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What Is_?New Media Art

The What Is_? Programme provides an introduction to some of the key concepts and themes in modern and contemporary art for all audiences.

New Media Art

This introductory text provides a brief overview of Media Art. Art terms are indicated with an underline and their definition can be viewed by hovering the cursor over the term. They can also be found in the glossary. 

In general usage, Media, which is the plural of medium, refers to forms of mass communication, such as newspapers, magazines, television, radio and the Internet. In the arts, media refers to the materials, methodologies, mechanisms, technologies or devices by which an artwork is realised, a substance through which an effect is transmitted. Traditional or old media include Painting and Sculpture. The specific materials used, such as paint, charcoal or marble, can also be referred to as media. ‘New’ is a relative term in that something is new when it is first created, discovered or used, and its status as ‘new’ diminishes both over time and as it is replaced by something newer. In Contemporary ArtNew Media refers to a range of materials and technologies developed relatively recently and utilised in the creation, presentation and disemmination of New Media Art. These new media are drawn from a range of sources both within the arts and the wider field of communications, entertainment and information technologies. Informed by the rapid pace of technological development, New Media Art is a constantly changing category encompassing FilmVideoPhotographyLens-Based Media,Digital TechnologyHypertextCyberspaceAudio TechnologyCD-RomsWebcamsSurveillance TechnologyWireless TelephonesComputer and Video GamesGPS System and Biothechnology.

Innovative artists have always been interested in new media and materials. During the Renaissance, artists’ practice was transformed by the use of the new medium of Oil Paint which provided artists with greater flexibility and versatility than Tempera. The introduction of the Camera Obscura contributed to new developments in perspective, and Printmaking radicalised the notion of the unique or one-off artwork, establishing an early precedent for mass media communication.


The scale of technological development during the Industrial Revolution, which gave form to the modern era, has had a considerable influence on the course of Modern and Contemporary Art, particularly the development of photography and film. In the early twentieth century, Avant-Garde and experimental artists embraced these technological developments, challenging the dominant artistic media of painting and sculpture. Photography displaced painting as the primary mode of pictorial representation, giving artists the freedom to experiment with new media and methodologies. Cubist artists focused on the medium and structure of the painting itself, challenging the illusory nature of painting and prompting the development of Abstraction. Embracing all things new and modern, Futurist artists applied technological advances to their work. Experimentation with new media also prompted collaboration across art forms, such as music, literature and dance. Fluxus artists, including visual artists, writers, filmmakers and musicians, embraced technological advances in film and video to create multi-media artworks encompassing film, video and Performance Art. In their exploration of new media such as SoundTextLanguage and performance, Conceptual artists emphasised the importance of the concept or idea over the material art object.

The pace of technological development has accelerated considerably over the course of the twentieth century. Advances in military defence technology during the Second World War and throughout the Cold War contributed to the development of digital technology, the Computer and the World Wide Web. Some technological advances also occurred when artists migrated from one medium to another, such as from painting to photography or video, bringing their medium-specific concerns to bear on their exploration and interrogation of new media.


The availability of technology has also influenced artists’ use of new media. For example, 16-Millimetre Film was developed in the early twentieth century but only became widely available in the 1960s when increased use and improvements in manufacturing and distribution reduced costs. Similarly, the development of the low-cost Sony Portapak Video Camera made video making accessible and affordable for many artists. These emerging technologies contributed to the growth of experimental Film and Video Art in the 1960s and 1970s. More recently, the accessibility and ubiquity of digital technology and the Internet have resulted in a proliferation of contemporary artists employing and interrogating these media.

The exploration of new media is central to the development of Contemporary Art. Many colleges and art institutions have New Media departments and most museums and galleries of Contemporary Art collect and present the work of artists who use new media in their practice. Some venues, such as the Walker Art Centre in Minnesota and the New Museum in New York, have New Media programmes and there are also dedicated centres for new media, such as the Centre for Art and Media in Karlsruhe and FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology) in Liverpool.

