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Critically examine the notion that the reception of video art is strongly affected by being seen in an art gallery situation
Video art began as an avant-garde movement that challenged the very nature of art in the 1960’s and 1970’s with the likes of Nam June Paik, Bruce Nauman and Stuart Marshall. These artists created powerful pieces in response to the mainstream explosion of cinema and television, and as a challenge to the traditional artistic forms of painting and sculpture. The artists helped to bring art closer to the general public and relieved artists of the need to create specific objects. However, as technology has grown and video art has become more popular, it has moved from the fringes of art to the mainstream setting of the art gallery. Before this the art gallery was a place for traditional forms of art such as painting and sculpture. One of the most interesting topics of discussion regarding video art is how this move into art galleries has changed the reception to video art. It is argued that the reception of video art is strongly affected by being seen in an art gallery situation. The aim of this essay is to critically examine this claim, and see how the setting of video art affects the perception of such art. This will be done by look at how setting influences artistic reception, looking at the reception of video art in gallery settings and other settings, and also how the medium of video art itself can influence the gallery experience.
Influence of setting on art
There are a number of studies and theories regarding the influence of setting on art and artistic reception in various mediums. It is clear that within video art the addition of a gallery setting would change the nature of the art itself. The earliest forms of video art were all on single screens outside of the art gallery setting, and the works were very much of a particular moment in time and had a fairly short lifespan as artistic pieces. However, as video art moved into a gallery setting it merged with other forms of art to create the video installation. This meant the video art was now based in an environment – embedded in a particular time and space. This gave a physical aspect to vide art that had not previously been seen, and has had a major influence on the genre. Installation art is now one of the most common forms of video art, particularly in a gallery setting as it allows video artists to experiment in more ways than ever before. 
This has meant that video art has merged into other genres, and become part of a larger multi-media, multi-form type of art rather than being a type of visual art on its own. The nature of galleries means that purely video art is being replaced with installation art as it has a more physical presence than traditional video art that was the antithesis of traditional physical art. Another factor worth considering is the psychological aspect of reception towards art in a certain setting. Art that is viewed within a gallery setting may well be seen as more ‘respectable’ and ‘valuable’ than art seen in other settings, but it may also be seen as more ‘traditional’ and constrained than art outside of a gallery setting. There seems to be little research on this particular point, but the researcher supposes that this sort of difference in reception could be possible.
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Another factor with video art is that the setting of the art might determine how the art is created in itself. Video artists see their projects almost as their children, and therefore want it shown in a particular way as it was intended. If a video art piece was intended to be spontaneous and viewed in a casual setting, then a gallery viewing of such a piece may limit its effectiveness, or even possibly change its meaning altogether.
The reception of video art in a gallery setting
Video art in a gallery setting is often received differently to how it might be received in a non-gallery setting. Video art in a gallery and video art in another setting may be the separation between what is known as ‘art’ and what is simply known as ‘media’ or ‘television’. The move of video art into the gallery setting has supported its claim to be a mainstream art form. This validation of video art, merely by being seen in an art gallery setting has moved it away from the medium of television and towards the concept of philosophical aesthetics. This is a major shift in the reception of video art from simply a popular culture medium to a valid and critical artistic medium.
Another way to look at it is that perhaps the reception of video art is not changed within a gallery setting, but that the actual form of the video art is in fact changed within the gallery setting. Rather than being video art in the form of tape, video art in a gallery setting is either in the form of a live video performance or as an art installation combined with other physical forms of art such as architecture, sculpture, or other interactive multi-media forms. The only way to really determine this is by viewing art exhibitions in both a gallery and non-gallery setting to see if the reception has indeed changed. However, at this point there is very little research on this area as most art pieces are created for one specific setting rather than multiple settings. Therefore, it seems more likely that in many cases the reception of the art is not influenced by setting, but the creation of the art itself is influenced by the setting it is to be placed in.
The biggest change perhaps is that video art has moved from the single-screen, non site-specific form to the site-specific installation form. In the original single screen form, which is close to the medium of television, then the gallery setting is unlikely to alter the reception of the art piece. This is because the piece is setting-neutral and will be interpreted individually by each person regardless of setting. However, the form of video art in galleries today is generally installation art, which is site-specific. The art has been created with a specific setting in mind, surrounded by other art forms. In this case the reception of the art would be changed in different settings, but it is unlikely that a site-specific piece would be viewed outside of a gallery or its specific setting.
Influence of video art on the gallery experience
Video art has been influenced by the gallery setting in its creation more than its specific reception, but video art and other multi-media art has also influenced the gallery experience and changed the way in which art can be perceived. The placement of video art and other multi-media art forms within galleries has challenged the nature of what ‘art’ is and has changed the nature of a gallery. Before this, art in galleries was limited to paintings and sculptures, and therefore the definition of ‘art’ was concerned with things that hung on walls or sat on pedestals. Video art added a completely new element to the gallery space and changed the gallery experience itself. The previous ‘empty space’ in the gallery was now utilized as a part of the artistic framework rather than merely somewhere to display objects. The empty gallery becomes a place for performance and ideas in itself, and space became just as important as the objects within the gallery.
Art shifted from the premise of ‘art as object’ to one of ‘art as idea and action’. This not only changed the way in which galleries were seen, but also changed the nature of video art by putting it firmly in the realm of ‘acceptable’ art rather than merely a part of popular culture. It helped to separate video art from the medium of television, drawing a distinct line between the two. It also helped video art to merge into other art forms, and for other forms of art to embrace the influence of video.
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Furthermore, the acceptance of video art influence the gallery experience by letting other newer formats over the last few years to infiltrate the once sacred gallery space. Computer visuals, Internet exhibits and even live musical and dramatic performance are now part of the gallery experience in many places – something that would have been almost unheard of 30 or 40 years ago.
Finally, the acceptance of video art in a gallery setting has influenced the way in which new galleries are designed and laid out. Rather than simply having traditional spaces for paintings and sculptures, new gallery designs incorporate larger areas for performance, installation art and other multi-media art forms. The influence of video art on the gallery experience is perhaps just as strong as the influence of the gallery setting on video art.
The notion that the reception of video art is strongly influenced by the gallery setting is somewhat misleading. Whilst there is clear evidence that the genre of video art has been massively influenced by the gallery reception, this is more to do with the creation of art rather than its reception. Of course, its reception in terms of its acceptance and standing within the artistic community and amongst the general public has been heightened by its introduction into the gallery setting. However, the major change has been in the move from site-neutral, single screen video art to larger, multi-media installations that incorporate video art and are often site-specific within the gallery setting.
Conversely, video art has a significant effect on the gallery experience. It has changed the nature of what constitutes art and what a gallery should look like, as well as pave the way for other newer forms of art to be accepted within the gallery setting. Over the last thirty or forty years, the acceptance of video art into the gallery setting has changed both the way in which video art is commonly created, as well as change the way the gallery setting as a whole is viewed and used.
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