Cave… Movies?: Nothing New about New Media

Maxim: Some new media is old. And all media, at some point, has been new. Even the old stuff. Film was once new media; radio, too.

Just how old can new media get? Ancient. We’re talking cave-painting old. I just ran across a post (“Stoneage Artists Created Prehistoric Movies”) at Discover News blog which points to an article in the June issue of Antiquity. The article suggests that certain techniques in some ancient cave paintings were intended to create the illusion of movement. The blog post is a quick read, and the short video effectively illustrates the researcher’s argument. Check it out:

One of the most important aspects of this study is that it calls our attention to the distinction between suggesting movement and actually creating the illusion. There’s a huge difference. For instance, Eadweard Muybridge’s approach to understanding movement mechanics was to breakdown physical activity into a series of positions. Of course, this technique arrested movement rather than created it. However, understanding movement in the way that Muybridge did was essential to certain principles of the cubist movement and, more famously, Marcel Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2.” Muybridge’s movement-sequences spurned important new movements in Western painting, but they also serve as a watershed in moving pictures history. And now, it looks like that history has added another origin.

I can offer no better evidence that there’s really nothing new about new media. That new-ness is as old as our impulse to create. I suppose you might say that new-ness might be the oldest element of our art history.

Duchamp's "Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2" (1912)