Chapter 1:
Internet Art
Chapter 2:
Chapter 3:
Digital Weakness
Table of Figures
James Hayes' art website

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The Internet has grown from a simple tool for the exchange of university papers and scientific footnotes into the advertising and free publishing arena it is today. Artists are in there deep in the fray - and what have they made of it? The advent of the Internet and its subsequent support technologies was inevitably taken up as a medium for expression by artists of many varying practices - literary, performance, sound, video, animation, and the other traditional practices of the visual arts. When investigating how the medium of the Internet is used by artists (as individuals, institutions will also be examined), two diverging approaches are apparent. Artists firstly have used the Internet as a medium of expression in and of its own nature, utilising this technology to create artwork. Internet Art not only exists primarily in the computer (digital art) but also is only exhibited or functional through the medium of the Internet. A broad range of examples of how artists are creating Internet art will be presented in Chapter 1 - Internet Art.

Artists secondly are presenting traditional work, thus using the communications aspects of the Internet for individual self-promotion, professional discourse, viewer feedback, international opportunities research, etc. This aspect will be investigated further in Chapter 2 - Institutions.

Artists have been empowered by this free-ranging global-access-publishing medium to brand themselves in ways that Andy Warhol could only dream of. Suddenly even the artist in the garret can access a global community of like minded people, and for US $20 own a web address that rivals in style any of the blue chip corporate 500. For example the website Brainrinse10 by Stef Lewandowski and Antonio Gould has the suitably irreverent and memorable URL A more detailed look at their artwork will take place in Chapter 1 - Internet Art.

One serious implication for the art community to consider is the great difficulty in documenting trends and indeed the historic timeline of this developing art-forum. Internet technology is driven forward by market forces that lead to software changes every 6 months, which can mean that today's online electronic art is tomorrow's inaccessible digital dinosaur due to technological obsoletism. This is an issue which the Long Now Foundation11 deals with and which will be investigated in detail in Chapter 3 - Digital Weakness.

However for many Internet art pieces it is an implicit part of the work that they are temporary in nature. Websites such as feature online artworks in their "Artbase" section, but like any online publication it can allow only a few of the most recent previous works to linger for an extra "issue", then they must be pushed aside to make way for newer work. The nature of the Internet is that its content is controlled by no one organisation, the many individuals who publish their content independently create it. As such, any online "archive" quickly becomes a useless list of invalid links when the individuals move their websites or allow their hosting subscriptions to lapse.

The larger art community of galleries and museums has jumped on the bandwagon, but is using the net as an advertising and information medium rather than as a form of expression in and of itself. They are achieving one of the greatest but most often unspoken dreams of the artistic community, which is to educate the public, to make the public aware of art's existence in an unthreatening environment. Where is less threatening than in the viewer's own home? Commercial galleries are also tapping into a motherlode of customers who would normally never cross the gallery threshold, new spenders from all over the globe. Art of any shape, size and style can be found for sale on the net, and many with an iron clad shopping system that actually works in the artist's favour. The artist gets paid when the buyer receives the work and it is approved, no need to hassle some gallery owner as it all runs through an automated credit card system.

As is usual with any developing medium (for example photography) not everything produced first is of lasting value, but in the years to come the documentation of those experiments will imbue them with a sentimental importance that goes beyond their initial aesthetic impact. Visual and experiential experiments by artists on the Internet are breaking new ground simply because that ground never before existed, yet their expressions can still be measured critically. Many of these voices are political, anti-corporate or simply aesthetic, and often times it is hard to distinguish between those with a serious art practice and those with a different agenda altogether. As the Internet has grown it has produced a cacophony of information and images, and as such a vast ocean of ever changing informative publications, personal rants and hard sell advertising must be waded through to find those unique gems that are out there. These are teething years for the Internet, and much may change in the coming decades.

by James Hayes
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