Qualities of Web Art: Programs and Networks

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.

The Web Is Programmable

Fundamentally, the web is software. Computer programs run continuously on servers and your computer to bring you your experience of the internet. This means that any piece of art that is created in the web medium is fundamentally made up of code.

Just as a painting is made up of paint and canvas, and a sculpture is made up of bronze or steel, a work of web art is made up of code. There may also be image, animation, and sound files, but it is code that holds it all together.

The primary benefit of this is that web art can be programmed. What the art is, and what the art does is created by programming it to do a certain thing or things. The implication of this is literally too big to discuss, since programs can be written to do nearly anything.

What can be discussed is the general abilities of programs, and what they can do. In the most abstract sense, programs receive, process, create, and send data. They also accept instructions about how to do these processes and what data to do them with. Programs can send and receive data and instructions either from a user, or from another program.

As I mentioned previously, programs can do anything within this framework.

The other aspect of programs is that they can do more than one thing at a time. Multiple computing and processing threads can occur at once, allowing many things to unfold and interact with each other at a time.

The programmable nature of the web is a meta-aspect to web art. This quality informs and defines the other aspects of the web. All of the other characteristics of web art exist as an implementation of the programmable definition of the web. This will be something to keep in mind throughout the discussion that follows.

The web is made up of networks and connections

One of the earliest defining characteristics of the web was the connections – or hyperlinks – between websites. Most webpages on the internet connect via these links to other pages on the internet. One way to look at a website is just a collection of webpages that all link to one another.

A link to another webpage creates an association between whatever is on that one page, and what is one another. The way that the link is presented gives meaning to that association.

Web art may consist of a number of pages that are connected together via linking. In this way, the user experience of this work of art can unfold by the user following the links amongst different parts of the work of art.

Beyond this, the ability to connect different portions of the web makes the connection itself a viable work of art. A piece of web art can use this method of connecting different things to show that the connection between them is the work of art itself.

Connections between separate ideas is not new to art, in fact, there is an argument that one of the defining qualities of post-modern art is connections between separate items, ideas, and actions. The posit of post-modernism that “art is anything you bring attention to as art” is fundamentally a connection between art and everything that exists in the world.

Since connections and linking between separate bits of data is one of the fundamental qualities of the web, it brings this notion of connections to prominence. A work of web art may not just rely on connections as a tool, the ability to so strongly assign meaning to connections on the web may make the connections themselves the work of art.

Links are a tool used to create web pages and websites. It is possible that web art give meaning to that link.

Coming Next

In the next post in this series, I am going to discuss the non-linear possibilities of web art.

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