Essays & Articles
Art on the Web?...It's a Jungle Out There
In 1961, just a little over a decade after commercial network TV had taken hold in the United States, the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Newton Minow, coined the phrase "vast wasteland" to describe what he saw on the tube. He challenged broadcasters to sit down and watch TV for a full day, assuring them that they would observe a "vast wasteland" of violence, formulas, commercials, and boredom. All this, well before the advent of cable! In less than a decade we have seen the explosion of the world wide web and what we observe there is not much different than Minow's observations about the fledgling Broadcast industry. Obviously, no one is interested in everything that can be found on this remarkable matrix. The web is more about diversity and specialization, with each person gleaning from the web, sites that interest to them personally. And, just by virtue of the shear mass of material available "jungle" would be a better term to describe "the web".

My personal interest is Digital Art and here too we find an overgrown jungle, slow to navigate, with hours of hacking and clicking rewarded with too little progress and treasures that seem further away than when we started. Why is the Art we see on the web so mediocre? The potential of the Digital tools to create and enliven Fine Arts is so great, one has to ask what happens to this potential on its way to the world wide web? We have to question the hype surrounding the web. We have to look, really look, and look some more at what we find on the web. And, for the most part what we see is substandard or juvenile. What is lacking in this massively tangled and oppressive amount of work?

Are the tools lacking? No, everyone seems bent on acquiring the latest software upgrades. Are the skills for those tools or the knowledge of computer operations lacking? No, everyone seems to have spent sufficient time with their operating manuals. Perhaps it has to do with the economy of scale; that is, not every book that is published is a best seller, not every movie made is worth the price of admission. Aren't we just talking about the nearly insurmountable job of sifting out the poor works from the better? Isn't it being too harsh to condemn people who are discovering new visual tools, learning to expressthemselves and just having fun? Well, I used to think so, but after hours, weeks, and months of trudging from one boring site to the next, I think it's something greater than shear numbers and a carefree attitude.

I've also looked in most of the well known, pretentious art magazines for critical discussions of digital arts...for reviews of digital art shows...for well thought out comments and discussions of Digital Fine Arts. Here, my friends, is indeed "the wasteland". Aside from some comments about interactive "web performances" or poetry "exhibits" there is precious little, if any, such dialogue about Digital Art. This lack of discussion serves the purpose of marginalizing the powerful work that I know is possible and keeps the art gallery industry out of reach to a majority of really talented visual digital artists. Is it too new? Are critics afraid to approach tools they do not understand? Is the seemingly weak quality of the work displayed on the web justifying the silence? Does everyone believe that it is just a matter of "point and click"..."plug and play"?

I have come to the conclusion that what is lacking in the critical arena, as well as, in the depth of the current majority of the art work found on the web is an established critical base for discussion and evaluation. Without this base of historical foundations and critical language there will be no discussion. Without this critical base, no digital artist will have a method of judging for themselves the merit and strength of their work. Without this self knowledge, digital artwork will always remain in the realm of the advertisement designer and the weekend hobbyist.

So, with the permission of Anders and his publishing team and the input of all concerned readers of Mac Art & Design, I purpose that we begin this work: To understand Art and the place that digitally produced work can and will play in the future of Fine Arts. To acknowledge art history and our place in it. To pick a course that will challenge current digital artists to improve their work. To read and write and think about what we are doing and where it will take us. If this sounds too mundane to you...too much like that art class you hated or ignored in school; let me assure you that without this exercise, we will always remain mapless and without a compass in a tacky jungle that has no path.

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