian of esthetics, Thomas Munro, observed in 1950 that “symbols and symbolism” was at the time the dominant esthetic concept. (Similarly, one reason for the influence of gestalt psychology among artists at that time was that it persuasively rationalized the experience of abstract painting.) Instead, the most significant recent art, in America and elsewhere, is by contrast so consciously constructivist and non-referential that no symbolic translations are intended.
Indeed, a conspicuous lack of contemporary relevance continues to plague nearly all recent writing by American academic estheticians, most of whom appear more concerned with understanding and interpreting classic doctrine, many of whom let their apparent ignorance of recent art slide into an unashamed hostility that fans the fires of philistinism. Even worse, as the British philosopher Richard Wollheim noted, “The great difficulty in any modern book of esthetics is to find anything to criticize. For by and large what is not unintelligible is truism.” Anyone reading academic estheticians in bulk discovers that they rarely confront the major contemporary questions and, if then, rarely decisively enough; and this general vagueness leads to further platitudes in their specific discussions. One reason why they continually complain about being misunderstood, even by their professional peers, is that their initial expositions are frequently unclear. Then too, they often make a point of emphasizing ”value” or evaluation (as supposedly untemporal and, thus, a philosophical specialty); but this emphasis, like that upon “beauty,” serves in practice to introduce precisely those archaic standards that modernist art tries to surpass. As values, both artistic and humane, do indeed change, evaluation remains among the less enlightening approaches to any new art (or any unfamiliar experience, for that matter). New art, in contrast, customarily denies platitude and previous standards of excellence; it challenges accepted esthetic assumptions (particularly those separating art from non-art); it must be apprehended accurately before it is judged. Similarly, it is extreme works, rather than conventional ones, which prompt esthetic reawakening. With the acceptance of a radically different art comes the need to reinterpret, if not recreate, esthetic philosophy.
The truth is that just as so much consequential contemporary sociology comes from writers outside the academic profession, so the esthetic philosophy more appropriate to our time has been forged largely by artists and critics. This shift in origins comes not without shortcomings, of course. Whereas deductive estheticians tend to omit works that they do not like or cannot understand, the artist or critic, customarily working inductively, makes no pretense of moving beyond his primary enthusiasms. Concomitantly, artists and even critics inevitably adopt an approach whose initial scope is much narrower than Langer’s, say, or Dewey’s; they do not feel the academic obligation to acknowledge prominent previous alternative theories before presenting their own. Indicatively, they find definition more essential than evaluation, and the qualities of “significance” or “interest” more laudatory than, say, “beauty.” Thirdly, artists and critics tend to be more intimately familiar with the extreme artistic endeavors that pose the most radical challenges to a de facto philosophy of art. These up-to-date inductive estheticians, at their best, forge generalizations relevant not just to one art but contemporary arts as a whole; and in the sum of their particular perspectives is perhaps a comprehensive esthetic philosophy that, except for minor divergences, would have fairly general contemporary relevance—at least to advanced American art since 1959.
One of the first American books to deal comprehensively with distinctively contemporary art was L. Moholy-Nagy’s Vision in Motion (1947). Its author, born in Hungary in 1895, became successively a painter and photographer in post-WWI Berlin, a teacher at the Bauhaus, a film-maker, a designer, a sculptor, a writer successively in Hungarian, German, and English, and much else. As a refugee from Hitler’s Germany, he emigrated first to London and then to Chicago in 1937 to head the New Bauhaus, which later became the Institute of Design (itself subsequently incorporated into the Illinois Institute of Technology). Written in English and published just after Moholy-Nagy’s premature death in 1946, Vision in Motion draws upon its author’s incomparably various artistic experience, in order to outline his innovative (and influential) program for artistic education. More importantly, as a participant-observer in the revolutions of modern art, Moholy-Nagy personally understood its radical break with past art; as an intellectual, he acknowledged the need for a new esthetics.
In the unprecedented activities of modern art, he found two encompassing tendencies—kinesis and arts-between-old-arts. The first revolutionary development—art that moves—he traced back to cubism and its innovation of systemic multiple perspective realized within a single plane; so that one change in the visual arts, for instance, was a decisive evolution from “fixed perspective to ‘vision in motion’ [of] seeing a constantly changing moving field of mutual relationships.” This leads, of course, to mobile sculpture (where Moholy-Nagy himself was a pioneer creator) and even to cinema, where the form of cinematic montage with multiple perspective represents a formally analogous extension of cubism. In all modern art, Moholy-Nagy finds “space-time” or “vision in motion, “ which he ultimately regards as “a new dynamic and kinetic existence free from the static, fixed framework of the past, “ and this art demands, in turn, unprecedented kinds of esthetic perception. Moholy-Nagy’s generalization is, of course, as perspicacious for contemporary painterly arts as post-ballet modern dance; and the simultaneously multiple perspective of cubistic visual space has formal analogies with, among other phenomena, the aural experience of post-Schoenbergian serial music.
On the second point of arts-between-old-arts, Moholy-Nagy’s discussion of sculpture, for instance, acknowledges that an Alexander Calder mobile possessing negligible weight, kinetic form, and virtual (imagined) volume is not sculpture in the traditional sense but something else—a hybrid of sculpture and theater; and recognitions like this lead him to an acknowledgment of an increased diversity of artistic types. A next step is his acceptance of the unprecedented perceptual experiences instigated by the new art forms. Indeed, precisely because his esthetic thinking is so free of a priori limitations (upon artistic forms, say, or systems of meaning), Moholy-Nagy can offer persuasive rationalizations for freedoms already forged in art. Underlying this acceptance is, nonetheless, a strong sense of the particular integrity and capabilities of both each traditional artistic medium and of each new inter-medium; so that just as an artist would be ill-advised to do in one form what could better succeed in another, so a critic should not judge a painting, say, or a mobile with criteria more relevant to literature.
To explain the evolution of art, especially stylistic change (which remains the basic evolutionary unit), Moholy-Nagy introduces a theme previously unknown in American esthetics (which has tended to avoid the issues of artistic genesis and transformation). This new kind of sociological explanation, which can be called technological determinism, deals with the impact of crucial machinery upon the creative sensibility. The modern end of the Renaissance mode of representational space, where a scene is portrayed “from an unchangeable, fixed point following the rules of the vanishing-point perspective,” is attributed to “speeding on the roads and circling in the skies....The man at the wheel sees persons and objects in quick succession, in permanent motion.” If technology transforms the sensibilities of both perceivers and creators, it follows that art created after the dissemination of radios and then television would differ from earlier art, and these differences would in turn reflect those new technologies. (This theme is more prominently developed in the sixties thought of Marshall McLuhan.)
Moholy-Nagy also regards technology as crucially changing the sum of materials available to artists and thus, again in turn, influencing stylistic development. For instance, the innovative design of even something as mundane as a chair reveals an indebtedness to “electricity, the gasoline and diesel engines, the airplane, motion pictures, color photography, radio, metallurgy, new alloys, plastics, laminated materials....” One obvious extension of this principle holds that electronic sound-generation not only creates an audibly different music but that the mere existence of electronic-assisted sound would also affect musical works which are composed entirely by non-electronic means. In addition, as technology continues to develop new forms, so will art. Extending this sense of history to politics, Moholy-Nagy suggests that changes in creativity and technology—both mind and matter—must necessarily precede transformations in society.
No American has done more to forge an esthetics for post-WWII advanced art than John Cage, perhaps because no other avant-garde artist or critic has so persistently insisted that radical developments in his own initial specialty—in this case, the composition of music—are relevant to other arts. Typically, those ideas suggesting esthetic respeculation have been scattered though Cage’s numerous lectures and interviews, his innumerable conversations both private and public, and the essays and texts he collected into three books of miscellaneous writings—Silence (1961), A Year from Monday (1967) and M. (1973). His esthetic philosophy is also articulated, largely by resonant implication, in his musical works.
Cage’s most general purpose could be defined as opening all esthetic activity to creative processes and perceptual experience unknown before; so that he came to regard as most laudable those contemporary works that realize a purposeful violation of old artistic ideas. “Art, if you want a definition of it,” he wrote, “is criminal action, because it conforms to no rules.” In order to transcend ingrained convention Cage frequently exhibits a dialectical intelligence that asserts art might be opposite of everything it once was; yet by making diametrically contrary esthetic statements, Cage thus makes possible a range of intermediate syntheses. For instance, if the aim of art was once the fabrication of a presentation that is as various and interesting as possible, Cage proposes creating something with minimal surface variety and little immediate interest, even espousing outright repetition and, thus, boredom as not only perceptually engrossing but fertilely inspiring (“The way to get ideas is to do something boring”):
In Zen they say: If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, try it for eight, sixteen, thirty-two, and so on. Eventually one discovers that it’s not boring but very interesting.
(This concern with repetition to cunning excess is also found in the works of Gertrude Stein, who was probably the most consequential precursor of radical American esthetics.) Cage’s ideas have come to rationalize, for both better and worse, all in contemporary art that extends itself far more, in time and space, than was previously acceptable.
