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Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: growth of dance in America
(Summer-Fall, 1976)

Lorber, Richard
Dance literacy: [toward an aesthetics of videodance],   pp. 242-[253] PDF (10.3 MB)

Page 242

by Richard Lorber
He is editor of Dance Scope magazine.
T. S. Eliot's advocacy of modernism in art was
fueled by the suggestive notion that "the poet
has, not'a 'personality' to express, but a
particular medium, which is only a medium
and not a personality...."' I don't think Eliot
would object if, for discursive purposes, we
take "poet" generically to mean "The Artist"
and "medium" as the class of all creative
instrumentalities of the twentieth century.
Eliot's idea has become the central insight of
a whole universe of thought in which such
oracular critics as Clement Greenberg and
Marshall McLuhan found orbits, and in which
newer media technologies found their artist-
champions. One of these latter is television,
which has recently become a most popular
domain of the arts. With the advent in the
early 1960s of portable, relatively inexpensive
videotape recording and playback systems
many artists of varied backgrounds began
exploring its expressive properties. Not the
fewest among these have been dance artists.
This should not be surprising since in the
modernist context2 dance also has endeavored
to express its medium, which is, as we shall
discuss, a rather unique problem. We find
the most advanced kinesthetic art increasingly
concerned with its own visibility, and as such
often akin to the concepts and processes of
the visual arts.
If we are to understand the aesthetic signifi-
cance and, in a sense, the historical inevitabil-
ity of certain dance artists gravitating toward
video, we have to recognize the essential
paradox in the creation and perception of
dance. In a brief article written in 1946,3
Rudolf Arnheim observed that, unique among
artists, "the dancer does not act upon the
world, but behaves in it." He points out "one
consequence of the peculiar fusion of subject
and object is that essentially the dancer does
not create in the same medium through which
the audience receives his work." Arnheim's
further remarks are unexpectedly revealing of
some of the objectivizing motivations of
modern dance:
The painter looks at his canvas, and so does
the spectator. But you cannot see your own
dance. The mirror is only a makeshift; in
fact, no dancer deals essentially with his
visible image . . . The fortunate cor-
respondence between the dynamic patterns
of what the dancer perceives through his
kinesthetic nerves and what the spectator is
told by his eyes is an example of isomor-
phism, as modern psychology calls it,
that is, the structural similarity of correlated
processes occurring in different media.

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