What Is the Difference Between Video Art and Cinema?

What Is the Difference Between Video Art and Cinema

Video art is by no means a new medium. In the time we live in now, it is easier than ever to record and display videos. Of course, there has always been an interest in capturing the fleeting moments and being able to imprint them in history for generations to see and admire. But that sounds very similar to another type of artistic expression — cinematography. So why is the distinction between video art and cinema necessary?

History of the video art medium

In the middle of the 20th century, motion picture technology was not available to the masses as opposed to how it is now with the invention of smartphones and mass-produced digital cameras. Film and video recording was reserved for TV broadcasters and filmmaking studios. Creating a motion picture required a large budget and a sizable film crew.

Everything changed in the middle of the 60s when Sony Portapack, a portable analog video tape recorder, was released. The innovative recording system immediately attracted the attention of geniuses of the art scene like Andy Warhol and, notably, Nam June Paik who became the pioneer of video art. The new analog portable cameras were ignored by filmmakers because of their low image quality. However, they allowed artists who worked alone and had limited resources to explore this art form.

Differences between video art and cinema

While the lines between video art and cinema are blurred nowadays, there are some distinctions between the mediums. First, a movie usually has a plot line, narrative structure, dialog, and actors. A piece of video art does not need to have any of that: it can simply be a loop of one clip playing over and over again or a recording of a person buttoning up their jacket (like Nam June Paik’s famous art piece “Button Happening”). Moreover, video artwork is usually site-specific and is displayed in galleries, often requiring the context of the exhibition. Movies, however, can be played in dark theaters or anywhere else without losing their magic.

Video art is a large part of today’s global art scene. Different methodologies can be used to display it: for example, it is common for contemporary artists to include videos as part of a larger artwork. In this case, the motion picture interacts with other pieces and mediums to create a cohesive work of art.