If past art aimed to display an artist’s esthetic conscience and the work’s essential organization, Cage advocates the use of procedures that would both minimize the artist’s taste and induce structural disorganization. In the case of music, for instance, this principle informs Cage’s invention of the prepared piano, where the strings’ original pitches and timbres are radically changed. Afterwards in Cage’s own career came chance operations in “composing” or writing out a score, so that traditional structures would assuredly be avoided; and then came the use of live-time machines, such as a turned-on radio with spinning dials, so that the sounds emitted could not be predicted in advance. All these rejections of previous constraints also function, intentionally and intelligently, to free artistic creation from personal control and, therefore, the resulting work from both conventions and cliché. In follows that, in sharp contrast to previous composers, Cage intends to avoid giving a score that is too specific to his performer-collaborators, thereby allowing them far more freedom of individual action than earlier musicians had. Indeed, he has followed his self-withdrawal logic to this radical esthetic definition: “Art instead of being an object made by one person is a process set in motion by a group of people.” This esthetic theme of art as process, rather than product, also had immense influence upon painting and sculpture (even in different styles), as well as dance and intermedia, all through the sixties and seventies.
In the end, Cage favors not artistic improvisation, which depends too much upon acquired habits (and, thus, conventions) but artistic indeterminacy—the creation of conditions or ground rules that force artists to work in unusual ways, which are in turn likely to produce unexpected (and thus unpredictable) results. Indeed, precisely in his preference for extreme originality and complex acoherence, coupled with his contempt for familiar objects and experiences, does Cage himself deny the absolute, indiscriminative license implied by his philosophy. His self-denying principles notwithstanding, Cage in practice usually retains some authority (invariably revealing ingenious and tasteful choices) over the frame of activity, thereby insuring, paradoxically, an art of purposeful purposelessness, as distinct from purposeless purposelessness. Indeed, the key to his artistic intelligence is precisely the imposition of general constraints that allow, if not induce, a circumscribed range of specific freedoms.
The artistic result of Cage’s strategy of freedom within subtle constraints has usually been fields of disordered activity that are formally beyond collage, which is merely a juxtaposition of several dissimilars. Instead, Cage realizes a far more multiple mélange that is without symbolic references, without a formal center, without distinct beginnings or ends (and thus, suggesting incompleteness). He regards such willful disorder as subtly naturalistic—as an “imitation of nature in her manner of operation.” More specifically, he initiates an ongoing event that is as formally non-climactic and internally repetitive as nature itself usually is; and this conclusion explodes the art-life dichotomy as well as the hierarchical structuring that were both sacred to traditional esthetics. (One byproduct of this last theme, the destruction of traditional artistic hierarchies, is the sociological exposure of previously under-examined dimensions of cultural authority and artists’ subservience.)
Precisely because Cage’s ideas rationalized works of art that a previous age (and archaic critics) would find hopelessly chaotic (or in violation of old rules), he came to insist that audiences accept disorder—in this case, atonal and astructural sound; so that in the course of reflecting the philosophic influence of Zen Buddhism, he asserts that not only must people perceive everything, but we must accept everything we perceive. However, this assertion too remains a dialectical antithesis in Cage’s ironically systematic, ironically extreme but highly suggestive esthetics.
It should not be forgotten that the “disintegration of form” that so alarmed conservative critics, such as Erich Kahler in his 1969 book of that title, actually indicates their own inability to grasp alternative formal structures (if not a first-hand ignorance of what they condemn); for in fact true formlessness in any created object or experience is impossible. Anything that can be characterized in one way rather than another, as resembling one thing rather than another thing, has, by that act of definition, a perceptible form. The non-hierarchical evenness or pure formal diffuseness that is characteristic of Cage’s own best art, for instance, reflects a kind of identifiable unity that, needless to say, is not emphasized in his philosophy of art.
Another Cagean strategy has been the creation of artworks or events that, though superficially trivial, have great resonance as implied philosophical statements. In his 4’33” (1952), for instance, an eminent pianist sits at his instrument and makes no audible piano sound for four minutes and thirty-three seconds. Nothing happens, in a superficial sense; yet by making no-sound in a context where sound is expected, the piece implies that in the “silence” is the work’s sound—or more precisely, in all the random, surely atonal and astructural noises audibly within the frame of 4’33” was the “music.” Thus, the esthetic point, by inference, is that “art” consists of all the sensory phenomena that one chooses to perceive; the next inference holds that normal life is rich in art or esthetic experiences that are continually available to the spectator who attunes his sensory equipment.
Cage’s idea of art as anything that generates esthetic experience curiously carries John Dewey’s thinking to a philosophical extreme, as do Cage’s notions of art as revealing experiential reality and of the beholder as necessarily creating his own experience. In addition, 4’33”, for all of its originality, reveals a debt to Marcel Duchamp, whose great innovative idea consisted of imposing, by means of art rather than argument, esthetic value on things which were not initially, or previously, endowed with artistic status.
Just as the radical gesture in Cage’s esthetics lay in his justifying the creation and acceptance of perceptual disorder, somewhat similar concerns inform Morse Peckham’s highly idiosyncratic and provocative essay on Man’s Rage for Chaos (1965), which is indicatively sub-titled “Biology, Behavior, and the Arts.” Drawing upon a scholarly background in English literature and cultural history, its author suggests that, though man craves order in his life, esthetic experience “serves to break up orientations, to weaken and frustrate the tyrannous drive to order, to prepare the individual to observe what the orientation tells him is irrelevant, but what may well be highly relevant.” This emphasis upon the individual’s experience of art, as well as the method of deducing artistic value from an idealization of perceptual processes, also resembles John Dewey (who likewise confessed to more interest in behavior than art); but quite contrary to Dewey, who wanted art to provide artistic order for the sake of common experience, Peckham takes the radical tact of advocating artistic disorder on humane grounds. “Art is the reinforcement of the capacity to endure disorientation,” his book concludes, “so that man may endure exposing himself to the tensions and problems of the real world....Art is rehearsal for the orientation which makes innovation possible.” By implication, then, the new forms of “disordered” art better prepare our perceptual equipment to comprehend the unprecedented structures of contemporary life; but in philosophical contrast to Cage, Peckham advocates disorder with respect to previous art (or conventions), not in imitation of life-like processes.
Peckham is by training a scholar-critic of literature; Cage initially a creator, finally in more arts than music. Another philosopher of the new art was at his professional beginnings a painter who also took degrees in philosophy and art-history; so that Allan Kaprow’s most important text, Assemblage, Environments & Happenings (1966, though first drafted and circulated several years before) exhibits a participant-observer’s synthesis of both involvement and distance—an intelligent awareness of both personal experience and esthetic issues. A sometime composition student of John Cage, Kaprow assimilated his teacher’s passion for stretching both the creative imagination on one hand and the receptive sensibility on the other. Indicatively, he first became known for advocating, in a 1958 essay on “The Legacy of Jackson Pollock,” the use of all possible materials and “unheard-of happenings and events” in the processes and preoccupations of painting—a position ultimately indebted to Marcel Duchamp, with a nod to Cage. Kaprow’s book brilliantly outlines an evolution, in part his own, from collaged painting to assemblages (or three-dimensional collage) to environments (or artistically enclosed spaces), and finally to a mixed-means performance art that he characterized in retrospect as “a collage of events in certain spans of time and in certain spaces.” In short, Kaprow follows Moholy-Nagy in advocating the rejection of conventional barriers between the arts; and like Cage, Kaprow challenges the traditional distinction between art and life. In Kaprow’s thinking, the latter position demands, first of all, the strict elimination in one’s creative practice of the materials, actions, and themes indigenous to earlier arts:
A picture, a piece of music, a poem, a drama, each confined within its respective frame, fixed number of measures, stanzas, and stages, however great they may be in their own right, simply will not allow for breaking the barrier between art and life. And this is what the objective is.
Indeed, the new art Kaprow invented, to which he gave the unfortunately catchy name of “a happening,” is perhaps the closest that art has yet come to meshing with life (and reducing the “psychic distance” of traditional esthetic experience), while yet retaining a distinct artistic, non-life identity. The crucial point for the philosophy of art lay in the fact that a true happening—a performance occurring outside a theatrical setting, completely open (or unfixed) in both time and space, and involving everyone who happens to be within its frame of activity—was by intention as unpredictable, impermanent, and changing as life itself. Nonetheless, the endeavor still satisfied an old definition of art as reflecting more or less deliberate operations—in this case, the scenario of roughly outlined activities that the happenings-artist provided in advance to his prospective collaborators.
“At present,” Kaprow’s book concludes, “any avant-garde is primarily a philosophical quest and a finding of truths, rather than purely an esthetic activity,” so that whereas Cage offered an esthetic for unpredictability (and the acceptance of happenstance), Kaprow forged instead a philosophy advocating impermanence on one hand, and an art independent of any objective forms on the other. “Once, the task of the artist was to make good art,” he wrote in a manifesto first published in 1966, “now it is to avoid making art of any kind.” What, then, is the “artist” to do? Kaprow’s answer was anything, regardless of exhibited craftsmanship or permanence, yet with both the intention of uniqueness and the awareness that his doings would probably be recognized as artistic endeavor.
