Paul Ryan, Video Artist, Media Educator & Scholar (1943-2013)


Ryan, Paul IMG

A founding member of the pioneering media collective Raindance, Paul Ryan was both a practitioner and theoretician of the early video movement in the 1970s. Over four decades, Ryan’s video work evolved from free-form collaborations with members of Raindance to the invention of formal collaborative practices and the conceptualization of a notational system for interpreting the natural and built environment with electronic media. NASA published his Earthscore Notational System. Ryan’s design for an Environmental Television Channel was presented at a United Nations conference. His conceptualization of a program for a new Hall of Risk in Lower Manhattan was presented at the Venice Biennale.

Ryan authored seminal texts on video, which were published in the pioneering journal Radical Software (1970-74). Ryan’s writings were also published in journals such as Leonardo, Afterimage, Millennium, Terra Nova, and Semiotica. He was also the author of numerous books. including Two is not a Number (2011), The Three Person Solution (2009), Video Mind, Earth Mind (1992), and Cybernetics of the Sacred (1974), which is recognized as an influential text of the early video movement. His writings were also published in numerous journals, including Leonardo, Afterimage, Millennium, Terra Nova, and Semiotica.

Ryan was born in 1943 in the Bronx, New York and died in 2013. He spent five years of his early life as a novice in the Passionists, a Roman Catholic preaching order. He received a B.A. from New York University and pursued graduate studies with Philosopher of Communication Theory Marshall McLuhan at Fordham University*. This graduate work qualified Ryan as a conscientious objector of the Vietnam War.

Ryan’s work was included in the landmark exhibition TV as a Creative Medium at the Howard Wise Gallery in 1969. His works have been presented at the Venice Biennale; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; and recently at Documenta 13, Kassel, Germany, among other venues. Works by Ryan are currently being archived at The Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C., including his Television EcochannelEarthscore Notation and Hall of Risk Program.

Ryan was an Associate Professor in Graduate Media Studies at the New School in New York for many years. He lived in New York City and Solebury, Pennsylvania, until his death. (Source: )

* Paul Ryan’s CV provides this detail regarding his time at Fordham University (1967-69): Worked for a year as a research assistant to media scholar, Marshall McLuhan; anthropologist, Edmund Carpenter; educator, John Culkin and painter Harley Parker. My second year at Fordham was devoted to exploring video as a medium in McLuhan‟s terms, publishing my findings and exhibiting my video art. Legally, these two years fulfilled the alternate service requirement for my conscientious objector draft status. I consider this work, this combination of theory and practice, the equivalent of earning an MFA degree. ( )


In this 1995 interview, Paul Ryan talks about being Marshall McLuhan’s research assistant at Fordham, and other influences on him and his later work with video, including Teilhard de Chardin, cybernetics, computers (See especially the first 15 minutes):

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