Fall ’20 – Week 6 – Intermedia Art

Fall ’20 – Week 6 – Intermedia Art

Art Idea #6 – The Medium is the Message!

Due this week:

  • Art Activity – Intermedia – on Medium
  • Discussion – 5 bitz – on BeachBoard

Art Media & Their Messages

Canadian culture-theorist Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) famously said,

The Medium is the Message

Marshall McLuhan

Is how you say something more important than what you say? Is the same thing said by a letter in the mail, a voice phone call, and a tweet, different?

The fact that you carve a message in a clay tablet, or text it to your friend from your mobile — the “text” might even be fairly similar, something like,

I don’t know, what are you doing?

But the fact that you say it with a clay tablet, or a mobile phone, that “message” says everything about who you are, how you live, how your culture communicates, and what you value.


This week we’re going to try some Intermedia Art. And you might say that with Intermedia Art, the medium is the message!

When you’re a Painter, you might get up in the morning and say “what will I paint today?”

As an Intermedia Artist, you might get up in the morning and say “what idea do I want to explore today?”

Then, when you have your idea or concept, you don’t just turn to your usual medium, like painting or video or whatever it might be. Instead, step 2 is to figure out what media will be the most compelling at expressing your concept.

The 9 Billion Names of God

There’s a 1953 Arthur C. Clarke short story, The Nine Billion Names of God, that I wanted to make an art piece about. In the story monks in a Tibetan monastery are using a supercomputer of the day to print out all the names of God.

My first thought was – oh – I’ll get a red LED board and have it constantly changing letters to spell out all the possible names of God.

I never actually created that version. But I’m pretty sure that if I had, yes, it technically would have illustrated what I was thinking about, but I think it would not have been a very interesting or satisfying piece to think about. Flashing letters on an LED board and some artist claims they’re all the names of God. OK.

What I wound up doing instead was to hang a laserprinter from the ceiling of the art gallery. I wrote a small javascript program to generate sheets full of names. And I took the tray off the end of the printer. As each page was printed, it came out of the printer, wasn’t caught by the missing tray, and instead it fell to the ground. Or more precisely, it floated through the air and gently landed in the pile of thousands of already printed sheets of paper.

Both of my media choices would technically “illustrate” the idea. But the media of LED board would have been boring. The media of laserprinter and thousands of sheets of paper filling the gallery over the course of several weeks was, I think, much more interesting to look at and think about.

The Nine Billion Names of God, Glenn Zucman, 2003

Your Project

Your mission this week is to create an Intermedia project about anything you want. Using any media you want. You could think about big issues like The Pandemic, George Floyd, The Presidential Election, etc. Or personal issues like your relationships or what you’ll be doing in 2021. Or anything else.

Idea first!

Then, as I described above think about “media” to execute your idea. Your media could be Paint or Clay. But it could also be LED board, or Laserprinter, or Javascript program. Your media could be anything.

I’d like you to think up at least 3 different media to execute your concept.

Then pick one and make your artwork.

Blog it

  1. Describe the idea you chose
  2. List your 3 or more media choices
  3. Which media did you choose? Explain why you chose this one. And how you think the piece would have been different if you had chosen the other two.
  4. Show your finished project using Photos/Video
  5. How do you think you did? Are you satisfied? Do you think your finished piece conveys the idea you wanted it to?
  6. Name your Medium post: Week 6 – Art Activity – Intermedia


Even though most of you will not be artists, I do agree with Marshall McLuhan: the medium is the message. Writing on a clay tablet, writing on a phone, receiving a message while you’re in bed talking to your partner, receiving a message from a preacher at church — all these different “media” are as important as what the actual text of the message is.

As you work on career projects, the ability to choose media that powefully presents your ideas can make the difference between success and failure. Office tools from Microsoft, Google, and others are convenient and powerful. But they’re also painfully familiar. Have you ever not fallen asleep to a PowerPoint presentation? Trying to think of a medium that can be more compelling in presenting your ideas could make a real difference in the outcome of your project!

If you think about it, in the career world, we all have to be a bit of an Intermedia Artist.

Comments? Questions? What great art did you see, make, or experience today?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.