Qualities of Web Art: Non-Linearity

In this series of posts I am discussing the web as an art form, and what exactly that might mean. Feel free to check out the previous posts in this series:

In this and the next couple posts, I will be discussing particular aspects of the internet that may help show how web art can be different than any other artistic medium.

Webart can be nonlinear

Most traditional artistic mediums are linear. The viewers experience of them progresses in a specific order. Music and video are examples of this. Music is listened to note by note, and video is viewed frame by frame. You do not experience these separate pieces out of order. Poetry and Prose are the same. The viewer may experience them faster or slower based on their preference, but they are meant to be experienced in order.

Painting and illustration are even less linear, since they do not change over time. The experience of them is more of a point than a line, though the viewer gets to decide how long they will view the work of art for.

Sculpture is the only traditional medium that is non-linear, since the viewer can walk around it, and experience it from many different angles, and get many different views of it. The viewer gets to decide how to walk around it, where to look, and when. There is no “proper” way to look at a sculpture.

Another defining characteristic of the web – and it builds off of the previous characteristic of connections – is that of nonlinearity. A work of art on the web that does consist of connections and user interaction (which I will get to next) allows the user to experience the work of art in many different orders.

For instance, if a website consists of five unique images that are meant to be looked at sequentially, but allows the user to decide on the sequence, there are 120 permutations of the viewing order. It is possible that each of these permutations may give the user a different experience of the art.

I am reminded of the Choose Your Own Adventure books I read when I was a kid, at the end of each page, a choice was presented to the reader of what to do next. If you wish to take the door on the right, skip to page 23. If you would like to take the door on the left, skip to page 40.

A work of web art can present itself in a similar way, and the user can choose to navigate the work of art in whichever way he chooses.

There is are a couple interesting ramifications of this, one is that it is possible to create a work of non-linear art that neither has a beginning or an end (as opposed to a poem or a symphony), and it is also possible to create art in which the viewer does not see the entirety of what is available.

The lack of a beginning and an end is another way that a work of webart is less of a “thing”, and more of an experience. An experience cannot be hung on a wall like a painting, and the meaning of an experience is never complete. A piece of music has a beginning and an end, and while a listeners experience of the music may change each time it is listened to, each listening is a complete experience in and unto itself. An unending, non-linear work of art may not have a defined complete experience, so it may either not exist, or be left to the viewers discretion when they have finished their experience of the work of art.

In another vein, a work of art that consists of a collection of things that are meant to be experienced in whatever order the viewer decides means that not everything may be seen. In the previous example I gave of the website with five unique images, if the viewer were able to view any image after the current one, with no defined limits, it is possible that the viewer would never choose to view number four, for instance. An artist that makes a non-linear work of art in this way needs to be aware that not everything that they create may be viewed.

I should mention that due to the programmable nature of the web, an artist can restrict the experience to a linear one. None of these characteristics are mandatory for web art, after all. They are just a brainstorm of the different qualities that web art may have.

The possibility that the work of art may not be experienced linearly means that works of web art may have to be looked at as an overall work, and it’s possible that the meaning and experience of the art will drastically differ based on how it is navigated.

Coming Next

In the next post in this series, I am going to discuss user interaction and how that can impact web art.

Tags: , ,

One Response to “Qualities of Web Art: Non-Linearity”

Leave a Reply