The introduction of Mosaic, the
first image-capable browser, in 1993, opened the door for web
developers to put visual content on a web site This spawned a new visual medium,
and many artists began to learn to
build web sites and quickly adapted their skills to the demands
and limitations of the Internet. Artists began to produce art
to display on web sites and by 1995 eight percent of all web sites
were completely produced by artists (Ippolito).
We have a pretty good record of some of the better known early NET.ART artists,
but overall the early history of Internet art in general is vague and poorly recorded. There
are many opinions as to the reason for this. Initially net art
was not taken seriously by the conventional artistic community.
There were no big productions as in cinema nor were there any
grand art shows as in the more conventional artistic mediums,
so there was very little public recognition (Stallabrass,
p. 114). It was often difficult to identify the creator of a work
of art, and do to the easily reproducible nature of digital art,
many works were copied almost as soon as they were displayed on
the net. Yet within a few years an entire new art form had developed.
The evolution of this new type of art was so rapid and widespread
that it took the conventional institutions of the art industry
by surprise. The conventional curators and critics of the art
world still did not consider NET.ART a true art form. Many claimed
that the graphics were fairly simple and the medium of the computer
screen did not allow for the necessary environment in which art
should be viewed. Another reason that much of the art industry
shunned net art was that it was almost impossible to control ownership.
Anyone with a browser could download any web site or digital image.
Since there was little money to be made in the reselling of web
art it was of no interest to many predominant gallery owners,
collectors and curators of the era.
As the Internet grew at exponential
rates through the 1990’s NET.ART continued to become more popular.
First considered as sort of underground art form, Internet art
soon became an accepted form of expression in our culture. This
new medium quickly evolved and branched out in many directions.
Early Internet art consisted mainly of text based projects or
simple graphics, but soon Internet art included video, sound,
complex interactivity and elaborate graphics. Millions of artists
had discovered an outlet for their creativity. Artistic talents
were displayed on commercial and personal web pages. Logos, games,
web site design and all forms of video and images were appearing on
the net, applying the unique cultural blend of technology, creativity
and imagination. The phenomenon of net art grew as more people
went online. Eventually the art industry was forced to take notice.
Museum directors and gallery administrators soon found that more
people were visiting their web sites than entering their establishments.
In 1997 Documenta X in
Kassel, Germany was the first major exhibition to include Internet
art (Stallabrass, p. 121). The same year net art by Peter Halley
was exhibited on the New York Museum of Modern Art Web
site (Rush, p. 197). The Guggenheim
Museum featured Internet art in a major show in 1998 and in
1999 ZKM Center for Art and Media
Germany hosted an exhibit called “Net Condition”. This presentation
attempted to encompass the history of the Internet (Stallabrass,
p. 121). By the end of the twentieth century Internet art had
become an accepted part of our artistic culture, yet there were
still many obstacles to overcome.
Internet art, which has come to be
known as NET.ART (Stallabrass, p. 10), online art or just net
art, seems to be a self-defining term. The term is loosely used
to describe any art that is designed to be displayed on the Internet.
Yet there is dissension in the artistic community regarding the
use of these terms. While they are often used interchangeably,
many consider each term to have a unique definition. Author Andreas
Brogger defines net art as “…art that can or should only be experienced online…”. His
definition of online art is slightly different. He feels that
online art refers to any art that is delivered over the Internet.
This would include art that can be downloaded for off-line use.
Brogger also includes mediums that originate off line and are
then broadcast online, such as webcasts or Internet TV in the
mediums that are defined as online art. In defining the term NET.ART
(NET-dot-ART) Brogger believes that it describes “…a more or less
specific phase in the art of the Internet, that began about 1994."
He defines NET.ART as “…low-bandwidth, html based projects developed
by the early pioneers of art on the net.” This definition of NET.ART
seems to indicate that NET.ART is a thing of the past. It gives
the feeling that NET.ART was a brief and subtle artistic movement
that has become obsolete with the advancement of Internet technologies.
Most members of the artistic community seem to disagree with this
definition. Most refer to NET.ART as a living and functional art
form that is continually evolving with technology.
There are many websites currently displaying an array of NET.ART
projects that utilize many of the latest web technologies, and
most digital art exhibits recognize NET.ART as a current art
Yet there are broader discrepancies
among members of the art community as to what actually constitutes
NET.ART. Many questions arise as to what is art and what is not.
