YouTube Article in Artillery Art Magazine

[UPDATE 1/13/2007]: Article posted

If you want to check out an article I wrote about YouTube as a viable medium for “art” videos, check out the October issue of Artillery Magazine. You can pick one up at your local gallery, book store, or hipoisie coffee shop (as long as you’re in a major city). The magazine is the longtime project of editor Tulsa Kinney, a painter, writer, and video artist whose scathing and witty works are familiar to denizens of L.A. galleries, and who served a stint as editor of Coagula Art Journal for a while. She’s a friend, and one of those editors that doesn’t give writers too hard a time, so I wrote something for the magazine. Chris Casady, whose animations appear on this site, is mentioned in the article. This is only the second issue of the magazine, which looks and reads like it’s going to have a long life.

Now that the new Artillery issue is out, here is the article:

YouTube: The Great Equalizer

YouTube, light of my screen, fire of my spleen. My sin, my soil. Y-O-U TOOB: the tip of the mouse taking two slippery steps down the slope to be trapped in my chair. You—Rube! It is You, plain You, in the morning, always flickering, five million videos on one site. It is relaxation at home. It is delinquency at school. It is a billion dollars on the dotted line. But in my eyes, it is always Boob Tube.Did it have a precursor? It did, indeed it did. In point of fact, there might have been no YouTube at all had I not loved, one summer, a certain tube named Cathode Ray in my youth. In a childhood in the suburbs. Oh when? Many more years before YouTube was born as my age was that summer. You can always count on a couch potato to rip off Nabokov’s Lolita.

Oh, the things I have seen on YouTube—bumfights, NASCAR pileups, animal rampages. Is this any place for a serious visual artist to leave his or her works unattended? Animation artist Chris Casady, who has posted his work and created a YouTube group known as “visual music,” thinks it is ultimately the great equalizer—everything is the same size and about the same quality (grainy to soft focussed). And that can be revealing because it fucks up everyone’s work in the same way. Casady says, “If your art relies heavily on being seen in a special context, like on a stage, on a giant screen in the dark, with the best speakers, without an ability to pause and rewind, then it won’t survive on YouTube. Ideas have to be strong enough to not lean on immersive experiential conditions. It’s like being naked.” On YouTube, the mega-budget high definition trailer to Matthew Barney’s Drawing Restraint 9 (featuring girlfriend Bjork) is letterboxed and fuzzy. A parody posted by one YouTuber of Barney’s Cremaster Cycle called Mammarymaster Cycle looks as good as the Barney trailer and, unlike Barney’s work, the tedium is intentional. 

Put in the keywords “experimental video” and you get 495 hits. Put in “anime” and you get 211,785. That tells you what the YouTubocracy really wants: genres. Unclassifiable-Cathartic-Masterworks is not a category.

Some film and video curators regard YouTube rather like an ant infestation at a formal dinner party. Cindy Keefer, a Los Angeles curator/archivist who has done media exhibits at M.O.C.A, says, “I’m not aware of any serious curators in the film and video world who rely on YouTube to find new works.”

Marilyn Brakhage, widow of famed art filmmaker Stan Brakhage, sees the phenomenon of artists posting on YouTube as settling for less. On the Frameworks independent filmmaking forum, she has said that, “this idea of immediate access to everything over the internet is just a symptom of the ‘get it quick, get it easy’ lifestyle that we have become accustomed to (progress?), and a resistance to that is not so much a fear of the work being rendered ‘commonplace’ as it is a desire to give people something better.”

Indeed, artists who spend their lives trying to create an overwhelming experience for their viewers will find YouTube severely limiting. It’s impossible to rattle an audience’s cages and generate a cathartic experience with a pixel space of 450 x 360. Technique, color range, composition—all lost.

Think about the theatrical experience. Is there any substitute for it? Widescreen movies, the ultimate in the controlled viewer experience, yielded to the small tube with its occasional trips to the kitchen for pastrami and rye in the middle of act three, which has yielded to Web 2.0—smaller, fuzzier screens with constant interruptions. What has grown bigger inversely is the democratization of distribution. Somewhere in a small town, there is a teenager who is making the YouTube video he hopes a mogul will see and will land him a studio contract. The tragi-comic truth to this picture is that moguls don’t have time to jerk around on the Internet; they’re too busy securing copyrights.

When you upload, you are warned not to pass on any copyrighted material, but Keefer, who is involved with the distribution rights of certain prominent icons of classic experimental cinema, has had to contact YouTube’s legal department to have the copyrighted works in her archives pulled from the site.

YouTube says “broadcast yourself”—not, say, video artist Bill Viola (although at press time Viola’s works could be found). But before you give ‘em your own goods, read the fine print in the Terms of Agreement. You are giving YouTube a “worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform.” Consider what happens when YouTube is ultimately sold to a media conglomerate like Time-Warner. The license is transferable to the next owner, who can sell your work in any “media formats and through any media channels.” There is one way out—as soon as you pull your video, the license is withdrawn. Right now there’s probably a YouTube lawyer reading this who will change that.

None of this info should scare you out of posting your work. Remember that you can put your stuff up on your own site in higher resolution, then post a 30-second teaser on YouTube with your site link and misleading tags to get traffic from the NASCAR and bumfights videos. Or, embrace YouTube as a new medium and make YouTube-specific works that tap into its vernacular: comedy sketches that veer into uncomfortable and unfunny territory; animal rampages juxtaposed with, say, surveillance crime footage; first-person diaries of improbable or impossible people. Maybe some day, when Web 3.0 comes around, your stuff created on YouTube will finally have higher visual quality.

Ultimately, it’s your decision whether or not YouTube deserves any of your time and effort. Call me Humbug Humbug, but I’m getting tired of squinting.

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Posted at 2pm on 10/17/2006 | comments are closed Filed Under: Daily

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