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In his memoir on the beginnings of digital computer art in the United States, Noll (1994) reports on some of his early experiments with computer animation, holography, and three- dimensional force-feedback devices while a researcher at Bell Labs in the 1960s. Noll describes conflicting impulses within the organization which on the one hand encouraged such experiments because they provided a means of demonstrating the potential of digital computers to the artistic community, and on the other hand discouraged them out of concern that such projects would be perceived as frivolous and lead to a decline in funding for the work of the Laboratory (1994, p. 41). Such doubts on the part of technocrats about the value of artistic endeavors are equaled, if not exceeded, by the art establishment's suspicions about computer technology. Noll notes that today, thirty years after his early efforts, few museums take any significant interest in computer art. Indeed, even those museums which make a portion of their collection available online have tended to display reproductions of artworks created with traditional media rather than developing new exhibits to showcase original electronic art, although there are significant exceptions (cf. the “Video Spaces” and “Mutant Materials” exhibits from the Museum of Modern Art).

In addition to their disinclination to devote wall space to computer-created artworks, museum and gallery directors have been particularly reluctant (Patton, 1994) to accept computer technology as a vehicle for increasing public access to their collections. Although some galleries, most notably the National Galleries in London and Washington, have plunged ahead with CD-ROMs and touch-screen microgallery kiosks, many have dragged their feet, in part because of worries about the quality of the digitally reproduced images, and in part because of a lurking fear that the public will no longer have a reason to pay the price of admission (Patton, 1994):

As it becomes more and more convenient to view high-quality representations of cultural objects (and accompanying explanatory information) on the home computer, people are likely to visit museums less frequently. As more and more people access representations of museum objects without entering the edifice, the authority of the museum (and its personnel) will rapidly erode. (Besser, in press).

In addition to the obvious issue of hegemony, there is clearly an element of elitism involved in the reluctance to put images of priceless works of art online, where they can be retrieved and manipulated with impunity; indeed, purists might well shudder at the prospect of a legion of laptops sporting Dejeuner sur l'herbe wallpaper. Stephen Nowlin, Director of the Williamson Gallery at the Art Center College of Design, confirmed this observation in his introduction to the Gallery's “Digital Mediations” exhibit:

Whereas business, especially the entertainment industry, has been quick to seize upon and develop applications for computer-based technologies, the contemporary art world has moved cautiously, encumbered in part by a mistrust of the medium's easy access, its limitations in size and scale, and its populist, audience-expanding interactivity. (Nowlin, 1995, p. 4)

Concerns about the unlawful appropriation of artist's images for commercial purposes are even more widespread and are well-founded, given the ease with which digitally reproduced artworks can be copied and altered, as well as the inadequacy of existing copyright law to deal with these new forms of infringement (Karnow, 1994).

The working artist's embrace of computer technology has been considerably warmer, despite the threats posed to copyright. Popper (1993) finds that the first works of art produced with digital computers made their appearance in 1965. Computers today are used in the design, production and display of a constantly expanding array of forms, including laser and holographic art, interactive-video installation and performance art, animations, sculptures and assemblages, virtual environments, and two-dimensional images painted with electronic palettes, generated from genetic algorithms, or captured by digital camera. Further, computer technology has blurred the distinction between artist and audience, between content and delivery system. New interactive art forms solicit and adapt to input from the viewer. Schulz (1993) goes so far as to argue that virtual and real spaces have coalesced into a “virtu-real space.”

Clearly new audiences for digital (or digitized) art have emerged, a “privatized public” of the computer-literate with CD-ROM drives and access to computer networks (Hershman, 1993). Representative works created with this audience in mind include Sheridan's “personal electronic museum” (1993), “Cultural Signs,” an interactive multimedia “broadcast” over ISDN created by Bernard Demiaux (1994), the similar “Electronic Mural” project (Mayer, 1993), a recurring electronic collaboration, and “Electric Skin,” a telerobotic art project in which networked videocameras attached to small mobile robots navigate a series of installations to provide remote interactive participation (Mann, 1995). Many artists participate in electronic networks (Malloy, 1994), both online artists' societies like Arts Wire (Grant, 1993) and general-membership online services like CompuServe, where they exhibit their work, moderate forums, offer tutorials, and engage in online talk and collaboration with other artists (Wood, 1993).

Nowhere is the online presence of artists and their work more significant than on the Internet. Artists are represented in every arena of network activity: electronic mailing lists (for example, the Chat list at Art on the Net (chat@art.net), the VR-Art list (vr-art@mailbase.ac.uk), and the Fine Arts Computing Group and Arts Policy Discussion lists (listserv@gwuvm.gwu.edu; listserv@vmd.cso.uiuc.edu); USENET newsgroups (such as alt.art.marketplace, alt.binaries.pictures.art.bodyart, and rec arts.fine); gopher (for instance, the Smithsonian and the Princeton University Art Museum gopher servers); Internet Relay Chat (the several OTIS collaborative projects) and, to a greater extent each day, the World Wide Web. Groups concerned with policy issues and arts advocacy have also set up shop on the network. The American Arts Alliance uses its WWW site as a springboard for soliciting support for more pro-arts policies in Washington (American Arts Alliance, 1995). The Getty Museum, recently embarked upon the Museum Educational Site Licensing Project, which is examining issues related to the delivery of museum images over computer networks (Getty Trust, 1994), maintains both gopher and Web sites. The rapidly accelerating network presence of museum professionals, arts spokespersons, and artists has profound implications for art and its audiences as well as for communication technology and its consumers.

The Web as a Multimedia Delivery System

  1. Top of page
  2. The Web as a Multimedia Delivery System
  3. Sources of Variation in WWW Art Sites
  4. Pioneers on the Electronic Frontiers of Art
  5. Dimensions of Electronic Exhibition Space
  6. Characteristics of Early WWW Art Sites
  7. Second-Generation Art Sites on the WWW
  8. How First-and Second-Generation Art Sites Compare
  9. Evolution of the Art Site on the WWW
  10. References

There is a widespread belief among the general public, encouraged by a flood of communications industry press releases, that the much-touted vehicle of digital multimedia- to-the-home, the information superhighway, is not here quite yet, and that in fact we will have to wait for it until the telephone and cable companies build it for us (Gellene, 1993; Harmon & Groves, 1994; Lippman, 1993). Indeed, the proletarian utopia of movies-on-demand and unlimited home shopping will not be fully realized until the network of fiber-optic ‘fat pipes’ is laid and inexpensive interactive set-top boxes become widely available. What may not be apparent to the public, despite the near-universal press infatuation with the Internet (see for example Elmer-Dewitt, 1994), is that the global computer network, once the exclusive preserve of academia, high technology, and the US military, has rapidly evolved into a multimedia delivery system carrying information, entertainment, and services to millions of end-users around the world. For those without a high-speed network connection or powerful workstation, access to these riches can be accomplished over an ordinary telephone line. Instead of a television and set-top box, a personal computer and modem are employed to navigate databases, view pictures, and listen to clips from new CDs, using free software developed by other Internet enthusiasts.

