A medium of art is constituted by its genres, that is, the specifc uses to which it is employed. Comedies, musicals, melodramas, dramas, gangster pictures, science fiction, self-reflective or structural cinema, romances, and so on, are genres that constitute the medium of film. Media emerge from culture, and from the activities of the producers of culture; they are not intrinsic projections of materials or technologies. Pigment and canvas (or cave walls) do not necessitate the invention of painting as an art medium, any more than the alphabet prescribes the emergence of writing as a medium of art. Radio is a medium, while tapes and CDs are formats for the reproduction of works in several media, which exist independently of these modalities.
The new computer-activated electronic technologies do not, in themselves, form a medium but provide the material (in this case, digital) base (or underpinning) for several distinct media. (I exclude here presentational screen arts, such as video art presented on CD-ROM, that do not use the computer hypetextually or interactively.) At this point in time, I identify four such nonpresentational media: 1. "the web", or interlinked electronic space, a medium organized bymeans of home pages, which themselves can be characterized by genre (institutional, personal, government, educational); 2. interactive screen arts, most notably video games, but also "close-ended" hypertext works (unlike the open-ended hypertextual space of the web); 3. interconnected electronic space, a medium consituted by its principal genres: e-mail, newsgroups, listserves, mutli-user envrironments.
When trying to understand the nature of different media, it is often useful to think about what characterizes one medium in a way that distinguishes it from all other mediawhat is its essence, what can it do that no other medium can do?
I am interested in computer media not just as a vehicle to transmit textual productions that exist independent of its medium but in the way computer media change the way we perceive reality and in so doing change our realities. In this sense, computer media are as much a subject of my work as my work is subjected to the transformation entailed by the advent of all the telecommunication and electronic technologies of the past century.
I discuss these issues further in two essays: "I Don't Take Voice Mail" and "Play It Again, Pac-Man" .
background: Felix Bernstein
arrows: Emma Bernstein