Everything on YouTube Is Video Art ... Nah (September 10, 2009)
NOTES: Origins and Context | See Also
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Origins of this content
During the Fall of 2009, I wrote a series of blogs about video art on YouTube. I had been asked to write an essay about this question by Ming-Yuen Ma and Erika Suderberg, the editors of Resolution 3: Video Praxis in Global Spaces, a large collection of contemporary essays on video art. With their permission, I conceived of the "essay" in advance, to be composed of these blogs and printed with paltry framegrabs of YouTube videos, as a way to point to my growing discomfort about writing and publishing about YouTube on paper.
"Video art has been a developing use of the medium since its commercial availability in the late 1960s.

Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi "is chiefly renowned as the architect of the notion of flow in creativity; people enter a flow state when they are fully absorbed in activity during which they lose their sense of time and have feelings of great satisfaction."[cit]

Videos are hard to find on YouTube due to the site's search system based upon rankings. In "The Value of the Unpopular," Jutta Treviranus writes, "Theoretical proofs and empirical evidence show that diverse perspectives benefit groups, society and individuals. Current Web applications, by artificially emphasizing popularity, discourage this diversity."[cit] If a video is about an obscure, radical, strange, private, or "unimportant" topic, it will sit idle and largely unseen in NicheTube.
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More videos related to the content of this page
Again, I am moved to respond to Virginia Heffernan's intelligent analyses of YouTube. She made some provocative claims about YouTube and the Avant-Garde this weekend in the New York Times—"it's a place for art"—"scooping" me in the process, at least in regards to the claim by which I am starting a paper about video art on YouTube (to be published in the scholarly anthology, Resolutions 3), currently in draft form. There I make the claim: "Let's imagine that everything on YouTube is video art."

In my paper, I decide that while all user-generated stuff (a subset distinguished from the corporate media that dominates the site) COULD be considered art in the sense that it has been carefully crafted and then consciously distributed with the DIY intention of a public communication of self expression, I don't want to consider the clearly unconsidered work on YouTube to be "art." In its self-aware isolation (I made this in my room, or in my backyard with my wrestling buddies), user generated video doesn't always consciously connect to other bodies or theories of video, or to other artists; it doesn't show enough care. I suppose there could be a "scene" of butt-catchers, as Heffernan suggests, but toward what project, with what beliefs? You need a shared vocabulary, agenda, history, and set of goals to make an art scene.

Of course, as I often suggest, art video can be found on YouTube (like every other marginal form or desire) sitting precariously on the edge of NicheTube, and I believe that Heffernan is right to characterize Manhattan Bridge Piers in this way. However, I remain unconvinced (even as I'd like to dream) that this presents the possibilities of a vernacular: most of what people are making can not be so easily traced back to the aesthetic or poetic preoccupations of art or alternative culture—in fact, quite the opposite.

Heffernan begins with the beginning and suggests that the first YouTube video sets a standard for YouTube: "visually surprising, narratively opaque, forthrightly poetic." However, I find that most of the videos on YouTube are neither surprising nor poetic, falling as they so easily do into the quickly consolidating vernaculars of either "good" corporate production or "bad" people-made videos (a case I made earlier in regard to her euphoric read of Susan Boyle). While DIY video may provide us with lovely surprises, Heffernan goes on to convincingly detail what she introduces as the haul-fail genres (linked, I think, to the punk sensibility of what my students and I have called flow-vids:) these are all, generically, quite-similar spectacles of the outrageous talent and behaviors of regular people to be mocked, adored, or both. Of course, dominant television is already dominated by "reality" media that both mocks and rewards the talent and aspirations of regular people. I'd suggest that professional media looks more and more like the (worst) of people-made media.