This week’s New Media Seminar brought us to subjects about which I have little experience and no expertise. Once again, I was out of my comfort zone, a place that has proven to be quite stimulating for me this semester. The subject was Bill Viola, the influence of video on art, and Viola’s message that artists need to engage with this medium lest it goes the way of cable television. My first experience with cable was watching MTV at my grandmother’s house in the 1980’s, so I think I know what he means.

Both McLuhan and Viola make a passionate call to “serious artists” (McLuhan) to engage with computer and video technology, as they have become “the primary medium, not only of their own fields, but of the entire culture as well.” (Viola)

When I read Viola, I couldn’t understand (I know this is an “illegal learning outcome”, but I do know when I understand something and when I do not) how video differed so fundamentally from film. The discussion led by Ann Kilkelly and the Viola pieces that she shared helped considerably.

I see video (and I think Viola does as well) as a medium particularly suited to capturing those nearly “uncapturable” experiences or moments in time.  Viola creates these experiences through highly constructed and manipulated videos. In The Reflecting Pool, the man is caught suspended above the water, stretching out that critical, but typically immeasurably brief, period of time between decision and consequence. Most people, especially rather impulsive people like myself, do not have the opportunity to reflect upon the irreversible paths we have taken. Given ample time to do so, we might change our minds, and then the path is no longer an irreversible one. How would we respond if we could stretch out this critical period, so that we might prepare for, but not actually change, our course of action? Inevitably, the man will fall into the water, and eventually he does.

Our discussion of McLuhan and Viola also circled around the ancient question “what is art” and the logical follow-up, “who are the artists”?  Viola clearly did not view everyone as artist. I don’t think he considered the producers of music videos to be artists. I don’t know that he would see every child as an artist, the way I do. Nonetheless, I appreciate Viola as a serious artist, even if he will not return the compliment.

My definition of art, real art, is simple. Art is/are the representations that stay with me – no, more than that – “real art” changes me and becomes an integral part of me, long after I leave the theater, close the book or quit the program.

Viola’s Acceptance is real art for me.

Acceptance is considered the final stage of grief. In Acceptance, the woman suffers intensely for most of the piece. She will emerge whole and strong. Water seems to be the source of her suffering. During the grieving process, the suffering is also the healing. We must endure the experience in order to move toward acceptance and move forward in our lives. Ann says that Viola was criticized for pairing such a young, healthy body with an older face. I believe he captured the acceptance stage of grief with amazing clarity. The body will heal first. The griever will soon recover to the point where she can cook, teach, run marathons. However, her soul has not fully recovered, perhaps it never will. Some of the most paralyzing grieving pains leave scars that persist long after the body and even the mind has progressed into “acceptance”. We see this on the woman’s face.  Sometimes I see this when I look in the mirror too.

Viola works hard to capture the “uncapturable”. However, in the new media, one may also capture these moments by chance. The look on a woman’s face when she first sees her husband returning from Afghanistan missing both legs. The moment a peaceful act of civil disobedience turns into mob violence. The tools for making videos are in the hands of everyone, not just the serious artists. Anyone with grade school children and an iPhone soon discovers that nothing is sacred from the amateur videographer. Not all of it is art, to be sure, but sometimes the unedited, chance events captured by video can make as striking an impact on the viewer as the highly constructed works of Viola.

I do not believe I have reached the acceptance stage of grieving for Comet yet. However, the memories are starting to lose their clarity. I used to believe that Comet would wink at me whenever he had something particularly sly to communicate. Lately, I’ve convinced myself that the wink was just my imagination.  Then, as I was looking to clear some of the footage from my iPhone to recover some memory, I discovered this video that my daughter Simonne had taken:

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