Is a video game art or is it a form of entertainment? Is a web
site designer an artist? Is there not more to art than just design?
Is the act of creating a website artistic, or is it actually the
act of creating an interface by using a computer language or a
WYSIWYG editor? If a movie is digitized and displayed on the net
does it become NET.ART even though it was originally created for
cinema? Is an inanimate digital image created for a web page art?
What about a digitized photograph of “The Last Supper”? Each question
can be a subject for debate, and every question brings up other
Ross, Director of the San
Francisco Museum of Modern Art, stated:
curators, no critics really know where it is artists are taking us in this
extraordinary moment. I find that quite exhilarating, a little frightening at
times, primarily it's energizing. The idea of art that's developing not only in
a way that we can't predict, but in this case it's hard to even understand what
it looks like, what it's going to do, how it functions on a most basic social
level to a complex aesthetic level, we are groping in the dark (Ross).
There have been many other opinions published as to
the defining characteristics of NET.ART. One opinion is that NET.ART (and all
“new media” art) not only uses the technology as the medium, it also uses
technology as the subject matter. Another opinion is that online art “…must
exploit the particular qualities of hardware and software to the extent that it
is unthinkable without its medium, the internet.” (Stallabrass, p.139). Some
believe that interactivity between the art object and the viewer is an
integrial part of NET.ART. Still another opinion insists that NET.ART should
involve a shared, almost communal like activity. This opinion insists that
human collaboration and communication are mandatory features of internet art
(Stallabrass, p. 140). These are all interesting viewpoints but they all seem
to be attempts to put NET.ART into a limiting mold that will regulate its
content or medium. There have been so many varied examples of internet art that
the parameters of any of these descriptions have already been violated. The art
community has yet to put a comprehensive handle on NET.ART, and there is still
appears to be a wide inconsistency in opinions. The opinion of an art purist
will doubtless be different from an avant-garde tech-head, as will the opinions
of a museum curator and a digital artist. In attempting to establish a way to
identify NET.ART Ross commented:
are trying to identify the activity that is net art. Since we know what older
art looks like, we can start to develop standards and a critical evaluation
framework for looking at net art based on our ideas of what art should act like
or look like (Rush, p. 119).
As a museum director Ross seems to believe that net
art should be judged by the standards of the more traditional art forms. He
seems to be trying to identify net art by using standards and norms that he is
familiar with. He is applying his expertise to develop a set of standards by
which we may recognize the unique characteristics of net art. This may be a
very valid way to assess this new type of art. As with any new cultural
phenomenon we cannot fully appreciate or understand it until we have compared
it to our current values and standards. Yet Alexei
Shulgin, (early digital artist, writer, curator and musician) offered a
somewhat different viewpoint when as he stated:
like the internet itself, encompasses everything so it resists definition.
After all, an operating system, a database and a site devoted to sponsoring
subversive acts have all been declared works of art (Stallabrass, p. 138).
Doubtless the analysis that will determine the
distinguishing characteristics of NET.ART will encompass the opinions of
experts throughout the art industry. Putting a limiting and recognizable label
on internet art will be a subject that will be debated for a long time. We may
need to develop an entire new set of standards for before we can determine the
parameters of this new art form.
For now we shall abide by the simple initial
definition of NET.ART stated above, if it is designed for the Internet,
then we shall consider it NET.ART. This encompasses an extremely broad spectrum
of technologies and art forms. Modern browsers support a wide range of file
formats and plug-ins are available for dozens more. Images, animation, audio,
video, music and text are all part of this new artistic landscape. Continual
improvements in file compression and bandwidth have brought internet video and
audio to a ever increasing levels of quality. Animation programs such Macromedia’s Director and Flash
have become two of the primary mediums for modern NET.ART. These programs have had
an important influence on NET.ART and are the standard for web animation they have made
it possible for animators to get instant, inexpensive global exposure without
compromising the quality of their work. Artists of all sorts use the internet
as a worldwide gallery in which to display their electronic creations. More so
than most forms of art, NET.ART is constantly evolving, continually manipulated
by advancing technologies, cultural changes and the demands of the global art community.