Monday, May 3, 2010

What is Internet Art?

The following is an Essay I wrote last year (2009) for my Internet Arts class at Deakin University.

What is Internet Art?

Art has become anything and everything in the modern world. One of its newest forms is blossoming on World Wide Web. In a revolution of user created content, web 2.0 gives people many opportunities to share and create artwork online.

At the most basic level, one could create artwork by normal methods. A painting, photograph or drawing can easily be transferred into your computer and then uploaded to public websites such as Deviantart, Myspace or Facebook. On the internet, small time artists can get themselves a lot of exposure by creating their own portfolio website or uploading their art to a community website. Within these communities other users can see your work and give feedback. Sharing your art on the internet takes little time, effort and cost compared to the struggle one would have trying to get noticed and set up an exhibition in a local real life gallery and getting the advertising to inform people of it’s existence and coax them to come along. Yet with the internet, in the privacy of your own home you can search exactly for the subject matter you enjoy and be led directly to it, which is extremely convenient for both the user and the artist as their gallery is open 24 hours all year round.

However as these works can exist outside of your computer they are not purely internet art as they do not rely on the net to come into existence. So what art is purely a product of the internet? I feel this is the real question behind “What is internet art?”.

Websites themselves can be seen as a work of art in the hands of a skilled designer and programmer. In the early days of the internet, HTML pages were very basic and even the mighty Microsoft had a rather ugly website. These days if your website is an eyesore, you aren’t likely to attract customers, let alone a random web surfer just looking for entertainment. Design can really make or break your website, so it’s important for a creator to consider usability and aesthetics. Most of them do follow some basic layout and composition rules so the truly innovative and artistic sites are a few and far between. However in the realm of internet art, websites are only a minor component. Mostly they are created offline and uploaded to a webserver, much how a photograph or drawing could be shared online. Websites are moreso the facilitator of internet art, rather than the definition.

Online drawing programs have been gaining popularity in Japan and are slowly making their way into the hands of Western internet surfers as well. These programs use technologies such as Java and Flash to present the user with an array of drawing tools and a canvas that can be drawn on using the standard computer mouse or a drawing tablet consisting of a “pen” and a “board” that control the on-screen cursor. These sorts of programs are for creating internet art in the most literal sense as they can only be run online from a website, unlike popular software such as Photoshop that is directly installed to your computers hard drive.

Oekaki runs from a Java Applet in your browser and is like a Bulletin Board System (Also known as Message Boards and Forums). Although unlike the text based BBS, a new post is started by making a drawing, other users can then reply to your drawing offering praise or constructive criticism. Oekaki is quite diverse in the range of brushes and effects it can do and can almost rival some conventional offline drawing programs. Tegaki-E is similar to the Oekaki BBS idea, however it takes the ability to give comments on a drawing to the next level by also allowing you to draw your reply.

Paint Chat uses an online chat room where you chat in real time with friends (or random people if you choose) and have the ability to draw on the same canvas together and collaborate. Can you imagine trying to draw on the same piece of paper with two people physically being there? It would be very awkward; you would bump into the other person and quite possible smudge each other’s work depending on the medium used. So in this instance, the ability to 2 people creating a picture together in real time is a unique experience that can only be possible through a computer hooked up to the internet. Generally the range of applications that come under the classification do not have the same power as their offline counterparts such as Photoshop but in comparison Paint Chat and Oekaki are both free to use. Most commonly Paint Chat can be run from a Java Applet in your web browser but even popular chat software MSN, which runs independently of the web browser, has a drawing component available.

Another internet phenomenon is called Viral Marketing, which basically relies on internet users to spread the word about a product. They can present themselves as video clips, flash games, blogs or ARG (Alternate Reality Games). Popular movies such as Cloverfield and A.I (Artificial Intelligence) had information that unfolded in on the internet as if they were the stories of real people or organizations to follow, save or defeat. Players could follow clues, solve puzzles and discover side stories not exposed in the actual movies. This massive level of interactivity has never been possible before with the nets media predecessors such as television and radio. There are large communities of people that collaborate to solve the intricate puzzles that will help all players progress in the game. ARG’s can sometimes be associated with marketing a product but some are just purely for the fun of the game and are run by individuals rather than big businesses. The way the players react to the in-game characters, stories and puzzles can actually affect the outcome of the game, creating a truly unique experience for each player. In comparison, most traditional video games only have one outcome when you complete the game – however there are a few with multiple endings, which is probably a large influence for creators of ARG’s.

While many web browser reliant software out there could be set up on a private intranet with a webserver on your network, it would still lack the sheer social numbers of people that the internet itself holds. So it is possible to run all these web browser reliant programs offline if you have the knowledge but I believe that it is the social interaction on the internet that really defines the experience of internet art. Your peers online can and will inspire the content that you create online.

Oekaki, Paintchat, Blogging, Social Networking and Viral Marketing are all forging their own paths for internet art in its most pure literal forms. Many of these technologies are still unknown to your average everyday internet surfer. But the concepts of viral marketing will pave the way to present these niche programs to the general public eventually. There is an enormous amount of potential for these technologies and the artists that use them. However there is also a danger in them becoming commercialized and censored, destroying freedom of speech and thought and limiting the growth of societies creativity. Internet art allows users a lot of freedom under the guise of an online alias and anyone wishing to set up an online art community must remember this.

Art is not only something to look at and enjoy but also reflects the thoughts and feelings of its creators, sometimes making bold statements that general society may criticise or find hard to accept. Internet art still acknowledges its predecessors in mimicking some of its techniques but in essence it is about interactivity and can go much further than a painting on the wall, as it can last indefinitely when saved and duplicated across websites and computers all over the world.


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