Art through the web is art of the now

Why make any effort to see something now when it will be there for a long time??

There are many people who live their whole lives in new york city but never bother to visit the empire state building, the statue of liberty or the permanent collection of the museum of modern art. These sights will always be there, so why make any special effort to see them right now – whenever right now may be?

As travel times around the world decrease, we can look forward to a time when the whole world will be like new york, when every possible sight will be so close and convenient there is no particular reason to give it more than a passing glance right now, when any looking at all at anything permanent can always be put off into the future. As the title of this journal, telepolis suggests, that is the very city into which, by means of the internet we are now moving. It is a city in which there is no time for the timeless.

Art requires and demands attention. In the first column in this series i suggested that this quality could even serve as a kind of universal definition art must attain to be art. But, especially on the web, that removes art’s supposed timeless quality completely.

Imagine a technically perfect world-wide web. Whenever you point your browser you instantly reach the site you wanted, which loads at once, whether it is still or animated, two- or three-dimensional, text, interactive, audio, video, or virtual reality. Even if url’s change, somehow they leave traces that browsers can follow to the new sites. Since everything on the web is already digitized, in principle it can remain unchanged and accessible forever.

At present, we are far from this technical ideal, but we certainly seem to be headed there. In that realm everything moves so smoothly and quickly, there is no built-in inertia to help fix your gaze on any one thing. Whatever attracts your attention, you know it will always be instantly available. Why take the further effort to look more closely right now, as art always demands, instead of waiting to some future time when you are less pressed and feel fewer alternative demands on your attention?? Of course, a time like that may well never come …

In other words, a perfect web is a perfect art museum, with effectively infinite and permanent collections, always open, in which everything is always on exhibit. There is no pressing need to look closely at any one thing now, and always many reasons not to. In addition, this is an art museum in which each viewer is alone, never directly aware of other viewers crowded around any particular piece of art, making clear it deserves attention.

One fact alone removes this timeless, four-dimensional quality to a perfect web world. It is that some things are always brand new. Having just been placed on the web or just come into existence, these new objects do attract attention. It is primarily by being able to notice and comment on such new things, that the average attention-payer on the web – or fan – can hope to obtain attention for himself. So what matters about art is not at all that it is eternal, but rather that it comes into existence at one particular time.

In my earlier column i spoke of art of "two-and-a-half dimensions" – an art residing in surfaces and joinings. Including time, added to the three space dimensions there are thus four dimensions altogether in ordinary life. The web art that can truly be art by being able to command our attention will be what takes up only "three and a half" dimensions, involving only the tiny, thin slice of time that marks what’s new, what’s now.

Does this mean that every work of art, far from being permanent will now merely be temporary, becoming invisible if it survives on the web too long? Not really. What it does mean is that the links to a work of art that will matter will have to be constantly changing.

If art is defined as something that gets attention, then today we can think of a travelling exhibition as a work of art (by its curators) in its own right. On the web, anyone can put together an exhibition by building a site containing a set of links to whatever art works they choose, and those links together constitute a new work of art. The exhibition can be permanent, since the links can always remain. But every new combination of works, every new exhibit, can be a genuine art work in its own right.

Every work can only continue to exist so long as it continues to be "quoted" or sampled in this way. Without some degree of continuous "plagiarism" art will disappear almost as soon as it is made.

As i mentioned in that first piece, the attention we give to any work of art also goes "through it" to the artist behind it. If much attention goes to any one artist, (including any small group working together) that artist becomes a kind of star. Stardom can come though just one work, but more often it comes from a whole corpus. And attention that flows to any star then adds to the luster of each work in that star’s corpus, or any other work that links to it, by anyone else. So a curator who manages to exhibit the work of star artists can become a star artist herself by doing so.

And any site on the net that gets attention for itself becomes a work of art, and draws attention to its maker. Since the main aim in an attention economy is to draw scarce attention towards oneself, art thus becomes the absolutely essential element of this new economy. Art, created in the moment, created from celebrity, is also the only thing that permits living in the moment and that offers hope of attention – the essence of life itself.