The Medium Changes

I’m on a mild, vacation-induced, reading-about-the-seventies-and-eighties-art-world kick, so I polished off Phoebe Hoban’s Basquiat: A Quick Killing In Art yesterday. One of the things that stood out to me about the book (aside from its explications on the rise of the art market as a major financial instrument, which is a strong point) is the repeated observation that collectors and dealers and critics were sort of charmed by the fact that Basquiat and Kenny Scharf, among others of their contemporaries, were as influenced by television as they were. It’s kind of extraordinary that as long as it had been around already, TV was still a sufficiently low-culture medium that it could be novel and strange that someone would insist it was a serious subject for painting, at least as a source of incorporatable images.I grew up largely without a television in the house, and my immersion in the medium has largely coincided with the critical consensus that television, particularly the standard and premium cable networks, has reached an artistic golden age. I wonder if the Neo-Expressionists (or at least those who drew on television for visual references) would have seemed so playful if television hadn’t seemed like an infant medium, if Scharf had been reproducing cartoons from Archer and Basquiat had painted portraits of Omar Little.