Notebook, 1993-

APPROACHES - In The Words Of . . . .

From: Ferrier, Jean-Louis, Director and Yann le Pichon, Walter D. Glanze [English Translation]. Art of Our Century, The Chronicle of Western Art, 1900 to the Present. New York: Prentice-Hall Editions. 1988.

Marshall McLuhan

The Medium is The Message
1964 - Writings and Theories

The important fact about communication is not the message that is communicated, but the communication iteslf. Marshall McLuhan, the fifty-three-year old professor from Toronto, has burst onto the contemporary scene like a cyclone. He rethinks everything: television, art, movies, clothing, money, books, telephone . . . all under the perspective of an electronic society that is fast becoming ours. He is known, above all, through his much repeated motto, "The Medium Is the Message." The following passages are from his recent book 'Understanding Media'.

In a culture like ours, long accustomed to splitting and dividing all things as a means of control, it is sometimes a bit of a shock to be reminded that, in operational and practical fact, the medium is the message. This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium--that is, of any extension of ourselves--result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs, by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology . . .

To a highly literate and mechanized culture the movie appeared as a world of triumphant illusions and dreams that money could buy. It was at this moment of the movie that Cubism occurred, and it has been described by E. H. Gombrich [Art and Illusion] as "the most radical attempt to stamp out ambiguity and to enforce one reading of the picture--that of a man-made construction, a colored canvas." For Cubism substitutes all facets of an object simultaneously for the "point of view" or facet of perspective illusion. Instead of the specialized illusion of the third dimension on canvas, Cubism sets up an interplay of planes and contradiction or dramatic conflict of patterns, lights, textures that "drives home the message" by involvement. This is held by many to be an exercise in painting, not in illusion.

In other words, Cubism, by giving the inside and outside, the top, bottom, back, and front and the rest, in two dimensions, drops the illusion of perspective in favor of instant sensory awareness of the whole. Cubism, by seizing an instant total awareness, suddenly announced that the medium is the message. Is it not evident that the moment that sequence yields to the simultaneous, one is in the world of the structure and of configuration? Is that not what has happened in physics as in painting, poetry, and in communication? Specialized segments of attention have shifted to total field, and we can now say "The medium is the message" quite naturally. Before the electronic speed and total field, it was not obvious that the medium is the message. The message, it seemed, was the "content" as people used to ask what a painting was about. Yet they never thought to ask what a melody was about, nor what a house or a dress was about . . .

Our conventional response to all media, namely that it is how they are used that counts, is the numbstance of the technological idiot. For the "content" of a medium is like the juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind. The effect of the medium is made strong and intense just because it is given another medium as "content."

The effects of technology do not occur at the level of opinions or concepts but alter sense ratios or patterns of perception steadily and without any resistance. The serious artist is the only person able to encounter technology with impunity, just because he is an expert aware of the changes in sense perception.

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media

[An Exerpt From: Ferrier, Jean-Louis, Director and Yann le Pichon, Walter D. Glanze [English Translation]. Art of Our Century, The Chronicle of Western Art, 1900 to the Present. New York: Prentice-Hall Editions. 1988. p. 611]



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