Media Taxonomy

Attached you will find my version of a media taxonomy. On the top vertical column I decided to start off with some general types of media expressed in very broad terms, such as painting and sculpture. I limited myself to a few of these, the goal not being to discuss all kinds of media, but to have a nice sample for the purpose of understanding and learning about media.

On the vertical column I list some different characteristics of the media, some may refer to these as parameters of differentiation, such as materials, setting, functionality or cast of characters.

The purpose of my taxonomy is to create a dialogue between these various media. I am particularly interested to see where the different media intersect – to see what characteristics do they share in common.

Since I am mainly interested in the common aspects of these media, I set out my taxonomy in a specific way. I begin with the media of painting (the first column on the left). I then list different possibilities for each characteristic (limiting myself to no more than five due to my own time and space constraints). As I move down the first vertical column, I fill in all of the different parameters of differentiation for painting.

As I move on to my second type of media – sculpture, I fill in all of the possible characteristics found in the first column for painting, but that can also be applied to sculpture. So for example under functionality for painting I have decoration, aesthetic enjoyment, historical value. All of these can also be applied to sculpture, therefore I transfer them into the sculpture column. Since there are only three, there is room for two more, so under sculpture I also add monument.

I will quickly recapitulate my strategy: My taxonomy begins with painting and tries to see which parameters of differentiation chosen for painting, exist in sculpture. If less than the five presented for painting apply to sculpture (say only four), I transfer the four and add a fifth that is specific to sculpture. Then I move on to dance and do the same thing using the parameters in the sculpture column. The taxonomy moves from left to right, kind of like a curtain that closes a stage.

The purpose of this specific taxonomy is to see how many of the parameters of differentiation in painting can be found in sculpture, dance and music. The parameters are a random selection, thus certainly subjective. Additionally the order chosen for the different media is significant since the taxonomy moves from left to right on a two-dimensional plane. Therefore I am certainly creating a hierarchy of media with painting being first. My art historian side must be playing a role here. At the same time, I do not claim to be completely objective.

Other limitations of this taxonomy include the fact that the input of information in the taxonomy is extremely subjective. This is because it presents media that I find particularly interesting to work with, and excludes that which I do not, or that for which I don’t have enough time. It is limited because the parameters of differentiation presented for each media have to do with my own understanding of that media and possibly my own bias. My limit to five examples of parameters surely does not render a complete picture of that media, yet I feel that for this particular exercise, five is a good number in terms of available time to work on the project, and space in which the project is presented.

The presentation of this taxonomy is enhanced through the use of color. I choose to use the same color for the parameters of differentiation that are cross-listed between media.

It seems relevant to ask why create this taxonomy in the first place? Can’t media continue to function very well without being placed into tables and models of categories and subcategories? Isn’t there the risk of limiting the media’s capabilities through this means of categorization? I regarded this taxonomy assignment as a means of better understanding media and a means of differentiating between media. Through this process of differentiation I try to find the points of intersection between media, their points of dialogue. This kind of categorization surely limits the media’s capabilities because it leaves many things unsaid. Yet for a broad understanding of media and interactions between various media, a taxonomy is helpful. Even if the end result is not the true points of intersection between these media, the recognition and awareness that these points of intersection exist, is a step in the right direction.

Lelia Scheaua
Winter 2004