Time-based Media

The term 'time-based media' refers generally to moving images, audio, or video works that have duration and unfold gradually over time. Time-based media might not employ the use of actors, may contain no dialogue, may have no discernible narrative or plot, or adhere to any of the other conventions that generally define motion pictures as entertainment. On the other hand, some video art is inextricably linked to news or TV footage, operating through appropriation and pastiche to examine the role and power of popular media.

The moving image reflects our zeitgeist. Whether in films, television, or across the computer screen, moving images affect not only how we have come to experience time and space but also how we see ourselves and others. In 1965, with the introduction of the Sony Portapak, a portable video camera, the medium of video became an expressive tool for artists (particularly in the hands of nontraditionalists such as Nam June Paik) as well as "the most relevant visual art form in contemporary life," according to Bill Viola, one of the progenitors of video art. The move toward video art during the sixties deconstructed the notion of art as a highbrow commodity, often indecipherable and accessible only to the wealthy. Rather, with video and other time-based media, art defies commoditization and can become an immersive experience. Video art is often in dialogue with the kinds of narratives that inform our everyday lives, as well as a potential tool for social critique and change. However, time-based media have also been important in furthering conceptual dialogues surrounding the nature of truth and reality, as the 2017 Dallas Museum of Art exhibition Truth: 24 frames per second explored.

The authenticity and truthfulness of lens-based media have long been open to contestation and debate. In 1878 Eadward Muybridge successfully captured the stride of a galloping horse. The results were widely publicized, and he spent the ensuing years improving his technique, photographing men and women performing everyday chores. Muybridge's intention was to faithfully capture human locomotion. However, critics were quick to point out that his images—though real—were somehow untrustworthy. The photographs documented something the human eye was unable to see. The question then arose, which is truer, the image depicting things as they are, or the way we believe them to happen? This is a recurring question of time-based media. Artists' manipulation of our innate distrust of recorded video and audio (despite its seeming veracity) awakens a certain questioning in us of what is real and what is unreal, what is true and what is false.

Although the Dallas Museum of Art did not begin collecting video in its incubation as an artistic form, it has in only a few years (beginning in 1998) created a time-based media collection that is both critically significant and popular with visitors. It is a rich, varied collection, including single-channel videos and films that can be played on a monitor or projected, as well as video-sound installations that demand one or more galleries. The ideas, strategies, and practices explored by the different artists are challenging and thought-provoking.

Chloë Courtney, Digital Collections Content Coordinator, 2018

Drawn from

Related Multimedia

New Media, Then and Now lecture series, in conjunction with Fast Forward: Contemporary Collections for the Dallas Museum of Art [part 3/3], February 11 - May 20, 2007
New Media Programs series; lecture in conjunction with Fast Forward: Contemporary Collections for the Dallas Museum of Art [part 3/3], February 11 - May 20, 2007; speaker is Executive Director of Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI)

Web Resources

  • Oxford Bibliographies
    Explore recent publications dealing with time-based media and new media art.

  • Tate
    Learn more about time-based media in the sixties.