The rapid proliferation of multimedia content on the Internet can be attributed in part to the increased availability of software to “compress” images and sounds so that they can be transported over serial connections or “slow links” and reach the end-user with reasonable dispatch. Of greater significance, however, is the rise to prominence of the hypertext information system known as the World Wide Web, and in particular the adoption by users of multipurpose graphical interfaces which not only permit the retrieval and viewing of text documents and images, and the playing of movies and sound clips, but more importantly allow the user to interact with information servers to provide feedback, place orders or subscriptions, search databases, cast ballots, complete surveys, and contribute resources. For instance, a German Web site, Ping Datascape, invites visitors to use its interactive map to contribute and position images, sounds, movies, or texts, and then send an E-mail “postcard” to a friend before leaving. The California State Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and Maxwell Laboratories have developed a Web site at which visitors can not only obtain up-to-the-minute traffic reports but can even order a real-time snapshot, from the “JamCam,” of San Diego's most notoriously congested stretch of freeway.

The World Wide Web (WWW) is a distributed information system which for many users is supplementing and even replacing the earlier-generation gopher as the principal navigational tool for accessing the resources of the Internet (Howell, Lacy, & Sutter, 1994a, 1994b; Porterfield, 1994). The Web is based on a hypertext paradigm (Barry, 1994; Greene, 1994). Web documents reside on Web servers; they contain hyperlinks to other, related documents, such as photographs, digitized videos, sounds, authors' biographies, and data sets. They may also contain links to relevant documents residing on other servers; both local and remote links can be selected or clicked on with a mouse and the linked document will be retrieved and displayed on the screen. Web servers are accessed by client programs like Netscape (Netscape Communications Corporation, 1995, September), Mosaic (Howell, Lacy & Sutter, 1994; Ubois, 1994, Wiggins, 1994; Wolf, 1994) and Cello (Atherton & Sadler, 1994) which provide the user with a simple, point-and-click interface. Versions of the Netscape and Mosaic Web browsers have been developed for several platforms, including MS-Windows, OS-2, Macintosh, and Xwindows.

The Web's interactive features, combined with the ability to offer multimedia content, have attracted the attention of the business sector, and the earlier “land rush” (Lazzareschi, 1993) to acquire an individual e-mail address has turned into a stampede to set up a storefront or ‘site’ on the Web. A recent report by Los Angeles Times staffers indicates that in 1993 there were only about 400 requests per month for registration of Internet domain names, the corporate address in cyberspace. Fueled by the popularity of the Web, domain name requests grew to 2,000 per month by October of 1994 and were expected to reach 20,000 per month before the end of 1995 (Los Angeles Times, 1995). Commercial activity on the Web has increased throughout the phase-out of the federal subsidy of the NSF backbone, and can be expected to grow unfettered now that network traffic is in the private hands of MCI, Sprint, and their partners.

Consumers on the WWW can conduct the kinds of transactions one might expect to find on a computer network, such as finding answers to technical questions about a product or browsing software catalogs, but they can also use the Web to subscribe to magazines, send someone a dozen roses, order a submarine sandwich, do their banking, or get up-to-the minute quotes on their portfolios. New commercial versions of Web browsing software provide built-in encryption for secure online credit card transactions (Spry, Inc., 1994, August 22; see also CommerceNet, 1994, April 12), and much energetic research has been generated by the complex issues surrounding digital cash and electronic signatures (Okamoto, 1994). Other security and authentication tools (see for example, Lewontin & Zurko, 1996) have been adapted to enable automated “membership” participation in on-line shopping clubs and in the future may be used by museums to provide special viewing privileges to their patrons and dues-paying members. A current non-commercial application of this notion may be found at the Tele-Garden, an interactive art installation whose visitors can not only remotely view the plants and flowers in a living garden via videocamera, but may also, after paying their dues (100 or more “hits” or accesses of the site to demonstrate commitment) plant and water flowers and vegetables telerobotically (Goldberg, Santarramano, et al., 1995; McLaughlin, 1995)

Many organizations and individuals wanting to maintain a visible presence on the Internet have set up so-called “home pages” or “welcome pages” on their own servers or on space leased from commercial service providers. Corporations and cultural icons alike can be found on the Web: there are home pages for the Rolling Stones, MTV, Senator Kennedy, and Pizza Hut. These pages typically feature a logo, a brief description of the kinds of materials that can be accessed, and a set of clickable icons or highlighted phrases which can be used to retrieve files or connect to another server with related materials.

Although many of the ‘sites’ on the WWW have been developed by scientists and computer engineers and their corporate offspring, there are many applications in the humanities, particularly in the arts, as the Web is well suited to image-intensive exhibits. There are numerous museums and art galleries on the Web with original artworks on display (Gaffin, 1994); both traditional and electronic media are represented. For traditional media, the image will be a low-resolution, digitized photograph or slide of the original, in a compressed format such as gif or jpeg. Moving images are digitized and compressed as mpeg or mov format files. Typically, each image or object in the exhibit is represented by a small icon, often a thumbnail, which is clicked or selected to retrieve the full-screen version. The gallery or museum may also contain biographies of the artists and hyperlinks to other galleries and art resources on the Web. Representative works are presented in Figures 1(a), (b), (c), and (d).

imageimage

Figure 1(a).  Fractal Images

Artist: Noel Giffin

Gallery: Fractal Pictures and Animations

imageimage

Figure 1(b).  Raytraced Images

Artist: Marius Watz

Gallery: Marius Watz' Art Gallery

imageimage

Figure 1(c).  Oil Paintings

Artist: Brenda di Leo

Gallery: Ancestry, Religion, Death and Culture

imageimage

Figure 1(d).  Photographs

Artist: Hans Glaser

Gallery: Angels in Los Angeles, USC

Prominent among the real-world (as opposed to virtual-world) museums mounting exhibits on the WWW are the Dallas Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the British Library, the Field Museum of Natural History, the National Museum of American Art, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The Royal College of Art in London has recently sponsored an exhibit of art solicited and acquired over the net, mounting the exhibit simultaneously at the college and online.

Commercial art interests are evident in a variety of forms: the site may belong to a single gallery which represents artists in the sale of works (for example, the CandyStick Gallery); a site may provide a slide registry of individual artists who may be contacted directly (Art Direct is such a site); it may provide classified listings of individual works of art for sale (for instance, the Art Cellar Exchange); or it may provide page design and/or Web space and maintenance for multiple galleries (the Art-ROM gallery is representative). A growing number of high-end dealers and auction houses have established a Web presence, including Bergamot Station and Sotheby's.

