Z I N E n
new media






+ + +

a journal of new media experimental visual literary theory practice


Ted Warnell


Features, reviews, papers

Musings on the term 'Web artist' by contributing writer Jim Andrews. In the first of two parts, Jim shares his thoughts on the Web, the page, futurism, and responsibility.

First published as A&T 07/17/97 at Art & Technology, The Mining Company, New York. Copyright © 1997 by The Mining Company and Ted Warnell. All rights reserved.


1997 JUL 17

Web Artist 1/2



What is a 'Web artist'? I don't want to be prescriptive on the matter. Sometimes dragging in the A word just generates prescriptions about what art should be. Surely, however, the newness of the form and the consequent rush of unexplored possibility are part of the excitement.

Also, of course, the multi-media dimensions of it are challenging to the imagination, the hand, and the eye. And the associations possible with hyperlinks challenge us to think imaginatively in non-linear tree forms (the poet's tree is different, now). Also, the graphical browser poses challenges and possibilities of design that blend textual and graphical design as tightly as in any magazine. And possibilities of the neath text, (HTML, Java, JavaScript, VB script, ASP, etc.) challenge artists to comprehend what is below the page, challenge them to reformulate notions of the page and the canvas, the gallery, installation, magazine, book, film, etc., or, if not 'reformulate', then 'steal' and invent/discover beyond these notions and acclimatize imaginatively to the new medium (or should that be 'multi'?) and stretch into the dimensions beneath, above, and within the page.

Web artists are and will undoubtedly continue to be at the forefront also in the restructuring of the traditional infrastructures involved in the dissemination of books, art work, magazines, and other forms of digitized and non-digital things. Who but the Web artists, for instance, will really be able to do an outstanding digital publishing house? Publishers now don't have it thought out, won't move on it until the artists figure it out. The artists will make it be amazing and important.

    "Web artists are leaders along the long edges of imagination as we drive toward 0, the new millennium."


Much has been said of the interactive nature of the Web. But art was always interactive, whether in the directions of the eye viewing art or the flipping back and forth amid text or, more significantly, in the imaginative construction/reconstruction of the work by the one experiencing it. The seductions of art, the leading into the work and through it, beyond it, are basically the same as before. Seduction doesn't really proceed along the lines of 'wanna click me new widget?' unless it is somehow between the eyes or wherever, involved in feeling and thought. What is new is the immediacy of email contact between artists and those who view the site around the world. And the possibility of associations and participation regardless of geographical distance.

Interactivity that comes about as a result of Java programs, etc., beneath the page is merely interaction with an algorithm, which can be interesting, enlightening, and engaging but, at least now it doesn't seem as significant as interaction between people (tell Kasparov that!). The neath text, however, does allow animation, live video, etc., sets up a big train choo chooing us to one another or into one another's visions.


I think part of the excitement of imaginative work on the Web relates to a sense that the paradigms available sweep generously across the world, there is a sense that the art just became ever so much more available and dynamically present around the world. At its best, the art of the Web offers an experience of language for the eye and the mind, the voice, the vision, on the edge of a new tongue/palate/palette. Rich with association and yet capable of entirely logical association. Textual but meaning with all the dimensions of language (visual, sonic, etc.). Iconic yet iconoclastic. It is unlikely that we will ever return to the notion that technology is going to save us and give us untold leisure. We extend our bodies, senses, memory, knowledge, nervous systems with our deepening involvement in the machine. We wonder if other parts are atrophying. But, on the whole, it seems an exciting thing to bring in the millennium with what seems like exciting, fresh art that demands an integrated sensual and intellectual response, understanding, language.


A kind of Futurism prevails. But Futurism, in the first half of the century, was finally a rather ugly phenomenon despite its high energy innovations. Mussolini was a Futurist. The brave new world of Futurism was too nationalistic, too driven by notions of excellence and rulership that were congruent with dictatorship or rule by a knowing elite. The Futurists were also prone to high flown celebrations of war, celebrations of the cataclysmic energies of a world dying and being reborn.

Web art, given predilections for the edge, is accessible not as widely as you would think. And to access the most interesting of sites, you had better have your gizmos lined up with at least a couple of grand invested in a Pentium. Also, Web art is usually quite involved with business, or the artists are professionally employed doing commercial work for the Web. Generally, artists get access to the newest software through their employment doing more commercial work (I do).

So the whole scene is completely immersed in new world capitalism. "Being a visionary," someone said recently in reference to Microsoft CEO Bill Gates' plans, "does not involve turning out ever more sophisticated software requiring ever deeper financial commitment on the part of the users. Instead, being a visionary involves provisions for world-wide access that does not contribute to a situation where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer". Do you agree or disagree? And is that where things are headed? Only if it coincides with the rich getting richer, it seems, which is certainly the rub of new world capitalism -- unless the poor don't have to get poorer, the distribution of power and wealth ever more unbalanced. On the other hand, it fosters opportunities that can be seized with only moderate initial investment in technology.


Where is the Web artist in this order and what, if any, responsibilities go along with the art? Web artists are leaders along the long edges of imagination as we drive toward 0, the new millennium. There is a generosity of spirit currently infusing communication on the Web. Hopefully Web art will go well beyond flash and excellent design to perpetuating and deepening the spirit of cooperation and imaginative involvement with each other -- globally -- that sometimes feels like it is on the way.

I don't mean to suggest that art should serve world peace. When art is in the service of a social program or a political ideal, it suffers from being pedagogy or what amounts to propaganda for the cause. So what do I want? I want world peace and I want great art! Good luck!


In part two of Web Artist,
A&T 07/24/97, Jim looks in on two Web sites jammed pack full of interesting Web art: Razorfish from New York and The Attic Window by artist Diane Fenster.

Would you like to see your work in Zn?



Copyright © 1998 Ted Warnell. All Rights Reserved