The decision to be an artist thus assumes both the existence of a unique activity and an endless series of deeds which deny it....Anything I say, do, notice, or think, is art—whether or not desired—because everyone else aware of what is occurring today will probably (not possibly) say, do notice, or think of it as art at some time or other.
Kaprow’s ideas, along with such examples of inferential art as Cage’s 4’33”, forge an idealist philosophy of art, which bases significance primarily upon perception and contextual awareness (rather than the art object). Several radical implications of this view were brilliantly developed by another artist-critic, Michael Kirby—first in Happenings (1965), and then in essays, especially “The Aesthetics of the Avant-Garde,” he collected in The Art of Time (1969).
The contemporary impact of epistemological empiricism, as well as analytic philosophy, inspires the ideal of a rigorously empirical esthetics. This would be capable of clearly distinguishing analytic elucidation from evaluation, and then of making precisely accurate statements which, as a prime criterion of acceptability, could be verified, in roughly similar form, by every equally knowledgeable observer. Of course, such empirical esthetics would become valuable only to the extent that the commentaries of its exponents moved beyond inarguable facts and superficial descriptions to more profound critical illuminations that would, nonetheless, exhibit a logical consistency, linguistic precision, and verifiable accuracy previously unknown in discourse about art. In a retrospective summary, written in 1951, of a program first presented in his earlier essay “Scientific Method in Esthetics” (1928), Thomas Munro championed “a scientific, naturalistic approach to aesthetics: one which should be broadly experimental and empirical, but not limited to quantitative measurement; utilizing the insights of art criticism and philosophy as hypotheses, but deriving objective data from two main sources—the analysis and history of form in the arts, and psychological studies of the production, appreciation, and teaching of the arts. However, as Munro himself is more a prodigiously thorough scholar and decisive theorist, his own major contributions have been not a philosophy of art but exhaustive and definitive studies of, first, the categories of artistic endeavor, The Arts and Their Interrelations (1949), and then historiography theories of Evolution and Art (1963). (One result of analytic philosophy alone—especially Ludwig Wittgenstein’s influence—has been an academic concern with the language of art and literary criticism.)
Among the more eccentrically suggestive, and yet patently unsuccessful American attempts at an empirical theory of artistic value were the foolishly simplistic algebraic formulas that the Harvard mathematician George Birkhoff proposed in his Aesthetic Measure (1933):
M = O/C
where, “within each class of aesthetic objects,” M equals esthetic measure, O is order, and C is complexity. However, one problem with this “quantitative index of [art objects’] comparative esthetic effectiveness” is that it offered no empirical method for specifying the exact degree of each factor in the equation—for verifiably quantifying the components. A second problem with Birkhoff’s formula is that it measures unity in variety, which is at best only one of several dimensions of artistic value. Such deductive theorizing, in contrast to the inductive generalizations more appropriate to science, prompted Thomas Munro himself to comment in 1946 that quantitative esthetics so far “has dealt less with works of art than with preferences for various arbitrary, simplified linear shapes, color combinations, and tone-combinations.”
Beyond that, the new, post-WWII scientific hypotheses of communication—information theory and cybernetics—both suggested schemes of esthetic understanding. The first, for instance, promises a quantitative measure of the experience flowing from a work of art to its receptor—not the content of these transmitted messages, but the size of its channel, the amount of communication precisely measured in “bits,” and its quality in terms of essential information versus redundancy. Though several writers—John R. Pierce, Leonard Meyer, and Lejaren Hiller, among them—have attempted to derive esthetic hypotheses from information theory, no new major ideas have yet emerged. Cybernetics, which emphasizes responsiveness within a closed system, offers ideas relevant less to static art than, say, to that new art form which emerged in the sixties—responsive kinetic environments; but here too, no esthetic theory has yet been fully developed. There is no doubt that a truly persuasive empirical esthetics would represent a great intellectual advance, especially with an artistic generation less eager than its predecessor to rescue art from science. The result might well supercede previous esthetics much as physics replaced some terrains of metaphysics. While the inadequacies of the forays so far suggest that the procedures used to encapsulate primary physical nature may have less relevance to the artifacts of secondary nature, the philosophy of art could probably profit from emulating the rigor, objectivity, and decisiveness of scientific discourse.
A continuing, but somewhat peripheral concern of recent American esthetics has been the difference between art and sub-art. The latter is not synonymous with “non-art” or “anti-art,” both of which are by now thought to be historically relative terms (last year’s “anti-art” often becoming tomorrow’s conventions). Rather, the term refers to that kind of commercialized “popular art” or “mass art” that became prominent in the nineteenth century and, thanks to advertising and mass-merchandizing, increasingly pervasive in the twentieth. One of the first major analyses of sub-art came from the critic Clement Greenberg (himself an able advocate of modernism in all culture) whose 1939 essay on “Avant-Garde and Kitsch” made the decisive distinctions that influenced future esthetic discussion. True arts, in his view, “derive their chief inspiration from the medium they work in” and an awareness of artistic history, while kitsch is subservient both to established artistic formulas, and, usually, to the prospect of an immanent sale. Different in intention and intrinsic nature, kitsch and art also vary in effect. Innovative art at first strikes its spectator as puzzling, if not inscrutable, inevitably creating its awn audience of admirers, while kitsch exploits stereotyped understanding for a pre-conditioned public, if dealing finally in “the lowest common denominators of experience.” In contrast to kitsch, which cultivates the effects of art (and often programs an unmistakable response), avant-garde art, as noted already, defines its integrity by a capacity for genuine surprise. “Avant-garde culture is the imitation of imitating,” Greenberg continues, as “its best artists are artist’s artists, its best poets, poet’s poets.” The difference between kitsch and avant-garde (synonymous in Greenberg’s mind with all that remains relevant in contemporary culture) is so great that they have nothing in common beyond cultural ancestry and superficial mediumistic resemblances.
Kitsch is mechanical and operates by formulas. Kitsch is vicarious experience and faked sensations. Kitsch changes according to style, but remains always the same. Kitsch is the epitome of all that is spurious in the life of our time.
The social origins of kitsch, in Greenberg’s view, lies not in capitalism per se, as most “left” critics charged, but in modern industrial society, which on one hand induces mass-merchandizing of all objects that could be manufactured in unlimited numbers and, on the other, created the “urban masses” that became the most eager consumers of kitsch. The Soviet Union, he hastens to point out, suffers as much kitsch as the U.S.
The issue of mass culture continued to preoccupy many American intellectuals, scarcely a few of whom were also as attuned to genuine art as Greenberg. (Most of them, one suspected, studied tripe because they preferred it to art, or at least found kitsch more susceptible to glib analysis.) Whereas the sociologist customarily studies kitsch’s relationship to its audience, esthetic discussion emphasizes its intrinsic nature and purposes; and while critical and moral reasoning could separate one kind of kitsch from another, the esthetic point remained—that kitsch is not art but sub-art. The first real contribution after Greenberg’s formulation came from Marshall McLuhan in The Mechanical Bride, written during the War but not published until 1951. Here McLuhan examines mass-cultural artifacts with a critical sensibility honed on the close rhetorical analysis of English literature; and this approach enabled him to perceive that the representational discontinuity distinguishing modernist painting and literature also characterizes, for one example, the newspaper’s front page with its discontinuous field of unrelated articles, oversized headlines and occasional captioned pictures:
It is on its technical and mechanical side that the front page is linked to the techniques of modern science and art. Discontinuity is in different ways a basic concept of both quantum and relativity physics....Notoriously, it is the visual technique of a Picasso, the literary technique of James Joyce.
The Mechanical Bride broached two esthetic themes that McLuhan develops more prominently in his later works—that this discontinuity reflects the impact of electronic information technology (such as, in the example at hand, the wire news service) and that, differences in quality notwithstanding, “The great work of a period has much in common with the poorest work.” All this insight into mass culture does not prevent McLuhan from proposing a necessary measure for distinguishing art from kitsch—“how heavy a demand it makes on the intelligence? How inclusive a consciousness does it focus?” (The “pop” paintings of the sixties, it should be noted, do not deny this distinction; for though the artist has appropriated subject matter drawn from kitsch, the best works turn this mundane material to highly sophisticated and uncommon ends.)
Nothing indicates more conclusively the obsolescence of traditional esthetics than the irrelevance of its favorite terms, and as such earlier phrases as “beauty” and “aesthetic distance” lose their currency, the times become ripe for a new esthetic philosophy. Much of this opportunity has been assumed, albeit circuitously, by artists and critics, at least in America, so that by now a substantial intellectual structure can inform intuitive and/or sensory sympathy for the new art. The final result has been a perceptual emphasis that ultimately underscores a highly idealist (and almost solipsistic) philosophy of art, which encompasses such radical propositions as Marshall McLuhan’s “Art is anything you [the artist] can get away with,” and Cage’s hypothesis that art is anywhere, and everywhere, that the spectator wishes to perceive it (e.g., “Theater takes place all the time, wherever one is. And Art simply facilitates persuading one this is the case”).
