Today we bring you an essay on internet-based art from our partners at Art Practical. Author Ben Valentine explores the culture of net art and remarks, “Online art can be completely decontextualized from an art context or the original artist’s intent, which raises interesting questions for the creator and critic alike. How has a weakened context changed net-based art practices? How can art criticism understand this new audience, and its importance to the work?” This article was originally published on December 4, 2013.
Art viewers have long relied on context and written texts to fully understand and appreciate works of art. Audiences who meet conceptual and minimalist works with the reaction, “Well, I could do that,” fail to understand that context, concept, and history are vitally important to the meaning of contemporary artwork. Stripping them away can inhibit the artwork’s legibility and be highly disorienting to its audience. While such a reaction has been commonplace ever since Marcel Duchamp called a urinal a work of art, internet-based artworks have been subject to this decontextualization at a faster rate and often to a more complete degree than physical artworks.
Lacking the traditional grounding of a physical space, net-based artworks can be found without a contextual frame. Furthermore, net-based artworks can be effortlessly taken out of their original context into new arenas, to be read by entirely different audiences. This unmooring that the digital space allows has greatly amplified issues of readership, legibility, and audience, which have already long been present in contemporary art.