Sources of Variation in WWW Art Sites

  1. Top of page
  2. The Web as a Multimedia Delivery System
  3. Sources of Variation in WWW Art Sites
  4. Pioneers on the Electronic Frontiers of Art
  5. Dimensions of Electronic Exhibition Space
  6. Characteristics of Early WWW Art Sites
  7. Second-Generation Art Sites on the WWW
  8. How First-and Second-Generation Art Sites Compare
  9. Evolution of the Art Site on the WWW
  10. References

In Imagologies (1994), media philosophers Taylor and Saarinen imagine a Cybermuseum of the future, with “an inexhaustible image file and multiple paths that allow navigation through the archive.” In this vision the centralized, institutionalized, physical exhibition space gives way to the personal, digital, desktop museum, and the viewer becomes a collector/curator as well. Although this single, bottomless, hypertextual image archive is not yet a reality, the Web boasts an abundance of picture galleries whose objects are freely available for the personal use of the viewer. New sites for viewing images appear on the Web daily. These sites vary considerably in the extent to which they reflect the received view of appropriate exhibition practice (Sherman & Rogoff, 1994), at least inasmuch as it has been defined by and for physical exhibition spaces.

Sherman and Rogoff, in the introduction to their edited volume Museum Culture, describe four poles or dimensions of exhibition discourse and practice: classification, an understanding about objects and how they ought to be named and sorted; context, some “externally constructed discursive field” such as a school, style, or period that the objects represent; audience, a sense of mission with respect to a defined constituency; and reception, the response of the viewing publics to the objects and the cultural narratives within which they are embedded (Sherman & Rogoff, 1994, x-xvi).

There is considerable variation among online image sites with respect to exhibition practice. Broadly speaking, however, one can distinguish between galleries and exhibits, on the one hand, and mere archives, on the other. The former have about them a sense of curatorial presence, selectivity, and mission: the works on display have been assembled within a context, which might be the technology used to create them, or the national origin of the artists. There is at least an implicit notion of the audience to whom the display is addressed, often accompanied by overt efforts to solicit audience response. Mere archives, on the other hand, most of them uncataloged collections of unattributed images, are characterized by little or no sense of mission. The curatorial sensibility, if in evidence, tends to be underdeveloped. For instance, the index for one such site listed its first three image categories as “Star Trek,”“Beavis and Butthead,” and “Art.” The collections are assembled, typically, through a self-nomination process in which the artist contributes his or her work by uploading an image file to a publicly accessible archive, where it is left, largely unexamined, to be retrieved by others. While this self-publishing feature is among the greatest attractions of the Web, and of interest in itself as profoundly liberating for artistic expression, the focus of the project reported below was on the more organized examples of online exhibition culture.

In addition to the Whitney, the MOMA, and other venerable museums and galleries, there are hundreds of smaller, less well- known galleries that exist primarily or even exclusively online, often buried deep in the directory structures on servers at small colleges or commercial access providers. Many exhibiting artists are relatively unknown, and many are amateurs. As of this writing these exhibition spaces tend to be about equally divided between those that display the works of several artists, and those that show works by a single artist. With respect to the latter, the Web seems to unleash the entrepreneur beneath the artist's smock, providing as it does opportunities for self-expression (and self-promotion) for which there are few analogues in the physical exhibition world. Similarly, the multiple-artist galleries provide management opportunities which might not otherwise be available. The backgrounds of these gatekeepers vary considerably. Some have impeccable academic credentials and/or exhibition records; whereas others seem considerably less well qualified to shape viewing practices.

Web art sites also vary with respect to the presence or absence of commercial interests. At the time the project reported here began, about one in four galleries on the WWW offered works of art for sale. Today nearly one of every two new art sites coming online could be classified as commercial. Some of the galleries sell expensive paintings and prints by well-known artists, (for example Hockney, Appel, Barminski), others works by artists who are ‘locally prominent,” if not unknown. One may also find cheap reproductions and clip art marketed to commercial artists. Although the commercial galleries began to appear on the Web somewhat late relative to the others, available evidence indicates that they have been quick to capitalize on the interactive features of the network in order to facilitate the conduct of business.

A preliminary review of the features of Web art sites, the details of which are provided below, indicated that variation among galleries and exhibits occurs with respect to three primary dimensions: network embedding, openness, and design concept. Network embedding refers to the extent to which the gallery occupies or makes efforts to occupy a position of centrality within the web of relationships formed by artists, galleries, and audiences. Openness is the extent to which an art site is inclusive, or public; all are invited to contribute to it, and likewise all are encouraged to partake of its offerings. Design concept refers to the degree to which the artistic and technical aspects of the gallery's design take full advantage of the potential of the medium to please the eye while simultaneously facilitating exchange among artists, their representatives, and their audiences.

The presence of commercial interests can be expected to exert an influence on the artistic and technical aspects of site design, particularly in the exploitation of interactive features which allow an art gallery to transact its affairs and keep track of its customers. For-profit galleries may possess the greater wherewithal to hire professional designers to plan page layout and advise on the use of forms from both the client and server sides. Such galleries should be expected to differ considerably from their non-commercial counterparts with respect to openness. That is, commercial galleries ought to have a firmer sense of their offerings and the boundaries of the site in terms of what can be displayed there, and how it may be used (or more to the point, may not be used). Thus it would be unlikely, for instance, for a conventional commercial gallery to solicit submissions openly, nor should we anticipate that many would make it excessively easy to download high-resolution copies of works on display, or make personal information about the artists freely available. The Internet rallying cry of “information should be free” would likely as not fall on deaf ears here. Boundary-consciousness should be reflected in comparatively less interest in internetworking and collaborating with grass-roots galleries or unrecognized artists. Thus we should expect that commercial galleries will be less likely to take advantage of hypertextual features like pointers to competing galleries or promotional strategies like t-shirts or prizes. Similarly, they should demonstrate less interest in sponsoring discussion-oriented Internet mailing lists or other outreach mechanisms. Commercial sites may have fewer exhibiting artists, on average, as a function of a more narrowly circumscribed mission. The exception would occur in those cases where the art site merely provides classified listings.

Whether commercial or not, sites exhibiting the work of multiple artists can be expected to differ from those showing a single artist's work in significant ways, some but not all of which derive simply from an obviously increased resource base. Whereas it seems apparent that larger galleries may be more open, for example, to displaying a variety of art forms, it is not clear that multiple-artists galleries will be freer with personal information about the artists, nor that they will be more encouraging of unrestricted downloading, nor that they will be less concerned about copyright. Similarly, while the probability of having someone on hand who can help with the technical aspects of interactive forms should increase with the number of participants, the page design could be developed as creditably by a single artist working in isolation as it could be by a collaboration of several. It would seem to be the case that a gallery's enmeshment in artists' networks would increase with the number of artists displaying their work, although the true causal agent may be the empire-building drive of the webmaster or site ‘owner’ rather than the combined sum of the individual artists' contacts.