One of the consequences of accelerating technological development is the potential for the media used to create, display or store artworks to become obsolete. Obsolesence presents considerable challenges for the production, presentation and preservation of New Media Art. For some artists, obsolescence has become a mode of artistic production. Formats for the presentation and display of New Media Art also need to address audience expectations shaped by exposure to new media through entertainment and mass distribution formats, such as cinema, television and game consoles. As technology evolves and more artists engage with new media and emerging technologies, Contemporary Art museums and galleries, such as IMMA, are adapting their approach to address these challenges so that the artwork remains in the public domain.


Reading List

Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, New York: Hill and Wang, 1982.
Walter Benjamin, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ in Illuminations, (ed.) Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn, London: Fontana, 1973, pp 219-254.
Curiger Bice, The Expanded Eye: Stalking the Unseen, Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2006.
Paul Christiane, Digital Art, London: Thames and Hudson, 2008.
Maeve Connolly, The Place of Artists’ Cinema: Space, Site and Screen, Bristol and Chicago: Intellect and University of Chicago Press, 2009.
Catherine Elwes, Video Art: A Guided Tour, I.B. Tauris, 2005.
Charlie Gere, Digital Culture, London: Reaktion Books, 2003.
Oliver Grau, Virtual Art: From Illusion to Immersion, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2003.
Oliver Grau (ed.), MediaArtHistories, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2007.
Rachel Greene, Internet Art, London: Thames and Hudson, 2004.
Andy Grundberg, Photography and Art: Interactions since 1946, New York: Abbeville Press, 1987.
Mark Hansen, New Philosophy for New Media, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2004.
Philip Hayward, Culture, Technology & Creativity in the Late Twentieth Century, New Barnett: John Libbey Publishing, 1990.
Ian Jeffrey, Photography: A Concise History, London: Thames and Hudson, 1981.
Tanya Leighton (ed.), Art and the Moving Image: A Critical Reader, London: Tate Publishing in association with Afterall, 2008.
Martin Lister, Jon Dovey, Seth Giddings, Iain Grant & Kieran Kelly (eds.), New Media: A Critical Introduction, London: Routledge, 2009.
Margot Lovejoy, Digital Currents: Art in the Electronic Age, New York: Routledge, 2004.
Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2002.
Sylvia Martin, Video Art, Taschen, 2006.
Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Message: An Inventory of Effects, New York: Random House, 1967, reissued by Gingko Press, 2001.
Florence de Mèredieu, Digital and Video Art, New York: Larousse, Kingfisher, Chambers, 2005.
David Parkinson, History of Film, London: Thames and Hudson, 1996.
Frank Popper, From Technological to Virtual Art, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2007.
Michael Rush, New Media in Art, New York: Thames & Hudson, 2005.
Michael Rush, Video Art, New York: Thames and Hudson, 2007.
Edward A. Shanken, Art and Electronic Media, London: Phaidon Press, 2009.
Susan Sontag, On Photography, Picador, 2001.
Mark Tribe, Jana Reena & Uta Grosenick (eds.), New Media Art, Taschen, 2006.
Bruce Wands, Art of the Digital Age, London: Thames & Hudson, 2006.
Liz Wells, Photography: A Critical Introduction, London: Routledge, 2004.
Gene Youngblood, Expanded Cinema, New York: E.P. Dutton, 1970.




We invited Maeve Connolly to write an essay on New Media Art, entitled Art and (New) Media, Through the Lens of the IMMA Collection, which focuses on artists and artworks in IMMA’s Collection as a means of describing and contextualising this complex and contested area of Contemporary Art practice.

By focusing on IMMA’s Collection we hope to draw attention to the body of artworks in the Collection by artists who use a range of media including new media, such as film, video, photography, sound and digital technology. Some examples include James Coleman, Jaki Irvine, Pierre Huyghe, Brian Duggan, Gerard Byrne, Isaac Julien, Philippe Parreno, Clare Langan, Phil Collins, Candida Höfer, Willie Doherty, Thomas Ruff, Grace Weir and Caroline McCarthy. We also hope to highlight the potential of IMMA’s Collection as a growing resource for further exploration and consideration of this subject.