Video Art
Characteristics, Origins, History, Famous Postmodernist Video Artists.

Video Art


Video Art Versus Film-Making
Origins & History
Early Exponents
Famous Video Artists
Other Important Lens-Based Artists


The genre known as video art, is a new type of contemporary art, and a medium of expression commonly seen in Installations, but also as a stand-alone art form. Initiated by such experimental artists as Andy Warhol, Wolf Vostell, and Nam June Paik, recent advances in digital computer and video technology, enabling artists to edit and manipulate film sequences, have opened up a range of creative opportunities and drawn numerous artists into the genre. Indeed, the Turner Prize - a key indicator of excellence in the postmodernist art world - was awarded to video artists in 1996/1997/1999. See also Turner Prize Winners. The theory and practice of video art is now taught as a Minor degree subject in many of the best art schools in America, and is exhibited in all the best galleries of contemporary art.

Important Video Works

Three Transitions (1970s).
Video by Peter Campus.

Sleep (1964)
Video by Andy Warhol, one of the
great pioneers of avant-garde art,
and one of the most versatile
postmodernist artists.

Nantes Triptych (1992).
Triptych Video by Bill Viola.

Ocean Without a Shore (2007).
Video by Bill Viola.



Video art typically appears in two basic varieties: single-channel and installation. In single-channel works, a video is screened, projected or shown as a single series of images. Installations typically comprise either an environment made up of several distinct pieces of video screened simultaneously, or a combination of video with Assemblage, or Performance art. At present, Installation video is the most common form of video art, being part of the multi-media fashion for combining architecture, design, sculpture, electronic and digital art. Latest developments include the use of the Internet and computer art to manipulate film imagery and to control videos from the world wide web or remote locations. To keep up to date with the video art world, see Art News Headlines.

Definitions, forms, styles, genres,
periods, see: Types of Art.

For a list of important dates about
movements, schools, famous styles,
from the Stone Age to 20th Century,
see: History of Art Timeline.
For details of styles, see:
See: Contemporary Art Movements.

For an guide to the aesthetic and
classification issues concerning
fine/decorative/applied arts, see:
Art Definition, Meaning.

Video Art Versus Film-Making

In visual art, Video differs from film (including avant garde cinema) in its disregard for the conventions of traditional movie-making. While film producers juggle with storyline, screenplay, actors and dialogue - the basic elements of entertainment movies - the video artist is concerned with exploring the medium itself, or to use it to challenge the viewer's ideas of space, time and form.

Origins and History of Video Art

The German Happenings artist Wolf Vostell (1932-98), inventor of decollages was the first to include working television sets in his 1959 assemblage 'Deutscher Ausblick', now part of the collection of the Museum Berlinische Galerie; but the pioneers of video art as a genre are usually considered to be the Korean musician, performance artist and sculptor Nam June Paik (1932-2006), and Andy Warhol (1928-87) the leader of the Pop-Art movement. In 1965, using one of the first portable Sony video recorders, Nam June Paik began producing musical video art, while Warhol had for some time been screening underground video films shot in 8mm and 16mm formats in his Factory studio. For more, see Andy Warhol's Pop Art of the 1960s and 70s.

Early Exponents of Video Art

Early video artists tended to be those involved with conceptual and performance art, and experimental film. These include Americans Vito Acconci, John Baldessari, Peter Campus, Doris Totten Chase, Joan Jonas, Bruce Nauman and others. Others, like Steina Vasulka (born Steinunn Briem Bjarnadottir) and Woody Vasulka, explored the video genre itself, utilizing synthesizers to produce abstract works. Later exponents included Americans Sadie Benning, Paul Chan, Gary Hill, Miranda July, Mary Lucier, Paul Pfeiffer and Eve Sussman; the Canadians Colin Campbell, Stan Douglas, Lisa Steele, Bill Viola and Rodney Werden. European video artists include the Germans Agricola de Cologne, Dieter Froese, and Wolf Kahlen; the Poles Wojciech Bruszewski and Miroslaw Rogala; the Britons Douglas Gordon, David Hall and Gillian, the Italian Stefano Cagol, the Austrian Martin Arnold, the Swiss Pipilotti Rist, and the Spaniard Domingo Sarrey.


