A Million Web Art.

In a previous post, I examined the position of the Web as a new medium for communication. The two characteristics I highlighted as being unique to the Web are its hyperlinking capability and fluidity of form. Armed with this knowledge, I’d like to imagine how the Web as a medium might be used for the purpose of art.

Using the Web and Internet for the purpose of art isn’t anything new; Net artists have been on the scene since 1994. Many of the art produced by the artists involve experimenting with and challenging the infrastructure itself. While these art have been able to garner attention and challenge existing notions, they have largely excluded themselves from the mainstream users of the Web/Internet. Now that the Web has sufficiently matured, perhaps it’s time to look at the Web not just as a new social phenomenon that needs to be challenged, but as a cornerstone of artistic expression, much like canvas and sculpture. After all, the Web has largely superseded print as the default medium for reaching customers for businesses. There is no reason why the same shouldn’t be applied to art.

History Lessons, Again.

It seems the use of different media for the purpose of art has always gone through the same process. Text, I’m sure, didn’t start out as a medium used to ask deep theoretical questions or explore aesthetics. Text was first and foremost used for communicating practical messages to a broad audience. Video and photography, too, did not start out to capture the poetry of the moment. It seems to me that people, after a while of getting used to using a new medium for their practical purposes, tend to want more. (Maslow’s hierarchy of needs come to mind.)

Perhaps we’re at a point when we can start looking at the Web as not just a medium for improving practical communication, but also as a medium of self expression and contemplation.

The Complex Web.

Interestingly, many of the original webpages were products of self expression. Geocities and Flash websites were good examples. As the Web becomes more complex, though, these early authors must have decided that it makes less sense to write HTML from the ground up than to use existing solutions (think Facebook and WordPress), and began the gradual shift in the opposite direction.

At this point of writing, unless you’re a web professional, there is no way you can compete with commercial websites and apps in terms of sophistication and style. Web production has become a team effort and requires a certain degree of investment of time and capital.

That Being Said.

Still, there’s no stopping those of us who truly desire self expression. With the vast sea of information online, anyone with a little determination can bring herself up to date with at least part of the latest technologies, and “compete” with the big players.

I did say compete, but of course self expression and actualization, as well as thoughtful contemplation, are not quite the concerns of the big players. These non-profitable, non-scaleable, self-indulgent “games” are too insignificant for them to put their valuable resources to. On the flipside, too, people striving towards self expression tend to be less worried about making money out of their ventures.

And that’s precisely why it can be very rewarding.

Freedom of Expression.

The one limitation of businesses is that they tend to be concerned with the bottom line. If call-to-action buttons at the lower right of the page gets more clicks and conversions, that’s where these buttons will go. No designer can say the opposite to the manager armed with such data.

When using the Web for art and self expression, though, we’re not limited by anything but our imaginations. If I decide I want the image of a real button, as in the button of a shirt, to serve as a button on my webpage, nobody can stop me from doing so. There’s no data to prove the real button image repels visitors, and even if the data does exist, it won’t stop me from expressing my need for quirky expression. In short, anything goes.

A Different End Goal.

With art, too, more than anything we want to recognize why we’re creating something. If I’m telling a story on the Web, for example, the story is the foundation. I can have millions of ideas on how to express the story on the webpage, but at the end of the day the format has to serve the story. For a digital-collage artist, achieving a final “look” on the webpage may be the goal, so putting a hamburger menu on the page will be a big no-no.

A Million Styles for a Million Artists.

Just as every painter can paint tens and hundreds of canvases in his lifetime, each web artist can create tens and hundred of websites or apps, each different from another. And just as a novelist writes hundreds of pages to explore a certain theme, so can a web novelist create hundreds of webpages to explore her own theme. (Or, she might choose to have a single “app” tell the story.) And just as Warhol led a team of artists to produce his works, so can one lead a team of designers and developers to develop his works. In short, there are no rules. Do whatever to further your art.

There may be just one recommendation, however. Whether you call yourself a web artist or a web writer or a web painter or a web sculptor, your intention is to pursue your art within the scope of the medium called the Web. In which case, try your best to create your webpages and apps in a way that is different from everyone else. Just as Van Gogh’s brushstrokes are unmistakable, your webpage or app should be like no other and reflect who you are. Being trapped by the conventions of the commercial Web should be a huge insult—can you imagine Van Gogh’s Tournesols following the template of florist posters?

Let’s Start Now.

We’re barely at the starting point. And many of us, myself included, will no doubt be constrained both by the conventions of the commercial Web and by the Web’s predecessors. But with courage and experimentation, we will eventually internalize the Web as a medium and begin producing works of art that are unique to it, thereby writing a new page in the history of art.

And who knows? We may even make a living out of it.