This new esthetics has, it is true, won more acceptance from artists than literary people, but the revolutions of modernism have always first occurred in the non-literary arts. Nonetheless, ignorance of these ideas, like responses proclaiming “hoax” and/or “not art,” will usually serve to identify a commentator as fundamentally philistine, no matter how well “educated” he superficially seems. Only this new esthetics, rather than an older one, can assimilate the artistic innovations of the past decade—not just mixed-means events, artistic machines, and kinetic environments, but also conceptual art, experimental literature and works revealing the impact of new technologies of mental change. Contemporary art is, in truth, “the only art we have”: and as it continually changes, so there is an unending need for an esthetic philosophy that is, as Croce put it, “always renewed and always renewing.”
* * *
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above copied from:

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Electronic Zen: The Alternative Video Generation Talking Heads in Videospace, Interview by Jud Yalkut

A Video Meta-Panel with Shirley Clarke, Bill Etra, Nam June Paik, Walter Wright and Jud Yalkut
interview by Jud Yalkut

Originally recorded on February 4, 1973 for broadcast on WBAI-FM.

The following Meta-Panel, so-called because it represents an attempt at an overview of the alternate video scene as of the time of the discussion with a glance into the video future, was one of two hour-long radio discussion panel shows, hosted by Jud Yalkut, for the Pacifica radio station in New York City, WBAI-FM. The shows were part of a weekly series called ARTISTS AND CRITICS, each week dealing with a different art form. During the life of the series, one a month was on the media arts of film or video. The other video panel show, included in this book, was the discussion on the Kitchen, An Electronic Image And Sound Laboratory. This video panel, called now TALKING HEADS IN VIDEOSPACE, was originally recorded for broadcast on February 4, 1973, and its guests were four of the foremost practitioners of video art explorations: Shirley Clarke, proponent of ultimate participation video; Nam June Paik, video pioneer, avant-garde performance artist and co-creator of the Paik-Abe Video Synthesizer; Bill Etra, video artist and co-designer of the Rutt-Etra Video Synthesizer; and Walter Wright, working with computer generated images since 1965, former computer animator for Dolphin, Computer Image Corporation, and designer of his own video synthesizer system.

JUD: Since we have four practitioners of what is called alternate video here, or video art, terms to be defined, we can start out by discussing what do we mean by alternate video at the present time?
WALTER WRIGHT: I’ll start by telling you what I do. I’ve been exploring the use of something that might be called a video synthesizer, and it has the possibilities of transforming or building an abstract image, or changing a real image into something more abstract. The process means that I can take a real video image in, or generate one with oscillators, and then add to it electronic color. Nam June Paik has in fact built one of these machines, being the grand-daddy of this.
NAM JUNE PAIK: Thank you for mentioning, sir. (Laughter)
SHIRLEY CLARKE: Which he sells for a pittance.
WALTER: And Bill and I are going to rebuild Nam June’s.
PAIK: Thank you very much. I think this should be in good solid hands, who know every institution, and how to do things. Distribution is much more important than production. A guy who can start from the distribution end on, that guy will be really good for it. I like what you, Bill, and you, Walter, are doing because we are a small, small stone in a vast sea, and the problem is how to face that vast sea, you know. And it will benefit everyone, and then the video synthesizer can be a solid media, alright. If they made video into a medium, then we can sell video synthesizers as a medium, because this is much more interesting this way. It can be sold eventually for a few hundred dollars. So it will be much cheaper then a portapak, because it has no mechanical moving parts. So, theoretically, the video synthesizer, from all professional technical points of view, should be, if we make as many as portapaks, which is not too many, we should be able to go 1/3rd price of portapak.
SHIRLEY: I have to interrupt you now to ask, does this make an image? What is it, live process?
BILL: It will do either.
SHIRLEY: But, I mean as against the portapak which records, as sort of a pseudo mini-movie camera?
BILL: Carried to its ultimate extreme (Laughter) which is- oh, I don’t know what it would cost to build one now. We’re in the process now of getting together and building one which would go to the ultimate extreme. Television is recorded in a. matrix of 526 by 600 and something lines, vertically and horizontally, and we would be able to put a different color and intensity dot into any one of these points and move it around at will, so it wouldn’t necessarily have to have a camera to generate an image. We would be able to actually paint it.
SHIRLEY: Like painting.
BILL: That’s one of the possibilities. Now you can also take a live image and process it. You could take a person’s face and roll it up into a little ball.
SHIRLEY: But does it replace a camera and a recording device?
PAIK: I think we can always use camera.
BILL: You would need a recording device to record it.
SHIRLEY: My first suggestion would be, since you’re going to work in that area, that you give us, into our hands, an object that would be like a little ball that would actually be a lens similar in a way to a microphone in an audio system, that you can squeeze closed.
JUD: An image collector.
SHIRLEY: Right. An image collector, and you would squeeze it closed to zoom in, and open your hand to zoom out, and through a wire or whatever, send a signal-to a recording apparatus so we could free ourselves finally from the nonsense of looking at video as if it were film, and thus messing up our heads further, (Laughter) since we already see a great many electronic movies, and we don’t see a great many electronic videospaces.
PAIK: Yeah, yeah. I agree completely. I completely agree.
SHIRLEY: And you really have to change some of our physical devices. There’s no reason any longer to have a camera, right? That was something necessary for movie-making; you had to look through the lens in order to see what you were going to shoot. In film, this was fine, but in video, where the finished product is seen in videospace, i.e. a TV monitor or a video projector.
PAIK: That’s it. There is no finished product, because, like your room at the Hotel Chelsea, Shirley, I think that is the most ideal, supreme creation of video so far,, because there you feel the space, and there is no product and it’s more interesting.
SHIRLEY: To me, there is no product.
PAIK: Because that’s the process of a living room. You have integrated videospace with living space.
SHIRLEY: I think I’m ready now for when we have the two-way cable access, or even first cable, and then two-way access. No, my image is: I’m up in my Tepee, you know, the roof, and all of you are with me, and various other artists in New York, in China, in Paris, and Tennessee, altogether into a live mix. That, to me, is the essence of video.
PAIK: I think that is really a very good use of video., in constant video living.
SHIRLEY: Every event that I have seen that fits into the live action process use of video does the thing that no art in front of it ever did before, that makes you understand video., and not fall into the traps of video is like film. It is, but video is also like theater; it’s also like dance; it’s also like music.
PAIK: Video is video.
BILL: Conceptually, it’s beautiful, Shirley, but structurally nearly impossible. My phone doesn’t work half the time.
SHIRLEY: I don’t think that’s important.
BILL: No, it’s not important to the concept. It’s important to the reality.
SHIRLEY: Our minds go faster than the technological manufacturing keeps up.
JUD: That’s been one of the problems with film for ages, that you can’t splice as fast as you can think.
SHIRLEY: Yes. I got into film in the mid-50s, and we all went in and spent the next 15 years trying to develop a hand-held sound camera. Now, when I left film a few years ago, we had the great accomplishment of an Auricon which was there before any of us came and separated the sound system so you could record sound separately, meaning that the manufacturing people have never kept up with the artist, and never kept up with the fantasy and mind of man. But, I think it’s going to get progressively less so. Time feeds everything. And our job is just what we’re doing right now, which is to talk to people, get them to understand some of the possibilities so they want them. Then they’ll make sure we get them. Because manufacturers in a free enterprise system produce to the demand.
JUD: Eric Siegel’s been pushing very much for the manufacturers to come up with new developments which would meet the needs of the practitioners.
SHIRLEY: We never succeeded.
BILL: Everyone in this room has done it. I’ve seen Shirley’s remodeling of the Sony camera.
WALTER: Manufacture our own.
SHIRLEY: That was one of the better moments.
BILL: The glove camera.. (Laughter) Nam June can’t buy a synthesizer.
SHIRLEY: So he made one.
PAIK: And went into making synthesizers. Walter is redesigning synthesizers. Walter’s worked with computers and he’s redesigning them. I, as an artist, found an electronics engineer who’s building a synthesizer because I couldn’t get a synthesizer, or at least I couldn’t get anything that approached what I wanted. It would have cost me a half million dollars.
JUD: It’s an exact analogy to the old days of light shows. You could never go out and but a machine to produce the effect you wanted to produce. You would end up having to get the components and building from scratch for every single image you wanted to produce.
PAIK: Video is very fast., but it’s supposed to be a cool media.
SHIRLEY: What I find fabulous is that I’m basically a very impatient person. I’m amazed that I have managed to survive two years of constant mechanical hang-ups. I have yet myself to participate in or attend any event where the equipment worked. I remember spending 72 hours to get that ferris wheel set up to enjoy it for ten minutes, and the show was over. It’s endless, endless.
