chapter introductions
Website Graphics
the best of global site design
Bis / Thames & Hudson, 1997


One of the best challenges to the age old autonomy of the artwork is the World Wide Web, used by artists. I've seen signed copies of videotapes, and even computer diskettes with the signature of an artist, but a website cannot possibly function as an original, unique and irreplaceable work of art. Unless you define these terms in a different way. It has been argued that the 'art' in online artworks lies not in the visible result but in the invisible intricacies of the algorithms that direct the cathode rays behind your screen. They who master these indeed unique combinations of formulas are the true artists of our times. On the other hand this way to define the new artistic realm in digital environments may be stressing the old criterion of craftsmanship too much. What about ideas?

Judging from the experience with a large sample of artworks on the WWW, it is striking that this new medium is so often used in a nostalgic and melancholy way! Why would one find so many old photographs on the Web, and so many images that seem to be almost withered away with age? So many thoughts about a lost childhood or a vanished past? Maybe this reflects the other side of the World Wide Web that links everybody to everyone: the side where one sits alone behind a screen and a keyboard, trying to make connections between old memories and a world that sometimes seems to be so disconnected...

Maybe it has to do with the reflective character of working with the medium; there's one thing you can't do in hypermedia: improvise with the material with the same directness with which one can improvise with paint or pieces of raw material. The artist who wants to show anything on the Web needs to be a very disciplined editorial designer as well. And there's a lot the artist cannot control: they can ask you to change the settings and typefaces on your browser, but if you don't, you may see something rather different than the artist had in mind. So what else can they do, but adjust themselves to the conventions of the medium and try to tell their own stories within these still narrow confines? A lot of artistic websites function this way: often visually stronger than most sites, they use the same structural routines: main page, indexes, sections, interlinked series of images and texts, all kept together by a navigating system that consists of toolbars, pictograms and buttons. Very rare is a site like that of Debra Solomon who makes art out of navigating within basically one screen, an abstract room seemingly with no boundaries, just directions. Ironically, this kind of work comes very close to the most autonomous art of all times, abstract art.

max bruinsma