Galleries vary not only with respect to design, network embedding, and openness but also in terms of the demographic distribution of their exhibitors. Despite all the bouquets that have been tossed at the Internet for increasing global access to information and opening up new pathways of communication, there has been no evidence to date that the electronic gates have opened any more widely than those in the physical world to admit women and minorities. That women in particular are under-represented in computing-related disciplines and occupations has been known for some time (Ebben & Kramarae, 1993; Shade, 1993). Available data from recent studies of women's experiences on the Internet indicate that instances of sexual discrimination and harassment are commonplace (Dibble, 1993; Herring, 1993; Kramerae, 1995). Of interest, then, is the extent to which women artists are represented in online galleries, and how their representation varies as a function of the gallery's size and commercial orientation.

In the two studies of Web art sites reported below, a data corpus of image files (works of art, logos, artists' portraits) and text files (artists' biographies and exhibition records, descriptions of works, order forms, and annotations) was collected from seventy-seven galleries with home pages on the WWW. Analysis of the characteristics of the galleries' exhibitors, discourses and practices were used to develop a topography of online “artspace”, and an account of the exhibition culture of the Web. The analytic categories, which were developed inductively, locate the poles of online exhibition practice in the technological capabilities of the Web as an information system The relationships among these properties and selected gallery characteristics (commercial/noncommercial, multiple-artist/single-artist) were examined in detail.

Pioneers on the Electronic Frontiers of Art

  1. Top of page
  2. The Web as a Multimedia Delivery System
  3. Sources of Variation in WWW Art Sites
  4. Pioneers on the Electronic Frontiers of Art
  5. Dimensions of Electronic Exhibition Space
  6. Characteristics of Early WWW Art Sites
  7. Second-Generation Art Sites on the WWW
  8. How First-and Second-Generation Art Sites Compare
  9. Evolution of the Art Site on the WWW
  10. References

The spring and summer of 1994 were early days in the life of the World Wide Web. At that time there were sufficiently few art galleries online that it was almost possible to enumerate them. In an initial effort to establish a topology of the world of art on the Web, I collected text and image files from WWW galleries and exhibits over a six-month period, from April 7- October 6, 1994. Galleries were located by keyword searches of various Web search engines including the CUI WWW catalog, the Yahoo index, and NorthStar, and by following hypertextual links from art resource lists compiled by Anima, Fine Art Forum, and other collectives serving the online arts community. Institutional galleries (e.g., museums), exhibits from visualization laboratories, and mere archives (collections of images and/or animations of unknown origin) were excluded from further investigation. An effort was made to achieve a representative sampling of sites with respect to such factors as the number of exhibitors and the presence or absence of commercial interests. Sites were classified as commercial if any works on display were explicitly offered for purchase. The group of thirty-seven sites selected included twenty exhibiting the work of a single artist, and seventeen in which two or more artists were represented. Eighteen of the galleries were hosted by commercial service providers, one was available on a server running on a personal computer, and eighteen were housed on servers at educational institutions. Thirteen of the thirty-seven galleries offered works of art for sale. (Although the population of commercial galleries on the Web has grown, their number in mid-1994 was quite limited.) Finally, an attempt was made to ensure that a wide range of both electronic and traditional works of art was represented.

The galleries and exhibits included in the study were the commercial sites The 911 Gallery, Access Art, Anecdote Gallery, Cloud Gallery, The Electric Gallery, Eagle Aerie Gallery, Gallery of Artists, Kaleidospace, Paulette Jellinek Art Gallery, Pearl Street Gallery, Pixel Pushers Electronic Art Gallery, Sandra Morton Fine Arts, and Shremagraphs: Three Dimensional Kinetic Art, and an additional group of sites not offering works of art for sale: Amiga Art Gallery, Ancestry, Religion, Death and Culture exhibit, Beauty for Ashes, Chez Rampart, Cirque de la Mama, David Miller exhibit (dem's pictures on the Web), Generality galleries Drux and aart, USC Ethnographics Laboratory exhibit, Filter Art, Fine Art Forum Gallery, Fractal Pictures and Animations, Gate Gallery, The Hall of Self-Expression (Margaret Watson gallery), Henry Houh's Photo Gallery, In the Pockets of the Night (Elizabeth Heron exhibit), International Interactive Genetic Art, Jane Patterson Art Gallery, Marius Watz' Art Gallery, NEXUS, Off the Wall Gallery, OTIS, Strange Interactions (John Jacobsen exhibit), Avi Rosen exhibit, and Studio X: Mkzdk.

I visited each of the 37 sites at least twice during the data collection period, using a Mosaic or Cello WWW browser over a SLIP connection to a local commercial service provider; thus the galleries were experienced via the comparatively slow dial-up connection of the typical low-end Web user rather than a fast network connection. From each site all text files and most image files were retrieved, and most were saved, in their original format (html, gif, jpeg, mpeg, etc) for subsequent viewing and analysis. At the smaller sites, all of the images were saved; at the larger (30 artists or more), a randomly selected image for each exhibiting artist was retrieved and saved. Collaboratively produced artworks were not included in the study because of the inclusion of individual level variables (e.g., gender) in the data analysis.

Some sites presented consistent problems with respect to retrieval of files, some had sections still under construction, and others had lapses in their indexing which sometimes made it difficult, if not impossible, to determine the name of the artist responsible for a particular work. The nature of the hypertextual medium did in some cases make it difficult to determine the “walls” or boundaries of a gallery. In ambiguous cases the rule of thumb was that the home page was that which contained the gallery logo and direct links to the works. Only information that could be accessed directly from the home page, and the documents to which the home page pointed, was included in the data corpus. Thus, for example, data was not included which could only be obtained by bringing up and searching the home page's parent directory.

Dimensions of Electronic Exhibition Space

  1. Top of page
  2. The Web as a Multimedia Delivery System
  3. Sources of Variation in WWW Art Sites
  4. Pioneers on the Electronic Frontiers of Art
  5. Dimensions of Electronic Exhibition Space
  6. Characteristics of Early WWW Art Sites
  7. Second-Generation Art Sites on the WWW
  8. How First-and Second-Generation Art Sites Compare
  9. Evolution of the Art Site on the WWW
  10. References

I reviewed the data corpus of texts (gallery mission statements, artists' biographies and exhibition records, image captions, hotlists) and images and animations (logos, fancy buttons and bars, imagemaps, menu bars, artists' portraits, works displayed at the site) to generate a preliminary account of gallery characteristics. This preliminary review led to the development of a list of features which represents the wide range of exhibition practices and possibilities on the Web.

