Sunday, July 4, 2010

Broad Generalizations about Net Artists

There are two schools of thought operating in the net art scene right now. These groups have been distinct to me for maybe the past six months, but sometimes it's better to sit on an idea and let the internet blindly charge by, so that you can follow their tracks later. The way I've been conceptualizing this distinction has been by drawing a comparison to the East and West Coast Hippie subcultures from the 1960s. (Go ahead, roll your eyes. That's just me.)

Camp one: This is the "Timothy Leary" camp. These artists are very art historical, and emulate other media (sculpture, painting.) Lots of symbols, design heavy, texture heavy. There's a Utopian aspect as well - many of these artists look for old ideas about purity and the spiritual that have fallen through the cracks of time. They like text-to-speech and Second Life. "Art that looks like art." Illusionism. Atmosphere. The computer, and the GUI are formal inspiration sources; "scrollbar art," also big messy glitchy webpages. The net is their vehicle for dissemination, and they stand out from the online flow. Rarely do these works link outside of themselves; if hypertext is involved, it is internal to the site.

Aids-3D, ohmygod (2008?)

Camp two: If camp one is Tim Leary, camp two is Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters.* These artists are net historical. They embrace gifs, visible pixels and file corruption. They are not afraid to draw from the internet's vast repositories of memes, pop culture, or shock images. Often, camp two's art reveals the medium through intentional (and not theatrical) glitching, built-in software effects, or ironically shoddy craftsmanship. Lots of this work is about juxtaposition and communication. Internet forums, obscure websites, Tumblr and Google Image Search are the sources of most of camp two's material and inspiration, regardless of legality. This camp makes art for the net on the net, and blends in to the net-social fabric.

User arielrebel,

What matters in camp two's work - or what is emphasized by the artists - is not so much the individual artwork as the artist's oeuvre and net presence. This is one reason why these artists don't receive as much coverage - you can't pin a work down as easily. Where most camp one works are one-way in terms of links (and this appears to be a strategic move), camp two relishes hypertext and cross-platform performance. Their work spills across the social networks that the artists inhabit.

Another difficulty for curating this type of work is accreditation - as images make the rounds online, they often lose their titles and indicators of authorship. This follows the structure of the internet - the democratic recycling and distribution of information - but it defeats the typical artist->portfolio relationship that art fans/critics expect.

Closing thoughts: There are artists (among those linked) that do operate in both modes, but I think that it's clear in their work that the distinction still exists. The net art community is still learning how to discuss camp two, and I think the next few months are going to bring some very interesting work from this camp, as well as some fiery discussion in both.



    This syllabus takes a bit longer view (and also includes "net" with "computer"). The "amateur and sub-amateur" category is what you're calling "camp 2." Note under that category the "hackers vs defaults" table.
    You are basically further subdividing people that Sievers includes in "Amateur and Sub Amateur." Nothing wrong with that, but this gives some larger context.

  2. As each camp seems to be developing without looking at the other (with only some of camp 2 mocking/ignoring camp 1), do you see each 'school of thought advancing at different paces. Is there even a sense of an endgoal in either of these camps? I wonder what makes an artist or piece more well-respected than another.

  3. I should clarify that I find Beau Sievers computer art outline useful but not Ed Halter's term "sub-amateur." See


  5. Oh, and count me in for Camp Two. Looking forward to some camp crafts and an AGAG badge as redone by Seacrestcheadle. ( )

  6. Are the camps at war? Can they be friendly neighbor camps that get together for movie nights and mixers?

  7. Old story: ed. v. Naive.

  8. Old story: pointing out old stories.

    Maxwell, if Oliver Laric's Quicktime with the pompous narration was a person I would not like to attend a mixer with it. Unless it was passed out at the bar and I could light a match between its toes. It's pretty obvious that Hypothete's descriptions subtly lean to Camp Two. It is a critique disguised as a "fair and balanced" account.

  9. Wow, I move states and suddenly there's lots of interesting feedback on here! A few thoughts:

    MANIK: Do you have a website?

    Maxwell: Those are both great questions, and I already know which movies I would bring. You'll have to handle mixers.

    Anon: You're wrong. Both camps are clearly educated in something, and almost always this includes art history and technique. Camp one refers in its work explicitly to that education. The temptation here is to expand from this and say "insider/outsider binary, done," but I think it goes a bit deeper than that. By using references to the art history canon, camp one controls interpretation and dissemination of their work amongst audiences. It's hard to view it out of context, although I know their has been some back-and-forth about some pieces... see if you can find the discussions regarding

    Camp two seems to actively repress that control and use the technology in a more playful way, maybe "democratizing" their imagery? (it's late, I'm tired :P) I think that play is probably the defining element in camp two.

    Tom: I'm Gaga for AGAG, and I won't lie about my personal affiliations (right now), although I can see the appeal in both camps. Going back to what I was saying to Anonymous, I dislike the term 'amateur' for camp two, as I don't think that's the case. 'Amateur' smacks of naivety/notions of purity that I'm sure as hell aren't going on in that camp, at least for the most part. I should note, I really like Adrienne's writeup:

  10. By saying I disliked the term sub-amateur didn't mean to imply I like the term amateur any better. I think Sievers has the right work grouped together (give or take several) but unfortunately used Halter's terminology. As I said elsewhere, Boris Groys talks about a "de-professionalized" professional while not questioning that an artist is a trained person who adopts various guises of expertise and non-expertise. Plenty of sophisticated work is done by people that aren't artists per se, that needs to be considered in the scheme somehow. The reason I don't like Camp One is there is no ambiguity: you made this "art" for the web, your audience is about five people working at the institutional level (whose tastes you know down to a T), and you will use their approval to get a job in academia as a "media artist." Not to say that getting favs or followers or hits doesn't have its own pathologies but approaching the web through that infrastructure feels more like being "of" the web it at this brief point in history.

  11. Footnote: Leary was a college professor whose world was academic approval and Kesey a writer whose world was book sales. Both went off the deep end but took their respective orientations with them. In the late 60s no one had to worry about money and being on the web in the 2010 has a fairly low economic bar for entry. All of which is to say I think your analogies work for various reasons (I just wouldn't give camp one much more thought--they have their supporters.)