PAIK: That’s what I gave as an answer when somebody, the LONG ISLAND NEWSDAY, interviewed me about what I thought of Art and Technology’s Nine Evenings. I said: It’s marvelous, because it showed how technology is fragile. (Laughter) And this is a great accomplishment so that art does blind words for technology. So I think that’s a great achievement and I’m airing some part of that for my Cage show, because it’s a tribute. And number two is that when the last issue of the 1960s came out of Newsweek, which I read in Tokyo while building that synthesizer, and was fighting with those machines, I read what the editor in-chief of NEWSWEEK said the 1960s did, that two things happened: you had ended on the moon, in which all technology worked perfectly; and number two, you had a great blackout where all technology failed., and he had much more fun in the blackout when everything failed than on the moon landing where everything worked. I think that’s a brilliant observation.
SHIRLEY: It is. I think one of the talents that all of us have developed, I know I certainly have, as performers, is that we fill in when the machine fails.
BILL: A basic survival tactic.
SHIRLEY: Communicating person to person with an audience, which is in a way a marvelous thing, because we can assure ourselves, whereas for awhile electronic music had the problem of bringing the human being back into it, the performance. We’ve got the human being in there always.
PAIK: When you had that very difficult session at NET, I think they should have filmed you, then they could have made a wonderful documentary on Shirley Clarke. The greatest show.
SHIRLEY: The artist versus the engineer, or something against women. Are there any lady engineers around here. (NOTE: The radio station.)
JUD: There are several who work the night shifts quite a bit.
SHIRLEY: Oh, good. Because there were none at NET.
BILL: It never works, the equipment doesn’t work.
SHIRLEY: That’s true, but sometimes it does.
BILL: I went to see a friend of mine, Steve Rutt, who’s the inventor who’s working on the machine we’re building, and for a week I got him interested in video. He was into other fields of electronics, and Steve walked around for a week, looking at his scopes around the plant., shaking his head: “It doesn’t work.” None of it works, and he would play it back on the 1/2” machine and the playback would change from time to time, and “it doesn’t work..” and he would look at the broadcast signal, and say: “That’s not what it’s supposed to look like; that’s lousy.” And the fact is that television is one of these non-perfected media, which get very soft.
JUD: Low definition.
WALTER: Yes, low definition.
SHIRLEY: I don’t mind that, because I personally think the aesthetic of the 8mm camera is way beyond the aesthetic of the 35mm camera, you know that heavy monster that sits and watches is not really as beautiful as something that can be held by a human being in your hands. And that’s certainly important here. It’s just that sometimes when it doesn’t work at all- (Laughter) I went recently to see an experience by a young artist from Baltimore who came to New York, and it was interesting because he did it over a period of seven performances, one each night for 15 minutes. He gradually got all his equipment together by the end of the week. (Laughter) But, meanwhile he learned a lot. I went to all of time. Unfortunately, not everybody had the time to do that.
PAIK: Actually, the VISION AND TELEVISION show at Brandeis, the opening was 7:30, and nothing was working in my part, and I had half a floor. (Laughter) Oh, nothing, and one of Charlotte’s TV bras broke, OK?
WALTER: In Boston?
PAIK: In Boston, and at 6 o’clock everything closes, all the TV stores.
SHIRLEY: Did you have to buy brassieres or TV sets though?
PAIK: And then, suddenly, miraculously, 15 minutes after the opening, two sets worked, and then I had a great performance as if two sets were all, you see. Always, man is more interesting than machine. So, if man gets turned on., it’s much easier than machines.
SHIRLEY: Of course since you’ve been to my place, more things work. I’m learning more about wires every day. I spent my first year crawling on the floor, looking for which wire to attach. Now I’ve got a little patch thing, and I hit it, and sometimes it works.
BILL: It’s the artist developing into a technician. Sometimes you have to.
SHIRLEY: Ugh. (Laughter)
BILL: You get entrapped by this wonderful stuff that you see you can do if you have a laser, or a video camera, and I took all this stuff to the Avant Garde Festival this year, and it broke, including the tape. The tape came apart. (Laughter)
SHIRLEY: But mine worked this year. The thing I did with Don Snyder, the Oracle, really worked. It’s true we spent 5 to 6 times as long putting it up as we enjoyed it, but there was an atmosphere that was created that was very, very exciting. What I found, by the way, is the most successful thing to do, is what I call game playing, using video to play games, because the human element is built into game playing, and there is that built-in exchange, and if you can find setups that that becomes part of. The thing of Paik’s that I’ve enjoyed are always where there is the live human element being faced with the audience. Sometimes it’s a reaction to a man standing there nude, and on his intimate parts is a little TV monitor. It’s much better for me than watching tapes, that’s for sure.
PAIK: There is a clear distinction between video art and videotaped art, that we cannot enough emphasize this difference.
SHIRLEY: For me, what I do, maybe I’m wrong, I refer to something called videofilm, which uses electronic computers, and all sorts of things, to enhance the ability to put onto a single strand, or many strands, images that are recorded; but then I see next to it a live process, which is an interaction with things which are prerecorded, and basically they imply some kind of a mix of different elements, of people, of prerecorded tapes and cameras, and to me I guess that’s more video.
JUD: And the videofilm can be released as a film or a videotape. There’s an interchange between the two.
SHIRLEY: Right. Is that, by the way, the same as reversing the procedure, where film can be put onto video, i.e. television, cable, or whatever, and therefore will hold up, or do you think that the tape which has been made for a tape holds up better in its original form? Is that an issue about it? Ply suspicion is that, in the long run, it’s not.
JUD: The interchangeability between the two is rapidly being discovered in terms of syntax.
PAIK: Of course. That is important.
SHIRLEY: When our screen sizes change, that will also make a difference.
PAIK: I think the difference between broadcasting and non-broadcasting is in the main technical.
SHIRLEY: It makes a great difference.
PAIK: How we think of it. If communication should be complete, alright then, communication is practically a feedback loop. You go and come back.
BILL: Absolutely. It’s a feedback loop whether it’s a delay line or a few microseconds.
SHIRLEY: Are there lots of friends of ours outside who are waiting? If everybody comes to the Kitchen this Sunday- Paik, who won’t even be physically there, he’ll be in Boston, right? What’s going on right now, you’re at the Kitchen, seeing us right now, and what Paik suggested was, why don’t we play back the audio through a radio when it’s broadcast, and each of us bring some kind of image feed, so that while this is going over the air, the images could be watched, whatever they might be.
PAIK: Actually, you have time to come over to 240 Mercer Street- the Kitchen, alright- then watch and see this program with us.
SHIRLEY: They can do just what we’re talking about; they can leave their houses, dash over to Mercer Street, and watch what’s happening now. This is video.
BILL: If we’re doing a commercial for the Kitchen, I have to say that we’re supported by the New York State Council On The Arts.
SHIRLEY: No, you’re not doing a commercial.
JUD: In other words, you’re listening to the conception of a piece which will be realized when you’re hearing it and watching it at the Kitchen.
WALTER: And Nam June will be phoning in from Boston.
SHIRLEY: And if we’re really very good at miming, we could mouth our own words.
PAIK: Anyway, 240 Mercer Street, and you can reach through subway to E. 8th Street, or Bleecker Street
SHIRLEY: Ok, everybody has arrived. The audience is here, and we say hello. Now we start.
JUD: What’s the picture of the video movement at the present time?
SHIRLEY: Right now.
BILL: No, I have a different outlook than Shirley on what video art is, or what videotape is. The difference between tape and live performance; now this will probably make it so that we’re all going to be screaming at each other, and nobody will be able to understand what’s go ing on.
SHIRLEY: They’re having a hard enough time already. (Laughter)
PAIK: It’s a good talk show. Better than most talk shows you see.
BILL: You see, I work with electronic image, and I’d rather work, for the most part, without people.
SHIRLEY: You’re lazy.
BILL: No. I’ve done several things with people, and you’ve seen them.
SHIRLEY: I never saw you do anything with people, except help me.
BILL: The Billy Graham tape. I didn’t direct him. I did the thing with the San Francisco Cockettes. You saw that. You liked that.
SHIRLEY: If you ask me whether I like tapes I’ve seen, if you ask if I’ve liked film tapes I’ve seen, sure, I have.
BILL: I did a live show with a strobe at the Kitchen, but that’s besides the point. I would prefer to use a medium without people because as soon as I involve people in the medium, I lose some--of the control, and for a lot of pieces I would prefer to have total control. I would like the interaction with the audience to come, not on a cerebral level where you sit there, watch the tape and think of what I meant, but where they sit back, relax and think of other things, and then have the tape affect them in such a way that they’re carried along, and they can think their own thoughts and add their own imput into it on a highly personal level, on an individual level.
SHIRLEY: You’re misundestanding, though, the role of the video director. You’re confusing him with the videomaker, let’s call him. The videomaker can control, is the one in charge of, the situation, and he sends out broadcasts out over the air, or across the room, to himself, whatever he wants, and when you want to control a situation, fine. But I don’t see the process as being of that short a duration. First of all, I see it as constantly continuing. Already in the United State, the American people go to sleep, go to work, and watch video. If you ask them what they do, most Americans watch TV, and that’s their occupation.