The features were grouped into three broad categories, which can be regarded as dimensions or continua of electronic exhibition space along which, separately or conjointly, exhibitors varied. The first of these three dimensions is network embedding: the extent to which a site is central to, or visible in, the matrix of online relationships among galleries, their viewers, and their contributors. Network embedding may be reflected in indices of pointing (being on the receiving end of a hypertextual pointer from another gallery) and of pointing-to (supplying hypertextual links to other sites); in the presence of mediated extensions of the site's outreach, such as affiliated gopher or ftp sites, mailing lists and newsletters, or searchable databases and archives; and in university or studio/design firm/arts collective affiliations. Galleries may seek to attract visitors with tips for artists, vendor presence, or a resident artist/critic/columnist. The motivation to achieve network centrality may be indicated by features such as contests and awards, giveaway or sale of promotional items like t-shirts or posters, vanity publishing of photos and comments, and sponsorship of or participation in online art collaborations, face-to-face meetings, and art-related special events such as symposia, festivals, or gallery openings. The following three items were used as the feature list for the measurement of network embedding: (a) number of other surveyed art sites pointing to the gallery, (b) number of other surveyed art sites pointed to by the gallery, and (c) number of networking/promotion strategies employed.

WWW galleries and exhibit spaces may also differ with respect to their openness to visitors and to potential exhibiting artists: the extent to which information about the gallery, its exhibitors, its art objects, and the mechanics of retrieval and viewing are available freely and in a manner friendly to visitors with varying degrees of online literacy. Openness also refers to the extent to which the gallery allows, encourages, or solicits submissions and offers a variety of means, both traditional and electronic, of submitting works for exhibition. Openness may be reflected as well in the extent to which the exhibit space embraces the visual arts in all their variety. The following three items were used to operationalize openness:

  • (a).
     Informativeness: amount of information about the artists and the images/animations, including the presence of any of the following: artists' names, artists' portraits, artists' bios, resumes and/or exhibition records, artists' personal statements, artists' home pages, hyperlinks on artists' statements, artists' e-mail addresses, artists' surface mail addresses and/or phone/FAX numbers, pictures of the studio or shop; and information about the works of art, including title/caption, extended caption, date produced, approximate file size, image format, price, dimensions, how the work was made, number of prints in the series, and location;
  • (b).
     Visitor-friendliness: Number of measures implemented to encourage viewing and contributing by users varying widely with respect to technical knowledge and access, including invitation to submit/information about how to submit, submission methods for non-computer- literate artists (surface mail diskette, unscanned photo), choice of file format (compression, size, resolution), links to viewers, browsers and graphics software and information, and index or catalog;
  • (c).
     Openness to a variety of forms of the visual arts; number of different types of visual art displayed: digital images (computer- generated or manipulated images), including digital photographs, works created with paint or photomanipulation programs, rendered works (raytraces, 3d), and algorithmic art (fractal images, genetic art); analog images (digitized reproductions of artworks created with traditional media), including photographs, drawings (pen and ink, pencil, charcoal, chalk), paintings (oil, acrylic, watercolor, tempera), prints (woodcut, engraving, lithograph, silk-screen), and other miscellaneous works (mixed media works, CD covers, rave flyers, sculptures and assemblages, installations, textiles, furniture, glass, ceramics, clips from videos); moving images, including animations (fractal animations, genetic algorithm animations, morphs, raytrace and 3d animations), and digitized videos; and other art forms with images, including graphic novels, comic books, illustrated poems, essays, and short stories.

Web galleries and exhibits may also be seen to differ with respect to the design concept which informs them: the mix of the artistic and technical sensibilities which determines the look and ‘feel’ of the space. The design concept is reflected in the use of artwork in logos, fancy bullets, and inline images, and more technically advanced use of artworks in hypertextual features such as fancy buttons, menu bars, and imagemaps. The design concept is further realized in the presence of interactive features, which organize the activities of the gallery through forms which allow visitors to send comments to the gallery owner or to the artists, search archives or data bases, or order objects on display at the site. (Mindful of the concept that “less is more,” there is no intent here to suggest that a well-designed gallery requires numerous inline images or fancy buttons; that would be rather like suggesting that the beauty of a cathedral is equal to the number of its gargoyles. The property being indexed is the exploitation of the design features of HTML, for good or ill.)

Features that were used to characterize the art sites with respect to the dimension design concept were (a) page design artwork, including: original logo, fancy bullets, legend, inline images, color bar, thumbnails (interactive), fancy buttons, menu bar, imagemap, and player bar for movies; and (b) advanced interactive features (forms), including comments page (e-mail to curator, artists; guest book), keyword search of archives or database, order form, submit form (work, resources, links), voting form, and questionnaire/survey form.

Other characteristics of the exhibit space included in the analysis reported here are the number of artists exhibiting at the site, and proportion of exhibiting artists who were female. Gender was estimated by a “best-guess” method based on gender-linked names and information provided in artists' biographies. Additional characteristics recorded, but not included in the analysis, were the availability of information about the curator/webmaster; the range of file formats supported; strategies used by the gallery to protect the copyright of the artist (for instance embedding the word “sample” in the images); the organization of the collection (the way in which the visitor is “walked” through the exhibit space (through “rooms,”“wings,” or past a “wall space”)), and possible sources of difficulty for the site (nudity in some of the works, persistent difficulties in retrieving files from the site). Information recorded for the commercial sites included the type of items for sale (originals, artist's proofs, limited edition prints, open edition prints, printer's proofs, remarques, reproductions), the method of ordering (E-mail, surface mail, phone, FAX, fill-in form), the method of payment, the availability of secure means for the transport of credit card information, the availability of studio visits, willingness to provide slides for previewing, and various guarantees related to authenticity of the work and satisfaction with the purchase.

Characteristics of Early WWW Art Sites

  1. Top of page
  2. The Web as a Multimedia Delivery System
  3. Sources of Variation in WWW Art Sites
  4. Pioneers on the Electronic Frontiers of Art
  5. Dimensions of Electronic Exhibition Space
  6. Characteristics of Early WWW Art Sites
  7. Second-Generation Art Sites on the WWW
  8. How First-and Second-Generation Art Sites Compare
  9. Evolution of the Art Site on the WWW
  10. References

To examine the relationship between the type of gallery (single/multiple artist; commercial/noncommercial) and gallery characteristics identified above (gender composition, network embedding, openness, and design concept), a series of statistical analyses were conducted Alpha reliabilities for network embedding, openness, and design concept were all satisfactory: standardized item alphas were, respectively, network embedding, .84; openness, .84; and design concept, .78.

