ARTH101 Discussion Topic 7: The Medium is the Message



Marshall McLuhan’s quote that “the medium is the message” helps us understand the frontiers and limits of the tools we use. Artistic mediums are not only extensions of our creativity but avenues that help define changes in scale. For example, the introduction of painting extends by leaps and bounds what drawing could do.

Using this list of online galleries, find one example of each two-dimensional medium we have covered: drawing, painting, printmaking and collage. Write a short summary of how the nature of each medium dictates the expression of the artist using it. In other words, what makes each medium unique, and how does it limit or expand what the artist is able to do with it?


Here are my four selected works for this topic 7: The Medium is the Message


Work chosen: Perspective Study of a Chalice (pen and ink on paper, 29 x 24.5 cm) by Paolo Uccello (born Paolo di Dono, Italian, 1397-1475), URL:

Although drawings are implicitly rendered in two-dimensional form, artists have nonetheless been able to overcome this particular shortcoming of the medium by making images appear in three-dimensional form with the help of lines, depth, perspective, and other drawing techniques.

I chose this Early-Renaissance work because it illustrates a means by which the artist was able to expand the traditional reaches of this particular medium by making the subject – in this case a chalice – appear in three-dimensional form through an innovative “wireframe” representation. Another benefit of this form of drawing
is that it can serve as a basis for the construction of an actual three-dimensional object. Many other artists – such as da Vinci – have used this technique as a vehicle for the production of other forms of art such as architectural elements or structures for instance.


Work chosen: The Decapitation of Saint John the Baptist (Oil on canvas, 361
cm × 520 cm) by Michelangelo da Caravaggio, URL:

Paintings usually depict a scene which is interpreted as that – only a scene; and that is a great limitation of the medium. But through his genius and perhaps inexplicable talent, Caravaggio shatters the limits of the traditional painting medium and manages to bring it to life as if the viewer were experiencing not the scene, but rather the morbid and ugly reality of that moment itself. Many of Caravaggio’s paintings have this effect of making the viewer feel and experience the scene rather than just admire it. Few artists have been able to use the medium of painting to such great effect.


Work chosen: The Great Wave at Kanagawa (Oil on canvas, 361 cm × 520 cm) by Katsushika Hokusai (Japanese, 1760–1849), Edo period, ca. 1831–33, Polychrome ink and color on paper (Woodblock Print in the Ukiyo-e Style), URL:

Whereas earlier woodblock prints were mostly made for producing texts (especially Buddhist scriptures) in monochrome tints Hokusai cast aside the earlier limitations of the technology and took advantage of the new (from around 1765 CE) polychrome multi-color print technology. Printmakers were thus able to use separate carved wood blocks for each color. This had a dramatic effect in that it revolutionized woodblock printing whereby texts could include images and various print arts could be seen in a whole new colorful way. The technology was used not only to produce wonderful prints such as Hokusai’s The Great Wave at Kanagawa but many other kinds such as calendars, novels, posters, advertisements, and so on. In short, this radical evolution in woodblock printing changed the medium’s look and feel from that point onward.


Work chosen: Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing? by Richard William Hamilton (British, 1922-2011), 1956, URL:

Hamilton used cut images from various American magazines to produce his collages. The limitation of photo images in magazines was that it usually included a single image with either a single theme or context. But with the uxtapositioning and layering of various cut-up images, artists such as Hamilton could now produce eye-catching visual effects in composition which made for quite fascinating works. One could easily argue that this avant-garde means by which the medium was exploited paved the way for a new form of artistic expression, namely Pop-Art.

  • Dan Fournier, 2016-01-06


Following are my four selected works for the discussion topic: The Medium is the Message:


Artwork: The Discovery (pen and ink on paper, 529 x 658 mm) by Henry Fuseli in 1767

Drawing may seem simplistic in its elements however drawing allows the artist to manipulate the lines in the image to allow for movement and motion in an otherwise flat image. The artist Fuseli is able to use drawing to create images that make the viewer feel as if they too are in the scene being acted out. The way the lines are drawn and connected to each other allows movement of the various shapes and provides realistic motion to a two-dimensional image.

Artwork: Spring Morning in the Han Palace (ink and color on silk, 30.6 x 574.1 cm) by Qiu Ying in the 17th century

Painting allowed for the introduction of color which allowed the artist to captivate the viewer but using various colors. This painting, in particular, uses crisp, bright colors which help give the viewer a sense of the emotion happening in the image, that emotion being that of happiness, grandeur, and leisure. It also gives the image a sense of beauty that the black and white tones of drawing can sometimes lack.

Artwork: Tetuans de las victoria (linocut, 15 5/8 x 24 3/8 in) by Manuel Izquierdo in the 20th century


Printmaking allowed the artist to utilize lines in a unique way that once cut or etched could be filled with ink and transferred to another medium and could be transferred many times. The original etching created that of a matrix or template that could serve to produce several transferred images of the artist’s original work. The matrix could be as detailed or as simplistic as the artist and the medium determined and created a unique contrast of color, typically black and white, that really “popped” off the medium.

Artwork: Cosmonaut (cut paper) by Erik Farseth in 2017

Collage is a fairly newer medium that artists can use to help the viewer receive the artist’s message in a unique way. In this collage, the artist uses pieces of cut paper layered on top of each other to form a larger image or meaning. In Farseth’s own words, “Created against the backdrop of a nation that seems to be tearing itself apart, my collage art channels that same feeling of global insecurity into topsy-turvy landscapes, baroque machine art, fragmented fairy tales, and nightmare visions of a world gone awry (Farseth, 2017).” Collage art not only translates a message in the overall image but with the use of materials layered on each other can also translate “mini-messages” to the viewer as well.