The medium is the message

I run through some of the more interesting parts of the river neighbourhoods of Edmonton. As a result I get to see some of the rougher parts of an admittedly not very rough part of the world. But it does have its share of homeless camps and graffiti. There’s the usual highschool grad graffiti on the bridges. The neophytic “your mama” graffiti on the pavement.  And the unimaginative defacement of signs to no purpose.  These are thoroughly uninteresting.  There are, however, some examples of truly gifted artists and you can see many of those pieces at the Edmonton Street Art tumblr.  But as Marshal Mcluhan argued so long ago, the medium is the message, and in the case of art like this, the medium always leads us to debate a term like art.

Aja louden “popin’ ain’t easy” piece

Any public art is a statement.  If it didn’t make a statement, no one would notice.  But as Mr. Mcluhan argued, the medium used to express that statement is part of the statement and the medium influences how we, as an audience, perceive that statement.  This same picture done on a 12 ft canvas at the Edmonton Art Gallery, wouldn’t convey the same message.  Nor would a Jackson Pollack say the same thing dripped onto a wall.  So every time I run past one of these works of art, I try to think about what the artist might be trying to tell me.  First, with his choice of spray paint, coloured or not.  Second, with his choice of location. And finally, which is choice of subject.  All together, there is often something very interesting being said.

But not all art I see (and I use art to distinguish from the pointless vandalism) is done with paint. I often see interesting work done with only a marker.  Sometimes the marker is used to humorous effect, making a comedic face out of a pair of bolts in a bridge.  Sometimes it’s used for witty word play on public signage.  Sometimes, I think, the work is the early stages of an artist determining his signature, like Aja Louden above.  But when I evaluate the choices of medium, location and subject, these works, while beautiful, don’t hold the same weight.  They feel “early” or “juvenile”.  They feel exploratory, like an initial step into this particular art world with its own culture and rules (not to mention the laws that make it illegal).  While sharpie on fence post can be simple and beautiful, it is hard to appreciate it in the same way as one would the work above.

Most of my work is browser based.  It is composed and expressed through the various mediums of the web.  In many ways, the medium has embedded itself not just in the messages I convey, but also embedded itself into my very identity.  I imagine painters, stonemasons and filmmakers find the same thing with their chosen medium.  I stop and think about what the medium and the canvas say about these often ephemeral pieces of art I encounter on my runs.  I imagine that those that stumble across my many ramblings look at what I’ve done and wonder the same things.  One hopes that what they perceive brings them joy.


Jon Holt

A coach, an entrepreneur, and a no-bull advisor in growing small businesses through the use of practical strategy, light-weight governance and sitting back and thinking about running your business, regardless of what you do.

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