Art on the Net: Reclaiming Art for the Public


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Lenbachhaus Kunstbau (Photo by yushimoto_02)

What comes to mind when you think of art? Perhaps you picture a child learning to draw with crayon on flimsy paper and a doting mother claiming that her son is going to be an artistic genius because he knew to color the leaves green? Or maybe you imagine the stark white walls and well-directed lighting of an illustrious museum or gallery? What about an eccentric Bohemian type? A crackpot amateur who is hardly worthy of that museum or gallery?

What we may not consider is how the Internet challenges these stereotypes about art and artists. Take, for example, the fact that some people believe they are too far removed from the “art world.” This distance almost disappears when you consider that an art exhibit on the Web is only a click away.

Yet why does the distance between art and life exist in the first place? In his book, Art as Experience, the American philosopher John Dewey reasoned that while museums were established to protect masterpieces, these institutions also separated art from everyday life, thereby making the very concept of fine art seem rather intimidating to the majority of people. One can argue that a small group of “elites” still enjoys art museums and collecting art because of the prestige rather than any deep appreciation. Galleries and street festivals may be more accessible, yet the already-established fear of art can make galleries seem too aloof and street festivals too simplistic.

The museum and gallery experience has been a large part of my childhood and continues to shape my adulthood, to the point that I have even worked as an intern at a fine arts museum. While I was there, the curators were anything but arrogant and the artists, for the most part, humble and pleasant.

But why not expand our definition of art? Why do we relegate our experience of art to an hour and a half on a weekend, and then treat that experience as an ornament to our lives rather than an integral part of being human? Long before written history, humans used images to understand their surroundings. These images have served spiritual, educational or communication purposes. The ancient Greeks would have detested a world where art and other important areas of knowledge and experience were all so dreadfully compartmentalized and marginalized as they are today, and I am sure that I am not alone in wondering how to break from the sort of life in which art is external to my existence and not a functional part of the whole.

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Philadelphia Art Museum Steps during the Dali Show (photo by iirraa)

Which brings me back to the question of the Internet. Unlike the arts, the Internet seems to be a functional part of the vast majority of people’s lives today. Because it is already integral to modern life, I suggest that the Internet is a splendid tool for re-integrating art into life. If nothing else, websites require design, images, and writing—-creating opportunities for the artistically gifted. But beyond the creation of websites, which can be made poorly or beautifully, we should consider the fact that more images of great artwork are available to the public than at any other point in history. If you enter the name of a famous artist who lived during the last century, you will find results from four or five major sources of information and image archives. First you will see image results from Google or Yahoo depending on the search engine, then you will see, most likely, a Wikipedia page on the artist, and after that you will find a number of online image galleries and web museums such as Artcyclopedia and ArtNet. That’s not including major galleries and museums such as MoMA and the MET.

So great art is available to the public if people have the desire to search for it. But perhaps more importantly, art made by people living in this decade is available as well. A whole range of artists show their work on the Net, from amateurs to hobbyists to professionals and contemporary giants. Some artists display their works on a personal site or blog, others sell their art on eBay, and others take advantage of social networking sites such as deviantArt where they can build a community around their works as well as sell prints and originals.

The Internet gives artists the opportunity to share their artwork with the world. What can be more inspiring than that? Not even a decade ago, you were lucky if a hundred people found your site on the Web. Now with the aid of social technology and broadband connections, thousands of people can view your artwork. They can give you their opinions and feedback in communities like Amateur Illustrator. They may even buy it from you off of Art.com, FoundMyself,or ArtBreak. In many ways, this is a golden age for the artist. And everyone seems to be creating something on the Web, whether it is art or an object that wants to be art.

Art-lovers and people who appreciate the arts also have hundreds of outlets. Forums, Facebook groups, and social media sites dedicated to art help to organize people around their interests. One of my favorites is ArtSlant, a contemporary art network that provides the most up-to-date news on art exhibitions and events in cities around the world.

And so I believe art can easily become a part of everyday life in the Internet age. Art is already a natural part of being human—-we’ve just forgotten this natural fact. The world is as vivid, thoughtful, and interesting as we want it to be, because the world becomes as vivid, thoughtful, and interesting as we are.

DSC02145Christina Wegman is a 24 year-old grad student, painter, theorist, and online tutor. She hosted her first one-woman art show in 2007, and two of her works were displayed in the Huntsville Museum of Art in Alabama last year for the “Unique Views of Huntsville” juried competition. Born in California, she has traveled Europe and currently resides in Montreal, Canada. You can read more of her commentary on life and culture at her blog, Viapersona.