BILL: I guess so. I don’t watch TV.
SHIRLEY: So what I’m suggesting, in the six hour day that the average person puts in, there’s a great deal more time to explore many things in relationship to any input, any process, any kind of back and forth thing. So, I’ll give you my great fantasy, what I call the Pleasure Palace Theater of the Future. And it’s something like Mercer Street, but instead of being a bunch of separate people who have come in and rented space, this is on e big overall space, a kind of labyrinth maze, and that as you go from room to room, you can go through many experiences, from dance, to music, you can eat, you can take a sauna bath., you can play chess to Mozart, you can see live theater. Jud and Paik know this well because several years back (Laughter) we described the same event. I haven’t yet found that 200,000 dollars to even get the first thing, but it’s an architectural space, something that would certainly get anybody out of the house. Otherwise, I, for one, plan to stay right smack in my house and watch TV, until you send me something else over the cable so I can turn on the cable, or else I may stay in my house and play bingo’- via the cable. But, other than that, I don’t think we’re in any disagreement. I think you either don’t understand, or just don’t accept the implications of what I’m describing, something very big that will include watching tapes made electronically or however. I personally would like to feed film inputs to my tapes because they give me certain images I cannot get otherwise.
BILL: It’s just the average artist’s inability to communicate with anybody else. (Laughter) I agree with what you’re saying perfectly. And I didn’t understand it, right? So there’s a communications gap, which I find happens a lot between people who are always striving to communicate.
SHIRLEY: No, I think it’s very important for us to exaggerate what we say. In other words, I will not stand publicly for electronic films versus video as a live process art form, because unless I scream loud and clear for process.
BILL: You would never get it.
SHIRLEY: We won’t get it at all.
BILL: I feel the same way about electronic image. Unless you sit there and shout: “You need this machine which will do this,” people look at you like: “What do you do?” “Well, I do videotapes.” “What sort of people do you tape.” “I don’t tape people at all; I deal with electronic images.” They say: “What does it look like?” and unless I have my portable video playback unit there, or my studio, I can’t even begin to show them. It’s become totally strange. Walter must have the same experience.
JUD: For years, it’s been: “What kind of films do you make?”
SHIRLEY: Thank you. Jud. I was just going to say, I make films about people and I never make films about abstract objects. That was not my thing, that’s all.
WALTER: The FCC says there something wrong with the television; they’re going crazy when they see things like that.
SHIRLEY: I like them fine. But then, I usually admire what I don’t do. As do we all. But I think Jud is a very good example. Jud’s been in and around the video scene since its very conception, way before I even knew it existed, and yet he has remained very faithful, no matter what he uses as input, to the kind of filmmaking that he believes in, that he’s been doing for many, many years. And Paik’s work resembles Paik’s work, whether it’s music, or whether it’s his tapes.
WALTER: Or whether it’s an interview. (Laughter)
SHIRLEY: Why would it be anything else? And I remember seeing Walter’s things the first time, and flipping out because he was playing around with TV with images we would get all the time with a TV screen, even though we all admit that the problem with things keeping themselves together technically is tough, and it isn’t going to be much longer before we see large groups of people, across the city, across the world, all different kinds of art imagery produced, using this medium for distribution.
JUD: That’s for sure.
SHIRLEY: And that’s why you compared it earlier WBAI, because the whole thing with why Gene Youngblood feels so strongly about it, and when I met him at Paik’s house last fall, I suddenly got the impact of the meaning of it, what access to this medium is going to mean, because he described himself sitting in California, a film critic, not being able to see films, which is, of course, insane.
JUD: When we’re talking in terms of opening up channels, it’s like gradually being able to feel more and more different parts that we never knew existed of our nervous system.
SHIRLEY: That’s indeed true.
JUD: And what perhaps has to happen culturally at this point, and what we are talking about now, is just like the first injection of stimulant into this mass nervous system.
SHIRLEY: One of the things, of course, that’s fantastic is this idea: we’re having a conversation now that’s really marvelous. We’re really inputting a great many ideas. Now, unless people sit at home with a cassette and record it for themselves, they won’t be able to play it back and at their own leisure re-examine it. And this is, of course definitely true with images. You go to the movies, and you’ve got to look back each time. Let’s just think for a moment of the videocassette and what that’s going to do. We can have these things just like we have books and records, and that’s going to make a big difference’-too. I’m busy right now trying to write, which is not my thing at all, and I realize that in the few moments we’re spoken here, the next year’s worth of articles have been written.
WALTER: Ah, maybe I ought to start writing.
SHIRLEY: No, I think we should do more ways of talking actually, because it’s a good way of communication.
JUD: As you get more in non-verbal communication, you discover that words have an entirely other importance.
PAIK: And hire a professional editor to edit it, so it will be as good as anything.
BILL: You’d have to get someone who’s literate. Like Shamberg came to guest lecture at one of my classes at NYU, and he asked me to write down something, and I asked him how to spell every word because I never learned spelling.
SHIRLEY: You talk alright, like I do.
BILL: Alright, but not well. And I said to Michael, I’m sorry, you’ll have to write it down yourself. I’m illiterate. And he said, post-literate. (Laughter)
SHIRLEY: Well, that’s a nice compliment.
BILL: There’s an interesting thing that hinges on what we’re talking about. It was a sort of scary talk I had with Paul Kaufman, who’s the Executive Director at the National Center For Experiments In Television at KQED on the West coast- actually there are three of them- and he’s the director of that one. I asked what he thought was going to happen in terms of abstract and strange video art forms in the next few years. And it was, of course, the summer before the election, and he said: “I think Nixon will be re-elected; everybody will feel sort of suppressed and stop a lot of their protesting, and we’re going to be the Soma producers. We’re going to produce pretty patterns and nice television so people can sit at home and not go out and protest, and sit back and get high and watch tape.” Now, I see it differently too, otherwise, I’d be totally seared; but it is a scary thought.
SHIRLEY: But I see something much more exciting going on now.
BILL: Opening sensory, new tactile, new sensory, orgasmic feelings, through image and sound, electronic image and electronic sound, added in with old art forms which you can now put in a cassette and review paintings or old pictures frame by frame, and do intense study. It does imply something of going more into yourself, and getting out of politics, and that’s sort of a frightening though, in some ways.
SHIRLEY: Up until that very last sentence, I was absolutely with you. And then, I will just take this deviation here. If you look at a very interesting phenomenon, which is all the people, many of them violently anti-Chinese, anti-Mao, who returned from their first visits to China and their first reaction to it, you get a very interesting phenomenon because all they report is that there is a group of people now in the world who are happy at the moment doing what they’re doing because they see a positive future based on the best parts of their past. And, here, we all feel kind of floaty lost. This is a very political statement I’m making now, that if we saw our roles as having to learn these new skills we’re talking about, so that the technology makes possible the communication web, to really start to cross, we too can become part of what the Chinese are going through, without or with the kind of revolutions they had to go through to attain what they did. It might be possible in the future, just through communication, through information passed to people, and it doesn’t matter if it’s Nixon in the White House or who it is, because the power of the people stopped that bombing in North Vietnam, no matter what anyone says. There’s no question about that. It didn’t stop the fighting.
WALTER: Maybe we’ll get the communications web then.
SHIRLEY: But when we get it, we better jolly well have used this period perfecting some of the techniques. I, for one, find it difficult to do something that was never asked of me before, though it’s been asked of jazz musicians for years: the fact that a jazz musician can play and improvise within a group. He hears what he plays, and at the same time he hears what other people are playing. What do we do with our eyes and our bodies? Dancers know something about it with their bodies. We don’t know anything about that with our eyes. Now this is a skill we’re going to have to learn, a totally new skill for the human being. There was no other way he ever needed it before.
PAIK: That’s very true.
SHIRLEY: And it’s a very important thing to look at this period as practice time, or getting together time. It’s true; our heads are in front of the reality of things, but our skills aren’t.
PAIK: For instance, from that moment of time that man-monkey stood up and we had man, until the time we could draw, first, say the painting of 5000 B.C. good painting in a way- it was a million years we took just to learn how to use it. OK, we even use cave painting still a lot of times, and from 5000 B.C. to now is a very short time still.
SHIRLEY: Because you have to look at it not just as passive input, Bill.
PAIK: I think it is very important that we got a new hand, telecommunications.
SHIRLEY: Right, a new tool is going to make man.
PAIK: This new tool takes a very long time, and now the smart way of many, many experiments should be done because we cannot say that this is video, and this is video art, now, you know. We cannot say that.
SHIRLEY: No one’s ever defined for us what painting is either.
PAIK: Art is a very elusive concept.
SHIRLEY: I think that’s something we all have to do, busying ourselves perfecting our talents to create electronic images, a skill that we’re all going to need.
PAIK: That’s very important.
