Monday, November 20, 2006

You Tube's place in the history of art

YouTube, phenomenon of our day, proof of the existence of Web 2.0, re-writing the way we consume media and all that, turns out not be such a new thing after all but merely the latest chapter in western bourgeois society's long-standing desire to see itself represented and to convey that image to others in its community. That's the line art historian and media mogul Hubert Burda is promoting here on the technology discussion forum Edge. The purpose of the article is to give YouTube's seeming novelty context and Burda, in broad brushstrokes, locates it first in 15th century Belgium among the emerging mercantile middle class, who had their portraits painted to display their claim to power and status, a means of scaling the social ladder and establishing their place in the community. The above portrait of the merchant Georg Gisze and his worldly goods by Hans Holbein is an example of this impulse.
Burda then vaults forward a couple of centuries to the invention of photography and the consequent decline of portraiture. People preferred the certainty of the camera to the ambiguity of paint. Artists like Picasso went their own way into more abstract forms.
Warhol reinvented the portrait genre later in the twentieth century: his works gave an icon-like aura to his subjects and became the authoritative portrait mode of celebrities.
Warhol's conviction was that in a mediatised society "images need to be shared". "The better known your face is in the new economy of attention seeking, the higher your market value and your personal rate of return," says Burda.
And of course this brings us neatly to YouTube, which enables a new community of people - the strictures of class have long since been dispensed with- armed with affordable recording technology and a broadband connection, to expose themselves in whatever way they choose. On this reading YouTube is simply a new way of expressing an old desire: to be known to other people. You could say the same thing about blogs.

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