Why We're Watching This Classic Dog Video This Week

Rob Walker
Tech Columnist
February 14, 2014

Every Friday on Yahoo Tech, The New Old Thing brings you recommendations of distinctly untimely — but still amazing! — cultural expression. Lots of sources (including us) will tell you what’s new and worthwhile. But only The New Old Thing tells you what’s not-new, but great, and available to you right now thanks to the magic of technology. (Your tips are welcome; send to rwalkeryn@yahoo.com.)

This week: A recommendation from me, Rob Walker, Yahoo Tech columnist!

Normally I devote The New Old Thing to tips from others, but this week I’m hijacking my own space.

As a devoted fan of both lowbrow Internet culture and experimental art, I invite you to enjoy an early dog video by the artist William Wegman.

You might already be familiar with Wegman by way of his many images of Weimaraners, which appear in major museums and mainstream gift stores. This short clip was made in the 1970s, decades before “videos of skateboarding dogs” became lazy shorthand for dismissing YouTube. But I think you’ll agree it matches any hilarious animal video you’re likely to find online today.  

Identified here as “Two Dogs and Ball,” its proper title is “Dog Duet.” It’s a static, silent shot of Wegman’s first Weimaraner, Man Ray, and another dog, sitting still like good boys, their heads moving in unison, their eyes keenly intent.

This goes on for almost three minutes before we learn what they’re so focused on — an off-camera ball, of course.

On Wegman’s own site, “Dog Duet” is dated 1975-1976. There’s another great dog clip there, called “Spelling Lesson,” in which the artist gives Man Ray … a spelling lesson.

Finally, here are Wegman and Man Ray on Late Night with David Letterman in the 1980s, when it was still necessary for the host to ask: “What is a video artist?” Wegman explains how the work came about in the 1970s, when working with electronic media was a fairly esoteric move, even for an artist. He also talks about both “Dog Duet” and “Spelling Lesson.”

Today, everybody works with electronic media, and not a few of us use our dogs as subjects. Nothing wrong with that. But Wegman deserves some credit as a real pioneer of the form.

P.S.: If you’re looking for more early video art that’s freely available online, Flavorpill has this exhaustive list. And next week I’ll be turning this space back over to guest recommend-ers.

Write to me at rwalkeryn@yahoo.com or find me on Twitter @notrobwalkerYahoo Tech is a brand new tech site from David Pogue and an all-star team of writers. Follow us on Facebook for all the latest.