SHIRLEY: I am busy learning things having to do with movement, fine. That’s what we need. We need all our different inputs.
JUD: It’s rather like studying the zen of electronics.
WALTER: Yes, zen electronics.
BILL: Jud knows me and I think he may be poking fun at me. Jud and I teach a course together and jud knows that the only book I require in the course in how to use a half-inch portapak is the book ZEN IN THE THE ART OF ARCHERY (NOTE: by Eugen Herrigel.). People then look at the equipment in a different way. Instead of saying, in the standard Western approach: “This is a machine that I’m going to battle it out with,” they should look at it and say” “This is something that I’m going to have to incorporate into myself in order to be able to use it.
SHIRLEY: I agree with you, but I’m very curious about what Paik wants to say now, because I wonder about how he felt about being able to be p art of something like the Experimental Television Lab.
PAIK: My position from the beginning was, though I’ll do all that I can do, that I thought the best thing I can do is not to exercise any of my personal influence., so that it can be as open as possible, and then, I thought of doing as Lao Tzu said., the doing of not-doing.
SHIRLEY: By giving people access to what you have developed.
PAIK: Yeah, yeah. Of course, it was a very hard decision first, like in 1970, the various things I had already developed for ten years, and then to make a machine, and to liberate it or not to liberate it. I thought many, many nights. And one day, I knew it, that I should go off, and that day I said I will practically not use it. I made one whole year of movies with Jud Yalkut, so that I don’t play video synthesizer. It should be an open thing. Therefore, video art should be as open as possible, and also therefore all environment and all non-videotapable art. For instance, in a panel discussion with George Stoney, Gene Youngblood and Russell Connor in Minneapolis during the first video art competition, I said: “You are supposed to be video art competition, but what you are doing is single channel videotape art competition.” (To WALTER) I’m sorry, you won, and it was a very good tape. It was a good thing they discovered Walter. It was all a good thing, but the name was at fault, and I didn’t submit anything. And the thing is that video art and videotaped art are different, and we are also thinking of environment, and that is also different. I always think about the profound meaning of Paul Ryan’s thing which very few people know. Paul Ryan has this time-delay line and self-analysis. I think that’s very important.

YES AND NO is an experience in one’s own balancing of positive and negative feedback. Set up two videotape machines with a single tape. The first machine records you and the second plays the recording back on a five-second delay. According to how you feel, start with saying YES or NO into the camera. If you start with YES, when that comes back on the monitor five seconds later, you can either switch to saying NO to your YES- and so on and so on. All manner of ambivalence can be explored in this way .... (Piece at Brandeis show) ... “VT is not TV. Videotape is TV flipped into itself. Television, as the root of the word implies, has to do with transmitting information over a distance. Videotape has to do with infolding information. Instant replay offers a living feedback that creates a topology of awareness other than the tic-tac-toe grid.
SHIRLEY: My daughter, Wendy, is involved in something that’s fascinating.
PAIK: Psychological.
SHIRLEY: Yes, of self-analysis with video which could end up being something like a Proustian novel, and that’s a whole other possible thing.
PAIK: What I’m quite interested in what we are doing now with Jud is freezing time. Why are we, why suddenly, take a portrait of a great man? It used to be a job for a painter, and the painter’s job was how to make it better. Then they invented photography, and that became the job of a professional photographer, and when it became very cheap, it became everybody’s job, you know. So Paul Ryan’s portapak is the same thing, all beginning with “P”.
SHIRLEY: How about a film I once made called PORTRAIT OF JASON, which, by the way, I thought was a videotape. I thought when I finished it I thought, when I finished it, I could hire myself out as the modern day portrait painter. You know, for $1000, I’ll come to your home and do your film on you.
BILL: One of my first revelations In video, when I started working with electronic image, I would keep the camera on myself as I was playing with the thing, because I wanted a live image to input into this mess. After awhile I realized that I had the bad habit of picking my nose.
SHIRLEY: Self-improvement.
BILL: You discover it. But after awhile, you’re watching all this tape I decided it didn’t matter anymore.
PAIK: Actually, George Stoney said the same thing. That’s really interesting.
SHIRLEY: What I’ve done is, I set up my first equipment so that the monitors and the camera were right there together. From then on, no one ever looked through a lens or a viewfinder in my house. We looked in the monitor. But then Viva said: “Aren’t you going to make people self-conscious?” The answer was: “Of course. They go through a period of self-consciousness, of enjoyment, of vanity, and then they go beyond it.” And it’s fabulous. I have finally gotten where I will let people take still pictures of me, which I never could do before, because I was really insecure about my image.
JUD: It’s like the Gurdjieffian idea of self-remembering, and video feedback is making us more able to do that instantaneously, to train ourselves to do it.
SHIRLEY: Simultaneously.
JUD: Yes, simultaneously, because we can train ourselves to do as things are happening, to be aware of what we’re doing at the moment that we’re doing it, and be right on top of it.
PAIK: Yes, like Paul Ryan.
SHIRLEY: It will change how people who go out with videotape deal with themselves, let’s say, everybody wants to show everyone else in the world something of themselves. We’ve given them the means to do it themselves. No longer do we have the interpreter; we’re that for ourselves now. There’s this dating game at Antioch College they’re into- the kids- it’s perfect; it’s a very good video symbol. You come and for x number of dollars, you make a ten minute tape of yourself, and then you want a date with somebody, you can come in and look through all those tapes and see what the different people look like, and you choose somebody to go out with. It’s a very good idea.
PAIK: It’s much better than a computer.
BILL: We must have that at the Kitchen.
WALTER: That’s the kind of thing the TV LAB should be doing, and broadcasting it, too.
SHIRLEY: We could do it at the Kitchen, and pay for the tape because a person would pay, say, ten dollars to be put into.
WALTER: The video data bank.
SHIRLEY: Video Date Data. (Laughter) Dada. D-A-D-A.
BILL: This is where you could get your $200,000 for your Pleasure Dome.
SHIRLEY: Oh, you mean I could gradually take $2 off of everybody as they came in, out of the $10
BILL: And it goes to a good cause, the Pleasure Dome.
SHIRLEY: Bingo in my house is cheaper. I run a bing game on the cable. Why not? They do it in Chicago.
WALTER: Which cable?
SHIRLEY: They have apartment buildings which have been wired up for cable in Chicago, and there are young kids sitting there making quite a mint of money running bingo games for the apartment houses. Fine, why not?
WALTER: That’s right. The cablestations in Canada play bingo too.
SHIRLEY: I want the money to come to us so we can continue doing our thing.
PAIK: Actually, the latent, sleeping demand or use for video is so much.
SHIRLEY: It blows your mind.
PAIK: For instance, the reason I am not I is because when I started working at Binghampton [note: Binghamton is correct spelling] Community TV Center- Binghampton is a sleepy small town.
BILL: Was- (Laughter)
PAIK: In upstate New York. Actually, there were university and then town people. There were three Binghamptons: one was university, which is quite far; another is IBM people; and another part is old Binghampton which is centered on Johnson’s Shoe factory. There are three completely different types of people on income. And when you see a house, you know where they belong. Anyway there was hardly an introduction, just sleepy town. Then Ralph Hocking set up the TV Center, with seven portapaks, and nobody cam to rent it out. His job was to rent it out free, and nobody comes. First week, one guy; second week, two guys, and then, in two months, people just kept coming, all kinds of people, firemen, policemen, and of course, young people, and the poets, and clergymen. For instance, they still had hula- hoop competitions going on. And now, they really have a waiting list for ten portapaks a month.
JUD: That happened with public access in New York City, too.
PAIK: And then we made a video synthesizer and, of course, nobody used it. For months, nobody, and I had a very bad conscience to make that, to spend so much money, with nobody using. Then, slowly, slowly, two week waiting period, even the video synthesizer.
SHIRLEY: Well, you know, that was the history of the portapak. Remember, three a month, now 33,000 a month.
JUD: And how many people per portapaks.
SHIRLEY: Yes, one portapak goes to many people. It’s not a little home toy quite yet. The implications are extraordinary.
PAIK: That Binghampton case.
SHIRLEY: Just think, that community that’s sitting there, all sleepy and separate, where one person didn’t get to know another, and I don’t know if they have cable-or not, but if they did those tapes would go out over cable, and what a different change. P I AIK Because it happened in Binghampton. I lived in Freiburg, a small German town, a university town. The only sexy thing in town was the undergarment advertisement.
SHIRLEY: That was the big turn-on.
PAIK: That was the most sexy thing, you know. Martin Heidigger lived there, and Edmund Husserl. It’s like the birthplace of existentialism, Frieburg, near Switzerland. And Binghampton was on that level, you see.
BILL: They will never talk to you again, Nam June.
SHIRLEY: Why? Well, it’s changed the sex habits of the world. Put your own portapak up and make your own porno.
BILL: That’s right. They have them in Tokyo.
SHIRLEY: I see it as a live action thing, frankly.
BILL: I have trouble lighting the set. (Laughter) I know it’s a skill you have to perfect; that’s what I say.
