Art on the Internet?
By Kathleen Maclay, Public Affairs
Think Internet and you think tons of data, downloading music, hot start-up companies and online shopping. But art in cyberspace may not quickly come to mind.
The emerging genre of Internet art, however, is gaining practitioners, critics and observers while raising questions about identity, human territory, communication, culture and technology, sacred places, time, aesthetic value and meaning.
"Critical and Historical Issues in Net Art," dubbed CRASH, will be held Feb. 16-19 to explore these questions and others about the role of the Internet in 20th century art. "This is not 'Yet Another Net Art Festival,'" cautioned Ken Goldberg, one of the program's coordinators, and an industrial engineering professor and an Internet artist.
A select group of noted historians, art curators and critical theorists will join Internet artists as symposium participants in public and private discussions and programs. Many of these critics and scholars have had little or no prior exposure to Internet art.
"What's really innovative about this is we're essentially bringing two worlds together," Goldberg said. "Hopefully, that's where the sparks will fly."
Noted guests at the symposium include:
"Sessions will be devoted to new developments within the art, to how artists understand their own work, and to how scholars and critics can develop interpretive and evaluative language for work that is as likely to develop among engineers as it is among graduates of art schools," said Charles Altieri, professor of English and director of the campus's Consortium for the Arts.
"So, this is a unique occasion for elaborating and testing how this new community is developing new aesthetic principles and challenging prevailing orthodoxy," he said. "But at the same time, this is an occasion for confronting net artists with challenges from those whose expectations about experimental art are shaped by modernist and post-modernist traditions."
Shawn Brixey, professor of art and director of digital media in the art practice department, said Internet art has emerged even more rapidly than its most recent art and technology forerunners, such as video and multimedia, and may erroneously appear unprecedented to the casual observer.
"We believe that through the rigorous dialogue and analysis at the center of this symposium, we will be able to triangulate its historical, critical and conceptual foundations, encourage further academic research, and maybe even illuminate its future trajectory," Brixey said.
Asked where Internet art is headed, Steve Dietz of the Walker Art Center quoted critic Leo Steinberg, who in 1968 said, "The deepening inroads of art into non-art continue to alienate the connoisseur as art defects and departs into strange territories leaving the old stand-by criteria to rule an eroding plain."
As that trend continues, Dietz said, "Net art, it seems to me, is now leading the stampede into 'strange territories,' and it behooves the established art world to understand it better."