Videoclip Segment: Foreword
Marshall McLuhan wrote the following Foreword in art critic Paul Duval's
book on YORK WILSON:
In the nuclear age abstract or non-objective art
is plainly prophetic. On the phone or on the air the user of electric
services has no physical body. We are discarnate people, figures
in an instantaneous and invisible ground of energy and vibration.
This resonant and acoustic ground is discontinuous and man-made,
deeply involving and subjective yet minus any point of view or
personal stress. The work of York Wilson is a notable manifestation
of the new awareness of nuclear man, the shift from sight to insight.
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Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980)
1911-80. Communications theorist, born in Edmonton, Alberta. Professor of English
(1954-80) and director of the Centre for Culture and Technology (1963-80) at the
University of Toronto. Books include The Mechanical Bride (1951), The
Gutenberg Galaxy (1962), Understanding Media (1964), and The
Medium Is the Massage (with Quentin Fiore, 1967).
-- from Webster's
New Biographical Dictionary, 1983
Marshall McLuhan is considered by many to be the first father and leading
prophet of the electronic age. He is perhaps best know for his phrase "the medium is
the message" turned into book title, The Medium is the Massage. As
director of the Center for Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto, McLuhan
rose to fame as a "guru" of media culture. He wrote his monumental work, one of
twelve books and hundreds of articles, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man,
in 1964. The subject that would occupy most of McLuhan's career was the task of
understanding the effects of technology as it related to popular culture, and how this in
turn affected human beings and their relations with one another in communities.
The title of his best-selling book The Medium is the
Message is no exception. Maybe he was making a statement about
the way that the media massage or pummel us, or perhaps he was
making a pun on the new "mass-age." In any case the
underlying notion is that the message is greatly impacted by the
delivery system. Some would understand this position to be the
ultimate in media determinism. If the content is obliterated by
the channel, "what" we say is of little importance-only
"how" we chose to deliver it. McLuhan's belief in technological
determinism is obvious by his phrase, "we shape our tools
and they in turn shape us" (quoted in Griffin, 1991, p. 294).
Above: This picture was made by Marshall McLuhan
for York Wilson's birthday 1980. Marshall had had a stroke a year
before and was unable to speak, among other things, such as write.
Corinne McLuhan put in the dotted line and signed his name.
Marhsall put his "X" on the dotted line. He arrived at
the Wilson door at 41 Alcina Avenue, Toronto, all smiles and
handed it to York. It was one of York's treasures. Lela Wilson
Marshall McLuhan by York Wilson
Marshall McLuhan, Abstract Portrait, by York
The idea of painting the "colour" of a
person as opposed to a likeness had been turning over in York
Wilson's mind for some time. This sort of thinking was not foreign
to York. While painting in his studio in Mexico, he felt his
friend Marshall McLuhan was in the studio with him, but in reality
Marshall was three thousand miles away in Canada. The feeling was
so intense it directed his painting. Though completely abstract,
it was clear to him that it was a portrait of Marshall McLuhan.
The various colours were aspects of Marshall McLuhan, such as the
"blue" representing the intellect.
In trying to discern what York Wilson means by
"painting the colour of a person", I believe it means
the way that person is... the thinking, the whole being, the very
essence, the psyche.
During a visit with Scott Symons, York's thinking
on this topic gelled and he quickly made arrangements to paint
Scott the next day. Scott needed little explanation. Many times in
the past they had found themselves on the same wavelength. An
important factor was that Scott felt the feeling too; he knew that
York was going to do something important.
York had his primed canvas ready upon the easel.
Scott arrived, they went into the studio, shut the door, and there
was no sound or conversation. York had no idea what had
transpired. He painted in a white heat for two hours, as if in a
trance. After, he was exhausted. In fact, both were, and called
for coffee. The coffee arrived and York looked at the painting. It
showed many facets of Scott.
Scott happens to be a brilliant albeit
controversial writer, a former Director of the Sigmund Samuel
Collection at the ROM, an author of an excellent book on Canadian
furniture and the author of numerous other books on his complex
Both Scott and York knew that the Scott Symons
portrait had been completely successful.--Lela Wilson