Famous Video Artists

Top contemporary artists involved in video art include the following:

Andy Warhol produced a number of video films now regarded as part of the genre. Representative sample of his works include: 'Sleep' (1963), depicting the 6-hour slumber of the poet John Giorno; 'Empire' (1964), an 8-hour film of the Empire State Building in New York City at dusk; and 'Eat', a 45-minute film showing a man eating mushrooms. In 1966, he produced 'Chelsea Girls' consisting of two films being projected at the same time, with a variable sound track to update viewers on the twin plots. This use of multi-imaging echoed Warhol's earlier multi-image silk-screen works like 'Twenty Marilyns' (1962).

Peter Campus (b.1937), one of the most important video artists of the 1970s, was a key innovator in studio camera work and video technology. His work 'Three Transitions' employed numerous processors, mixers and editors to record his own film-making. Other works by Peter Campus include: Double Vision (1971), Interface (1972), Three Transitions (1973), R-G-B (1974), Video Ergo Sum: Divide (1999), Video Ergo Sum: Dream (1999), Edge of the Ocean (2003), Kathleen in Grey (2004), Baruch the Blessed (2004). He is represented in private and public collections around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York City.

The sculptor Joan Jonas (b.1936) was an early exponent of video and performance art, who began filming in natural and industrial environments and progressed to groundbreaking Performance video. During the period 1972-6, her videos featured herself as her alter-ego Organic Honey, in order to explore the complex female image. 'The Juniper Tree' (1976) was mythological, while her 'Lines in the Sand' (2002) was a performance installation based on a rework of Helen of Troy that explored the self and the body. In 1994, Jonas was awarded a major retrospective at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, for which she recreated several of her performance works into installations for the museum. This was followed in 2003 with solo exhibitions at the Rosamund Felsen Gallery (Los Angeles) and the Pat Hearn Gallery (NYC), and in 2004 by a major exhibition at Queens Museum of Art (NYC). In 2005 she became Professor of Visual Arts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Bill Viola (b.1951), a graduate of Syracuse University's College of Visual and Performing Arts, has established himself as one of the world's most celebrated video artists. Known for his technical and creative mastery of the genre, Viola focuses on birth, death, love, and emotion drawing inspiration from Zen Buddhism, Christian mysticism and Islamic Sufism. His employment of very-slow motion video allows the viewer to fully absorb the imagery and its meanings. For example, his 'Nantes Triptych' (1992), records (on the left) a woman giving birth in the arms of a man, while (on the right) an old woman dies. In the centre, an image of a man moving in water suggests our helpless existence between these twin facts of existence. In 1997, Viola was awarded a major 25-year retrospective by the Whitney Museum of American Art, and in 2000, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His work 'The Passions' - a collection of Viola's Renaissance-inspired slow motion works - was shown in Los Angeles, London, Madrid and Canberra, three years later, and in 2005, his new production of Richard Wagner’s opera Tristan und Isolde, debuted at the Opéra National de Paris.

Other Important 20th Century Lens-Based Artists

For other video and/or photographic artists, see biographies of the following camera artists.

Walker Evans (1903-75) Social Realism photographer of Great Depression
Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) Noted for street photographs
Robert Capa (1913-54) War photographer
Irving Penn (1917-2009) Famous for fashion photos, ethnographical images
Richard Avedon (1923-2004) Fashion photographer
Bernd and Hilla Becher - Industrial camera artists.
James Coleman (b.1941) Irish video artist.
Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-89) Noted for nudes and still lifes of flowers
Jeff Wall (b.1946) Specialist in "staged photography"
Nan Goldin (b.1953) Photographs of marginalized groups; feminist issues.
Cindy Sherman (b.1954) Noted for her surreal self-portraits
Andreas Gursky (b.1955) Architectural and landscape photographer.


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