The first analysis of the data was designed to provide a general overview or topography of gallery-space on the Web. Observations of the thirty-seven galleries on the five variables (number of artists, proportion of women, network embedding, openness, and design concept) were subjected to a cluster analysis based on the technique of nearest centroid sorting (SPSS QUICK CLUSTER (Norusis, 1990)). (Two of the galleries had to be dropped from the analysis because the number and/or gender of the artists could not be determined.). The analysis was performed three times, assuming either a two-, three-, or four-dimensional cluster solution. The four-cluster solution was chosen because the ratio of between-to-within cluster variability was significant for four of the five dependent measures: number of artists, F= 48.87, p < .0001; proportion of women exhibiting, F= 114.60, p < .0001; network embedding, F= 27.19, p < .0001; openness, F= 15.15, p < .0001; design concept, F=.55, ns. Table 1 provides the means of the four clusters on the five independent measures.

Cluster 4 contained nine galleries, all but one of which were one-woman shows. Cluster 4 member galleries were characterized by low network embedding, less openness, and a less elaborated design concept. Cluster 3 consisted of three galleries with a small but eclectic mix of artists, of both genders. Cluster 3 members were characterized by strong network embedding, openness, and an advanced design concept. Cluster 2 consisted of a single gallery with a roster of exhibiting artists far in excess of the average, in part due to its long (by net standards) tenure as an ftp archive prior to its debut on the Web. The Cluster 2 gallery is characterized by its superior network embedding and openness, relatively less elaborated design concept, and by a comparative absence of female exhibitors. Cluster 1 consisted of the remaining galleries, which are small-to-medium-sized sites with little embedding, less openness, few women, and average to above average use of forms and artwork in their design concept.

It will be noted in Table 1 that the variability of the network embedding concept is considerable. In the sample of 37 galleries, there were in total only 77 pointers (hypertextual links) to other galleries included in the list. Of these 77 instances, only 12 of them were associated with cross-pointing, or mutual hyperlinking between pairs of galleries. Five of the 37 galleries were complete isolates within this group of sites: they neither pointed nor were they pointed to. For-profit sites were far less likely to use pointers than noncommercial sites; only one of the thirteen commercial galleries pointed to other galleries included in the study, while twelve of the twenty-four noncommercial galleries supplied such pointers.

Although the number and gender of the artists featured prominently in the cluster analysis, the commercial/noncommercial distinction was not a particularly strong discriminator; commercial galleries did not appear to cluster together, but in fact were scattered across three of the clusters. In the next section the results of a discriminant analysis designed to assess distinguishing characteristics of the commercial sites is reported, along with a further examination of the differences between single- and multi-exhibitor galleries.

Discriminant analysis tests the hypothesis that two or more groups differ significantly on a linear combination of a set of variables. To assess what features if any distinguish commercial from noncommercial galleries, a stepwise discriminant analysis was conducted in which the dependent measures were number of artists, proportion of artists who were women, network embedding, openness, and design concept. Two of the thirty-seven cases had missing values on the number of artists and gender measures and were consequently dropped from further analysis.

The discriminant analysis resulted in a marginally significant linear combination of three of the variables, network embedding, openness, and design concept, which maximally discriminated between commercial and noncommercial sites (lambda =.78, Chi-square = 7.61, p < 055). The commercial galleries group had the higher mean score (.70 vs. -.37) on the discriminant function, indicating that commercial sites generally were less embedded in the online network but more likely to exploit HTML features in their design concept than the non-commercial galleries. A test of the predictive ability of the discriminant function indicated that the linear combination of the three variables was able to reclassify 78 percent of the galleries correctly with respect to the commercial/non-commercial variable.

A second discriminant analysis was undertaken to probe further the differences between single- artist exhibits and multiple-artist galleries. Dependent measures included in the analysis were proportion of women artists, network embedding, openness, and design concept. The discriminant analysis produced a linear combination of three of the variables, proportion of women, openness, and design concept, which significantly discriminated between single-artist and multi-artist sites (Wilks' lambda = .52, Chi-square = 20.16, p < 0005). The group containing galleries with two or more artists had the higher mean score on the discriminant function (1.00 vs. -.84). Single-artist sites had a higher proportion of women exhibitors, less openness, and a less elaborated design concept.

In a follow-up study conducted in August and September of 1995, I collected data from forty additional galleries which had announced themselves on the NCSA Mosaic “What's New” list during the months of June, July, and August. From the 249 sites listed, a random sample of 80 sites was drawn. All sites were examined and those that did not display works of art were discarded (for instance, arts resource pages or lists of pointers to art sites). The remaining sites were viewed in order as they were sampled until 40 sites were selected: ten each of sites with a single artist and no works of art for sale; ten each of sites with multiple artists but no works of art for sale; ten commercial sites with a single artist represented; and ten commercial sites with multiple artists represented. Sites were classified as commercial if any works on display were explicitly offered for purchase.

The forty sites included in the study of second-generation galleries were the noncommercial sites, Techno-Impressionist Gallery, Wigley Studio, Nick deMatties Virtual Art Gallery, Mothersongs, Sculpture by James Beninson, Freggel's Cave, Sara's Gallery, Duim's Art Gallery, Rob Silvers Photo Gallery, The Digital Giraffe Virtual Studio, The Image Factory, Plexus, Photographic Gallery, Cypress College Photographic Gallery, hyperFuzzy Studio Optica, The Electronic Salon, GallerySight Photographic Exhibition, The Zone I Gallery, The Outpost, and Dialect, and the following sites with works of art for sale: Bill Wright Fine Art Photographs, Danner Studios, Exhibition of Paintings by Stanley Pettigrew, Screens and Paintings by Karen Combs, Sarabel's Studio, Allen Toney's Computer Art Gallery, The Latigo Fine Art by Gregg WIllis, The Art of Karin Krohne Kaufman, HoLing Gallery, Martin Action Art, Chisholm Prats Gallery, @rtweb, Artworks Gallery, interARTisrael, Carole Thompson Fine Photographs, Bergamot Station Arts Center, Art to Live With, The Photography Spot, The Western Australian Arts Pages, Art City, The Holos Gallery Online, and CandyStick Gallery. The procedures described earlier for retrieving and coding text and image materials were followed, with slight modifications to take into account the extensions to HTML which have been incorporated into many of the more recent art sites on the WWW. For example, included in the coding template for study of the second-generation galleries were such features as the presence or absence of tables, background colors and images preset by the document's author, preset text and link colors, blinking text, and author control of font sizes, image and table borders, image alignment, spacing, and image dimensions, as well as advanced interactive features such as live video images, threaded news readers, access counters, chat, and dynamic document updating. New networking and promotion strategies were incorporated into the coding template, for example, the display of Web “awards” (e.g., a “sticker” proclaiming that the site had been recognized as among the “top 5% of sites”). The pointed-at and pointed-to variables were modified to include pointers to and from any net gallery or exhibit. The number of sites has grown so large that the chance of any one gallery's pointing to another of the 40 sites is remote.