PAIK: Very interesting. You just talked about how we have to learn to use our senses. So, there are three classical visions: Plato said that the word “conception” is the most important thing; St. Augustine said that sound is the most profound; and Sinoza said that vision is the most profound. Now, TV commercial has everything. (Laughter) But still, another interesting thing: when Doug Davis videotaped his honeymoon with Jane, in some motel in Vermont, and then on the bed. They showed it silently, and I told them: “Turn on the sound” and they didn’t turn on the sound.
SHIRLEY: That’s interesting. It made it personal when the sound went on
PAIK: So sound is profound, no?
SHIRLEY: There’s no doubt that all the inputs make it. Anytime you have a medium with something missing, like on radio now, people can’t see our funny faces, so they’re missing part of the fun.
JUD: But they can run around doing something else.
SHIRLEY: Yeah, right.
PAIK: That audience is so important.
SHIRLEY: By the way, one of the things that’s struck me so much about video; in theater, you have to go to the place, and in film, in order to see it. But with video, the place is something we have to start to question. Where do you see it? It can be both ways.
PAIK: It can be anywhere.
SHIRLEY: It’s quite a different thing when something comes into your home.
PAIK: The most interesting thing about NET’s two channel production, which I saw, the most interesting part was when Bob and Ray intercepted and met in the middle. That was fantastic.
SHIRLEY: That was the whole trip. And when they took the rope to pull, and they got it wrong in the tug-of-war, so that instead of being out of one monitor into the other, they got it a little mixed up so they were both in the same monitor on the edge, and suddenly you understood that’s what integration is.
PAIK: And also, both disappeared- in the middle. That is a genius idea. That’s what the video medium is- silence.
SHIRLEY: I once discovered something very funny. I was doing what I call Sculpture Tapes, where you take three cameras and you put the monitors one on top of the other, say, like a body is, head, torso, feet. And the people watched while they were being taped, and what was interesting was that, in the playback, the bottom monitor, which was the feet, bad nothing much happening, and that’s where your eyes went all the time. Not up to the busy tops, and all the moving around, but to these dumb feet which just stood there, or just sat. That’s what I’ve learned actually very much from oriental art.
Once, when Paik came to my house and we were playing with my stuff, he took a live camera and set it up so that it had one of those absolutely perfect kind of Japanese etching qualities., just the edge of something, the edge of a monitor showed, a little frame, and suddenly your eye can’t go into all my fancy images. It kept going back to this quiet.
JUD: The quiet center.
SHIRLEY: The power of observing quietly while action goes on around is another thing that only video input can do, because you need the live feed to the present moment.
PAIK: My thing is that the future, because I am now studying radio quite much, the degree of freedom we will have in the future.
SHIRLEY: Yes, we have to do something about that.
PAIK: Freedom need not be first amendment. Medium free. When you go to movie, you are prisoner of time.
SHIRLEY: Absolutely.
PAIK: Alright. There’s no other thing there.
WALTER: A physical prisoner.
PAIK: On television, you have half freedom, because you turn on the lights a certain amount, and you can do a certain amount of your things, read some books.
SHIRLEY: And also, the commercials were a good tought.
PAIK: Right, so you can leave the room. Or you don’t watch it. You come only for the commercials. And number three, radio gives you more freedom, because you can all information while you type a letter, and doing things, and even watching TV. Therefore, if in the future we can have one silent TV station, where you can get all the information through visuals, while we can choose our own audio source, from records, radio.
JUD: That could be aided, of course, by having a larger visual screen.
SHIRLEY: The day of the mosaic screen, where you have many inputs on a wall.
PAIK: When you stop broadcast, there’s more important information.
SHIRLEY: But the reverse of what you’re talking about, too, where the sound is played for you on the video, and you can make your own image.
PAIK: Of course.
SHIRLEY: And all the variations that come from understanding that.
PAIK: I have the feeling that all talk shows, including TONIGHT show and Dick Cavett, will eventually go back to radio, because there is no reason to see Johnny Carson every night.
SHIRLEY: What I find though is this; I like to get a look at how somebody behaves.
PAIK: Sometimes-
SHIRLEY: There’s something interesting about personal behavior. Let’s take an aging movie star; that’s very interesting to watch. There are all sorts of strange possibilities. But there are ways of doing it that don’t demand so much, for instance, when there’s a talk show on, I find myself more listening to it
PAIK: And you do other things.
SHIRLEY: I now live alone, and find something very interesting. In the old days, I used to turn on my record player when I came into the house. Now, I turn on my TV set, because in many ways I can deal with it merely as sound input, and busy myself. Not too often do I turn to look, and the soap operas are fine with just sound. They really don’t need much image, and game shows too. But, where I see the major difference in what we’re talking about, is having access. At the same as we have access to all of this to the fact that if you are living in Korea, and you are living in San Francisco, and you are living in Brooklyn.; and I’m in New York, and you’re in Minnesota.
WALTER: Why me in Minnesota?
SHIRLEY: I don’t know; you won the prize there. Then we can, also at will, use what used to be called the videophone. We can also plug into each other.
WALTER: That’s the thing to be able to get back to.
SHIRLEY: That we get back and forth.
WALTER: Sometimes we’ve got to talk back to the television set.
SHIRLEY: You can send video images. You can say: “Shirley, shut up for a while; I’m sending you for the next half hour beautiful images; enjoy them.”
BILL: Why are we restricting ourselves to one screen? I used to sit at home and have two air programs on simultaneously, or I would flip dials. I’m a very big one for sitting there and zooming around. The information needed really to digest two or three prime time shows isn’t very much. You can flip the dial and have them all laid out.
SHIRLEY: That’s true of television. It isn’t, I don’t think, quite so true of the kind of concentration that some of us expect with other things. In other words, I think then that the skill we were talking about developing, is that we have to learn to integrate images so that multiimages can be played, and that they can connect in a way that makes it possible to watch.
BILL: Like Nam June’s last show at the Kitchen.
WALTER: Or Shigeko Kubota’s RIVERS.
SHIRLEY: Shigeko’s RIVERS was a very good example.
BILL: This is all, I think, important. As Nam June said in his show: “You can allow your eye to do the editing.”
SHIRLEY: Well, it does what life does
BILL: To some extent. You can have a four-wall screen, or a six-wall screen. You can have the floor and ceiling. You can be inside a cube where there’s something different everywhere.
PAIK: Like quadrasonics, we’ll have quadravideo.
BILL: I think this is the next step.
SHIRLEY: The average living room, twenty years from now, has screens of many sizes on the wall, the way they have paintings. And they can still hang paintings on the opposite wall.
SHIRLEY: Do we still have more time.
JUD: I’m going to over-record, so we can edit.
WALTER: This is edited. This is what should be left on.
BILL: This is process radio. (NOTE: The program was broadcast exactly as it was.)
SHIRLEY: Still a real filmmaker.
PAIK: One thing- let me say one thing.
SHIRLEY: Last word.
PAIK: No, not last word, but one word. Everybody says one last word. Like in court. (Laughter) Finally, Harvard University, with many hundreds of years of history, and many thousands of scholars, you know, finally got one guy, and of course Harvard man has to research books to get degree, so he got research.
PAIK: Of course. They always get better than we do. (Laughter) He did all research about what was written about the telephone and, for the last hundred years, or 110 years, that the telephone was existing, only two essays had been written about the telephone.
SHIRLEY: Oh, that’s not nice.
PAIK: One is McLuhan; another is another guy. In a hundred years! When-television.
SHIRLEY: Unbelievable.
PAIK: Yes, telephone changed our lives, and only two guys wrote about it.
SHIRLEY: You know what’s very interesting. There’s this old Don Ameche movie about how he discovered the telephone; Don Ameche was the actor who played Bell, right, so there he is discovering the telephone, and finally when he and his partner have gotten it together, and they’re going to have a big show to get money so that they produce telephones- what they do is- it’s an absolutely perfect example of what our lives have been like- One of them is in Springfield on one end of the phone, and in Boston, all these rich people are watching, right, and guess what he sends out, the first telephone message: “Hello, hello, you there? and you get there, and then a group of barbershop singers do a little number, there’s a cornet solo (Laughter) and then it’s all interrupted because the landlady, who they own rent to, interrupts than., saying: “You have to get out. Sorry, you can’t do this.” She kicks them out, and everybody looks and says: “Well, it’s a nice toy, but really what is it? Who in the world would ever want to use it.” And that’s exactly the state we’re in now. It’s a good analogy.
JUD: There must be a tape of that somewhere.
WALTER: We’ll hire a Harvard man to research it.
SHIRLEY: I find my survival now, which is in a way very nice, by thinking of all this, as in the beginning of any new art form, as something one plays with. You must look at it more as a toy. Don’t take it too seriously. Enjoy it. Because it’s in that enjoyment that the significance of the thing is finally revealed. We don’t really know yet all the possibilities.
BILL: And we won’t, for several million years.
SHIRLEY: Ta-daaa.

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