Stephen Near


The Internet” New Medium or Shear Madness?
March 2001

Are you online? Will something be passing you by if you’re not? It’s an anxiety that’s sweeping into the art scene especially when we we hear of its potential as the new media, the new form of international communication, and the new revolution. What can the Internet do for artists (or vice versa)? Many artists claim the technology is out of their realm of expertise and don’t know how to benefit from it. Those involved in Website design and distribution claim artists in communities like Hamilton aren’t interested. Others claim the Internet can revolutionize our perception of art and creative expression. WHat does it all mean? An exploration into the issue can be summarized by two trendy words: making and medium.

For most artists open to new technologies, the Web has a practical use. It is a place to post images of art. Theoretically, the Internet can give you international exposure and it can reduce the cost of sending out portfolios or slides. Of course, there are some disadvantages. Currently, images on the net are no more than 70 dpi and that doesn’t always do justice to the work. Also, many curators haven’t embraced this method of Viewing. You’ll still need shoot slides. But you also need sales, and this seems to be the number one motivator for everyone to explore Internet possibilities. There are several organizations or people who specialize in getting artists on the Internet and often their offers come with the suggestion of income. Does this work? Do people actually buy art on the Internet?

The answer seems to be not often, judging from Martin Nye’s experience. Nye is a painter living in Dundas who inherited the much-publicized Website. from his sone who expanded the project from a one-site city art Website based in Guelph, to a company responsible for so many art-in-various cities across the world. Nye has since turned the project into a non-profit organization dedicated to helping artists promote themselves on the internet. Curently, he has several sites active including the original;,, and several others including a Seattle-based site and one in London, England called

Despite the international focus of the entire project, each site is community specific and Nye is continually looking for people interested, on a volunteer-basis, in running each of the 250 registered city sites. Artists who wish to be on a site pay $30 a year membership that includes three scanned images. Most of the works on the sites are original pieces, and most are paintings. But do any of the works sell through the Internet?

“Not really” Nye states, “but it’s difficult to sell art anywhere. But some people bring the site and it brings them into the physical gallery. Most people want to see the actual pieces they are buying before they commit to purchasing them.”

Nye also runs the Sunset Gallery on Sunset Avenue in Hamilton. Only artists who are members of art-in-hamilton Website may show at the actual gallery and this is one way he’s been able to attract artists onto his site. He explains that the Internet sites have become a PR tool to entice people to go to an artist studio in their area. “We’d prefer to get rid of the sales part altogether,” he states, “and channel people to where they should go - directly to the artist.”

The sentiments are echoed  by Evelyn Myrie who runs the Eman Gallery in Hamilton. Her gallery specializes in African art, much of which is displayed on the Website: . She confesses that even though her gallery’s website is equipped for selling over the Internet, few sales are cone this way. “Our site was put up for credibility,” she states. “People take you more seriously and perceive you as a serious business and not a hobby [when you have an Internet site].” She says she has had some international queries about the artwork, but mainly the site is a PR tool designed to attract people from Southern Ontario to come into her Hamilton-based gallery. So predictable, we’ve discovered it’s hard to sell art, in Hamilton and on the Internet. For individual artists, cyberspace might be little more than another place to document work. Or is it? What about the Internet as art?

The Medium
More exciting is the potential for the Internet to be used as an artistic medium. Much like the difference between home movies of family gatherings and independent video art, Internet art utilizes the same technology - HTML coding and Javascript - as commercial Website but with a completely different intent. Internet art is supposed to be experienced as art - the site created is a cerebral creative experience meant to engage and stimulate the viewer, not simply to sell or promote anything. However, it’s a very new medium and one with a huge learning curve. There is no one site that can lead you to a plethora of works and few artists are exploring this medium in Hamilton.

Montreal, Vancouver and to some extent Toronto appear to be the hub of this emerging medium - in Canada anyway, according to Mary Cross the programme director at Ed Video Media Arts Centre in Guelph and curator of digital me, a year-long exhibition of digital and Internet-based art.

Cross states that she sees an amazing potential for the medium, particularly because the Internet is able to reach international audiences. “Now, it’s who can make it to your show [that gets to see your work], she states. “On the net, it’s who can surf your site.” In addition, she adds, what is unique about Internet rt is its interactive aspect. “Often viewers can add and actually participate in the development of the work.” That said the medium imposes a new set of challenges for traditional artists. In addition to being willing to invest the time in learning coding, artists wishing to work in digital must be willing to let go of some conventional notions of artistic expression. Web artists are aware that not only is the audience able to manipulate their works to varying degrees, but also rarely are the works experienced the same way twice. “Often, viewers are not flipping pages chronologically or watching a video from beginning to end,” Cross explains. “But they are choosing what sequence they want to look at the work. The meaning doesn’t evolve linearly but builds onto itself.”

Images, sound and definitely text are currently components of digital art works, but how each viewer experiences each work varies and changes. This might explain why the medium is more likely to be embraced by performance artists than artists currently working in traditional mediums, or even video. Granted, the potential for any new medium is exciting, vast, even scary and highly criticized. But more than anything, perhaps what is needed now on the Internet is a bit of self-reflection, and this is exactly what art is equipped to go. Whether we like it or not, technology and the Internet has exploded into a powerful cultural force. It’s time we began to utilize the medium to ask some serious questions about the nature of technology itself.

That is the beginning. In February, Ed video is presenting an Internet-based art show called Pace Maker. The show will utilize Internet technology to explore the nature of human relationships. The Internet, after all, is a medium we are using more and more as a means of relating, to each other, to society, and, eventually, to art. Maybe it’s time art had a say in the process.

Telenko, Sherri. “The Internet: New Medium or Shear Madness?” Arts Beat, vol. 13 , no. 5, February - March 2001, p. 8