Second-Generation Art Sites on the WWW

  1. Top of page
  2. The Web as a Multimedia Delivery System
  3. Sources of Variation in WWW Art Sites
  4. Pioneers on the Electronic Frontiers of Art
  5. Dimensions of Electronic Exhibition Space
  6. Characteristics of Early WWW Art Sites
  7. Second-Generation Art Sites on the WWW
  8. How First-and Second-Generation Art Sites Compare
  9. Evolution of the Art Site on the WWW
  10. References

Observations of the forty art sites on the five independent variables were subjected to a cluster analysis based on the technique of nearest centroid sorting (SPSS QUICK CLUSTER (Norusis, 1990)). The analysis was performed four times, assuming either a two-, three-, four-, or five-dimensional cluster solution. The five-cluster solution was chosen because the ratio of between-to-within cluster variability was significant for four of the five independent measures: number of artists, F = 369.59, p < 0001; network embedding, F = 45.29, p < 001; openness, F = 18.87, p < 001; and design concept, F = 2.69, p < 05. The proportion of women artists exhibiting did not vary significantly among the five clusters. Table 2 provides the means of the five clusters on the five independent measures.

Cluster 1 contained three small exhibits, two of which of which were one-man shows. All artists in Cluster 1 were male. Cluster 1 member sites were characterized by high network embedding (in particular multiple pointers to other art sites) and a less elaborated design concept. Cluster 2 consisted of seven galleries with between 10 and 20 artists. The seven Cluster 2 sites were characterized by their comparative lack of network embedding. The four galleries in Cluster 3, which had the highest proportion of women artists, were distinguished by strong network embedding, openness, and advanced design. Cluster 4 was composed of 25 galleries, with an average of two artists, with comparatively little network embedding, openness, and relatively conventional design. Cluster 5 consisted of a highly open, single commercial gallery with a very large roster of artists.

As was the case with the first set of gallery data, the number of the artists was a prominent factor in the cluster analysis. The commercial/noncommercial distinction was, again, not a particularly potent determinant of cluster membership, as each of the clusters with multiple galleries had both commercial and noncommercial sites as members.

A stepwise discriminant analysis was conducted on the data collected in the study of second-generation art sites to assess what features, if any, continued to distinguish commercial from noncommercial galleries. Independent measures were number of artists, proportion of artists who were women, network embedding, openness, and design concept. The discriminant analysis resulted in a significant linear combination of two of the independent variables, network embedding and openness, which maximally discriminated between commercial and noncommercial sites (lambda = .84, Chi-square = 6.64, p < 05). The commercial galleries group had the higher mean score (-.43 vs .43) on the discriminant function, indicating that commercial sites were less embedded but more open than the noncommercial art sites. A test of the predictive ability of the discriminant function indicated that the linear combination of the two variables was able to reclassify only 62.5 percent of the galleries correctly with respect to the commercial/noncommercial variable. Hence, obtained differences attributable to a linear combination of the embedding and openness variables must be interpreted with caution. A second discriminant analysis was undertaken to examine the differences between single- artist and multiple-artist sites from the second round of data collection. Independent measures included in the analysis were proportion of women artists, network embedding, openness, and design concept. The discriminant analysis produced a linear combination of three of the variables, proportion of women, openness, and design concept, which significantly discriminated between single-artist and multi-artist sites (Wilks' lambda = .67, Chi-square = 14.57, p < .005). The group containing galleries with two or more artists had the higher mean score on the discriminant function (.68 vs. -.68). Single-artist sites had a higher proportion of women exhibitors, were less open, and had a less elaborated design concept. Univariate tests indicated significant differences on two of the variables, openness and design concept. Results of reclassification based on the discriminant function indicated a success rate of 80%. The finding of significant differences must be interpreted in light of a demonstrable lack of homogeneity in the group covariance matrices (Box's M= 21.95, p < .02).

How First-and Second-Generation Art Sites Compare

  1. Top of page
  2. The Web as a Multimedia Delivery System
  3. Sources of Variation in WWW Art Sites
  4. Pioneers on the Electronic Frontiers of Art
  5. Dimensions of Electronic Exhibition Space
  6. Characteristics of Early WWW Art Sites
  7. Second-Generation Art Sites on the WWW
  8. How First-and Second-Generation Art Sites Compare
  9. Evolution of the Art Site on the WWW
  10. References

Table 3 presents a comparison of the major findings of the two studies conducted: Study 1 refers to the study of the 37 first-generation galleries; Study 2 refers to the data collected on the 40 second-generation galleries. (C) and (NC), repectively, reference commercial and noncommercial galleries; (S) and (M), respectively, refer to sites with single and multiple artists. The table indicates (a) which variables were included in the discriminant functions (b) which art site category (commercial/noncommercial, single/multiple artist) had the higher score on each of the discriminating variables in the function, and (c) which art site category had the higher score on the discriminant function.

For the most part similar results were obtained from the two studies, even though they involved two completely different sets of art sites and the data collection periods were more than a year apart. With respect to the comparison between single- and multiple-artist sites, it was the case in both studies that the multiple-artist sites had a higher proportion of female artists, were more open, and had a more elaborated design concept. In both studies the multiple-artist sites had the higher mean score on the discriminant function. With respect to the differences between commercial and noncommercial sites, in both cases the commercial sites scored lower on network embedding, and in both cases the commercial sites had the higher mean score on the discriminant function. Although no direct comparisons are possible inasmuch as different sets of galleries are involved, the data suggest that in the interval between data collection periods the noncommercial galleries as a group have begun to incorporate more advanced design elements into their Web sites, while the commercial galleries have increased their openness. The latter is consistent with the observation that a certain number of the commercial sites now openly solicit for artists to represent.

Evolution of the Art Site on the WWW

  1. Top of page
  2. The Web as a Multimedia Delivery System
  3. Sources of Variation in WWW Art Sites
  4. Pioneers on the Electronic Frontiers of Art
  5. Dimensions of Electronic Exhibition Space
  6. Characteristics of Early WWW Art Sites
  7. Second-Generation Art Sites on the WWW
  8. How First-and Second-Generation Art Sites Compare
  9. Evolution of the Art Site on the WWW
  10. References

Art sites on the World Wide Web can be grouped into broad clusters or types on the basis of their size with respect to the number of artists and their composition with respect to the relative number of female artists. Both gallery size and the manifest purposes of the exhibitors shape the form the gallery ultimately takes in terms of such factors as network centrality, openness, and design. Commercial sites, at the earliest stages in the development of the Web, seem to have had the advantage in the innovative application of forms and advanced design strategies, reflecting not only the ability of the commercial gallery principals to avail themselves of professional assistance, but more fundamentally the greater need of such undertakings to develop a customer base and offer security and convenience in their business transactions. However, noncommercial galleries appear to have caught up as techniques for creating cgi scripts and adding visual appeal through extensions to HTML have been made widely available and easy to locate given the superiority of second-generation search engines like Yahoo and Lycos. The trend for commercial galleries to manifest less interest in networking within the online arts community persisted from the first to the second study, although in the latter the commercial galleries were characterized by greater openness, whereas this difference was not present in first set of galleries surveyed.

