The evolution of art in the past twenty years has seen the merging of computer networks and the Internet with creative ideas from other artistic media. Art that used to be displayed through media such as painting, sculpture, video and sound are now seen through a new interactive avenue on Web sites, social networks and other Web 2.0 tools. In the 21st century many Web sites have become cultural phenomena. The creation of Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter and numerous other applications has lead to new venues for artists to create and share work. Art on the Internet and art made within the Internet has many direct links to these new Web sites. The concepts of these Web sites are based off of ideas of networking, interacting, participating and communication between one another. These ideas created a new format for art and artists. All of this can be seen in where art and the World Wide Web first interacted.
Web sites like Facebook and Myspace are social networks where groups of people can converge to share ideas and communicate between one another. Twitter and other messaging tools provide instantaneous communication among friends, professionals and strangers. While these tools can be used for completely commercial reasons, there are also underlying characteristics for them that make them act as springboards for artists and their works. Interactive art and participatory art have existed for some time prior to the creation of the Internet. Yoko Ono performed participatory art prior to the invention of the Internet. In 1964 and 1965 Ono performed her “Cut Piece” where she invited audience members to approach her and cut away pieces of her clothing in the name of peace. In this artwork she allowed the viewer to become a full participant in the work and barely interfaced with them besides inviting them onto the stage. Her body and the scissors were the only tools for the interaction. What the Web provided for artists was another tool to convey their work. The ability to interact with a piece of artwork can be seen through various means. In Digital Art History, Michael Hammel writes “If you don’t touch interactive art you won’t have any experience in it” (Bentkowska-Kafel 57). While this is true for both net art and other artistic media, in art based on the Web the viewer becomes a tactile user connected to the interface and the visual environment that the Web artist creates (Bentkowska-Kafel 60). This can be seen through either prompts that the artist provides the viewer before they interact with the art or through the parameters that the artist provides, which leads the viewer through the art.
The World Wide Web changed many of the basics rules of art and how some artists created their work. Stereotypically, artwork is seen as artifacts, something that should be observed and not touched. The Internet completely altered that view. In many ways, the Internet could be viewed as the new art gallery. The creation of the Internet provided a new avenue for artists to not only display their work but as a tool to create their work. It can be seen as the main platform for the production, distribution and exhibition of new art forms today (Bentkowska-Kafel 65).
Interactions, in both tactile and Web site simulations, can all vary. Artists can set parameters where the viewer is led through an art piece as the artist demands or with as much free will as the viewer desires. The work can be open-ended or intentional. According to Hammel, a viewer can experience interaction through several stages. The most minimal of which is reaction. When the user has minimal action required of them, they could be categorized as the reaction stage. This could mean that the viewer is simply looking at an art piece and not physically interacting with it at all. The second stage is interaction. Interaction is the step where the viewer takes part in some action within the work. This can be seen through the parameters or prompts that the artist could provide for the viewer. The work is not truly open-ended, even though it may seem to be. The final stage of interaction is symbioaction. This stage creates an atmosphere for the viewer where they cannot differentiate between his or her own participation and the work of the computer or the predetermined code setup by the creator. In this last stage, the artist could have either created a work that is truly open-ended where the viewer’s interaction with the piece completely dictates the direction of the piece (Bentkowska-Kafel 60). These three explanations of interaction further shows how art can be both seen in and on the Internet. Sometimes art pieces are created by the tools of the Internet, through coding and the use of Web sites. The work exists because of the Internet, as if the Internet was like the paint for a painting or the clay for a sculpture. In other instances, an art piece can be seen on the Internet. In this situation, the work might have been made through other media but is being presented on the Internet. The Web provides a new avenue for the work to be viewed and consumed, but is not necessarily a medium for the piece. Whether a work is on or in the Internet also allows for the levels of interaction to differ and how the work is then consumed is changed as well.