MODULE9FOCUS ON THE MEDIUMMARSHALL MCLUHAN ON TECHNOLOGY Art 100 Understanding Visual Culture
agenda defining “medium” brief introduction to McLuhan’s thought exploring an extended example
Every representation exists in aphysical form. plural media.This physical form is a medium,
Weegee, Their First Murder, 1941Though photographs may seem like “transparent” records ofreality, they too exist in a specific medium.
For example, reality moves on, while this photograph is static, freezing a singlemoment in time.For example, reality is in color, while this photograph is in back and white.For example, we don’t see well at dusk but a flash illuminates this scene for us.
Definition: mediumA medium is something in the middle—in between usand the depicted scene. As a physical presence with itsown special properties, we must consider it carefully.
Definition: mediaThe “media” is shorthand for the “mass media”—print, radio, television, and internet as importantexamples.
Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) Prescient theorist of the media and its effects. The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962) Understanding Media (1964) War and Peace in the Global Village (1968)Yousef Karsh, Portrait of McLuhan, 1974
Technology is not neutral. Technology is transformative. McLuhan regards each new technology developed as an “extension of man”—a change in our human capabilities that significantly changes our sense of what it means to be human.
Compare our experience of theelectrified night.What has changed?
In what regions of the world is it still possible to see the night sky?The Earth at Night, November 2000composited satellite imagery, NASA
Artist Edward Hopper loved to depictthe alienating glare of theelectrified night. Edward Hopper, Nighthawks, 1942 oil on canvas, 33 1/8 x 60 inches, Art Institute of Chicago
Edward HopperOffice at Night1940oil on canvas22 3/16 x 25 3/16 inches
EdwardHopperAutomat1927oil on canvas28 1/8 x 36inches
p. 32 “…the ‘content’ of a medium is like the juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind.” In other words, McLuhan urges us not to look through the medium as if it were transparent, look at the medium to see what it does and how it has changed us.
So, what is the “message” ofelectricity? “The message of the electric light is…totally radical, pervasive, and decentralized.” (p. 25) Our very way of being in the world has changed completely.
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