Media Taxonomy

I decided to organize my taxonomy of media using a flow chart model, beginning with sensory distinctions as the categories closest to the "unmediated" human body and also those capable of creating the broadest groupings, and ending with specific examples of "high art" and "low art" mediums. I chose a flow chart, specifically, to signify movement in an otherwise static, two-dimensional diagram. Creating a "moving" chart, even if portrayed only symbolically by lines and arrows, was a response to the difficulty of assigning media into different categories. My goal was to portray media as a process—to give some sort of representation to the frequency of overlapping, nested media—rather than rendering each category as discrete.

Following my sensory categories, which include "Visual," "Audio," "Audio-Visual," and "Holistic," I distinguished between moving and still media. Like the audio/visual distinction, I chose the motion distinction for its ability to directly address the relationship between the viewer (or listener) and the media, specifying how the receiver interprets the media’s stimulus. This, in turn, I followed with a distinction between how the media is created, either by an individual producer or a group of producers. I juxtaposed a receiver-based category and producer-based category to illustrate the importance of both in functioning with and around media. Following the type of producer, I distinguished between the producer who creates with mechanical instruments, such as a camera or computer, and the producer who creates with non-mechanical instruments, such as paint or clay. This reference to the materials of the medium then leads into the categories of media themselves. My decision concerning which types of media to include was somewhat arbitrary. I wanted to address the principle kinds of artistic media, including both traditional arts, such as painting and sculpture, and modern arts, such as film and television. Furthermore, I wanted to address media that relate to audio and visual senses in different ways—either one sense predominantly, both senses together, or on a more holistic level, as in the last category, which includes both the body and memory as mediums. Finally, the flow chart ends with specific, real-life examples of the cultural status of media. My effort here was to argue against certain types of media, such as painting, as being distinctly "high" culture. Instead, I sought to illustrate how all types of media have both "high art" and "low art" potential within the world.

Why taxonomize? Creating a taxonomy provided me with a visual tool for quickly analyzing the differences in various types of media. Although the differences became easily discernable at a glance, I found that the chart did not simplify or comprehensibly decipher these variables. Rather, the taxonomy merely provided me with a basis for considering how media are unable to stand alone—they inherently exist in complex relationships between creators, receivers, and other media. With a more complex chart, such as the Hypercube project being undertaken by the Chicago School of Media Theory, I can imagine a taxonomy of media functioning to illuminate certain trends in the popularity and unpopularity, as well as the potential extinction, of particular media over time.

Starr Marcello
Winter 2004