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Art and Mass Media

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In her 2005 e-book, Art and Mass Media, Dr. Betty Brown speaks of the theory that mass media in the early twentieth century substituted Academic painting, becoming the most influential source of perspective images to reflect the basic cultural values of the Western culture. She states that the mass media, comprising television, film and advertising, in the early twentieth century basically played the role of portraying the world in the way the dominant culture wanted it to be, a trait inherent of Academic painting. She then discusses the reasons why that was so, stating that mass media images have a cummulative unconscious effect on people, thus, they impact on their psychology without their knowledge, causing change in their behaviour and perceptions. She adds that the critical efficiency of art is enhanced by mass media exposure, and that, as much as the mass media portrays the world according to the dominant culture, it also, to a certain level, challenges the dominant culture’s views and understanding of the world. These reasons are important because they enable us to understand the crucial role played by  the mass media in the evolution of art.

At the turn of the 20th  century, great strides were made in the film industry, with the production of films like The birth of a nation. These films, independently produced D.W Griffith who came to be known as the “father of films”, employed the use of advanced narrative and camera techniques,and, thus, became feature films. Griffith’s films were compared to history- writing with lightning by President Wilson because they expressed the political, historical and cultural background of the U.S.  They dwelt on specific events and used cinematic devices like crosscutting and the iris shot to imprint the events on the minds of the audience. They also captured and dramatized the socio- cultural concerns of the time, expressing racism tension that was rampant in the country. Griffith’s films also have a representation of bipolar thinking in that they advocate for national pride and justice, but, at the same time, promote racism, which makes them contradictory.

Academic painting, on the other hand, developed and was popular from the 17th   century, through to the late 19th century. It was characterized by historical, mythical and religious subjects. Its characteristics included harmony, simplicity and purity. While today’s movies have deviated from the values represented by Academic painting, choosing to focus on current societal issues and maximizing the use of sexuality for profit, some films still embody those values. They include: Apocalypto, which is a historical film about slave trade in the 19th century and about simplicity, Legend of the Seeker, which is based on a lot of Greek mythology and purity, and the Mr. Bones series, which is all about the preservation of tradition and religion. All these films are based on different parts of the world but, at the end of the day, embrace the values of the Academic painting era.

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