Although there was no significant difference in the proportion of women displaying their works on commercial and noncommercial sites in either study, in both studies women were under-represented in multiple-artist noncommercial galleries. Women artists on the net are far more likely than male artists, relative to their numbers, to put on their own, one-person shows rather than to be included in the larger galleries, which in many cases offer superior opportunities for networking and promotion as well as the advanced design concepts which attract site-hopping Web surfers. The one-person sites were characterized by significantly less elaborated gallery design, a finding consistent across both studies.

Given the kind of hyperbolic praise that has been heaped upon the Internet (“the largest, most complex and powerful tool ever devised by the mind of man” (Rickard, 1994, p. 9)), one might expect nothing less of the Web than that it launch the next revolution in delivery of art to the masses. Indeed there are voices claiming that such interactive multimedia technologies will empower the powerless (Lucas, 1993):

The widespread creation and distribution of alternative forms of information is already undermining the current hegemony of an oppressive and intensely patriarchal mode of thinking. We are in a situation that is comparable to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when the press made it possible for the disenfranchised to assert their role in political and economic processes– a situation that led to a radical transformation of human society. (p. 344)

Will the promised revolution, the cybermuseum on every desktop, actually materialize? One of the critical determinants is access: access of providers and consumers of art to the means of delivery. With respect to a graphics-intensive, interactive medium like the Web, there are special problems of access for the artist.

Lougee's (1994) observations on the uneven distribution of computing resources are particularly relevant to the artist's role as a content provider. Lougee notes that computing resources are concentrated largely in major public and private institutions, and that grants and vendors' gifts tend not to be bestowed upon community colleges, colleges with a traditionally African- American student population, or less prestigious small colleges (p. 151). Consequently, access to the powerful workstations required to produce CPU-intensive graphics and the color scanners needed to implement digitization of traditional art tends to be concentrated in the hands of an intellectual elite and those with the private means to afford them. While public-domain and shareware graphics applications for rendering and painting are widely available on the Internet, the resources and knowledge required to retrieve and install them may be prohibitive for all but the most persistent. Assuming that such obstacles can be overcome, the artist must then concern herself with the actual process of getting the material on line. Only a few galleries openly encourage submissions. Of those that do permit self-nomination, only a few allow the artist to submit unscanned photos or diskettes. Unless the artist is in contact with someone with the skills and access to place digitized versions of the works on a server, the technical obstacles again may prove overwhelming Once the materials are actually in place, there are problems of upkeep to deal with, including complex HTML documents and scripts to write and install. The solution adopted by one artist, who noted that time spent on maintenance chores is time spent not painting, will not appeal to everyone (Wagoner, 1994):

I used to think of this as “exhibition” space, but I was always so worried about the dusting, the onion dip, and making sure the pictures were hanging straight that I wasn't getting anything else done, so I have decided to simplify by converting it to public ‘working’ space. You are invited to stop in any time and watch me work. As much as I can manage it, this space will mirror my studio in ‘real’ space. It will probably be a mess.

A further issue which confronts the artist contemplating putting his or her works online is the potential threat to copyright. Karnow (1994) has argued that so-called “structural morphing,” (machine-generated change in a digitally-encoded artwork which results from the application of color replacement, filters, etc.) may radically alter the surface structure of a work, so that an alleged infringer may claim that the derived work is not substantially similar, yet in fact that work may bear the ineradicable traces of the original work through the “algorithmic correspondence between the old and new data structures.” Karnow claims that such correspondence completely undermines copyright law: “when no possible kind of change is enough to defeat a copyright claim … then nothing is a violation of law, and the idea of “copying” loses force (Karnow, 1994, p. 20). Besser also points out that the widespread availability of digital images on the public network challenges the authority of the artist, in that an arguably “new” work can be created from another's manipulation of the original image: “In the spirit of post-modernism, every photographic image becomes a potential ingredient in a new piece of art.” (Besser, 1994). One of the goals of the Getty Art History Information project is to find solutions to pressing problems related to the technical and legal aspects of intellectual property rights with respect to digital imaging.

The prevailing culture of the Web and artists' concerns about self-presentation may also create barriers to the electronic delivery of art. Some artists, particularly women artists, may have reservations about the network because of the considerable press coverage in recent months depicting computer networks, including the Internet, as repositories of pornography (McLaughlin, Osborne, and Smith, 1995). Indeed, there do appear to be at least pockets of the network citizenry who equate “art” with pictures of unclothed women. For example, under the category “Art” in the Stanford Yahoo search index the entry “Erotic Art” appears with multiple sub-entries. Among these putative art galleries “Brandy's Babes” and a site billing itself as the “world's first cyberbrothel” have appeared. One of the most prominent of the noncommercial art sites features works with graphic sadomasochistic sexual content and several have directories labeled “nudes.” Some artists might worry that their work would not receive serious attention in these surroundings, or may feel uncomfortable with what could be construed as an atmosphere of misogyny.

The problems of putting art on line are equaled if not exceeded by the problems of viewing art on line. While the general topic of public access to the Internet is beyond the scope of this paper, it is pertinent to note that the ability to view works of art on the Web is for the present time confined mostly to the same intellectual elite that has the ability to produce and distribute them. New software products emerging will do a great deal to remedy that, in particular the development of Web browsers for the commercial online services. In the meantime, museum scholar Vera Zolberg, in her essay “An Elite Experience for Everyone,” offers some food for thought, particularly to a network intelligentsia who at times seem content with a society stratified by access to information, and who are clearly loath to open wide the gates and let those clueless newbies, the public, rush in:

Because art museums have come to stand for the idea of excellence in a highly valued form of culture, to the extent that they fail to distribute their cultural capital in an understandable way to visitors who lack the habitus of the regular public, they help perpetuate the status quo (Zolberg, 1994, .56).

References

  1. Top of page
  2. The Web as a Multimedia Delivery System
  3. Sources of Variation in WWW Art Sites
  4. Pioneers on the Electronic Frontiers of Art
  5. Dimensions of Electronic Exhibition Space
  6. Characteristics of Early WWW Art Sites
  7. Second-Generation Art Sites on the WWW
  8. How First-and Second-Generation Art Sites Compare
  9. Evolution of the Art Site on the WWW
  10. References
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