Art and the Internet
It is the year 2017 and the way we settled on enjoying pixel art (and art in general) on the Internet is to use tiny boxes inside social media timelines:
We’re looking at squares inside squares surrounded by even more squares. The amount of visual noise accompanying the artworks is unfortunate.
Sure, these are generic social platforms, but it’s not any better with websites specialized in sharing artworks.
Oh wait, I forgot to turn AdBlock off.
And let’s not forget you're not really looking at this, but something more like this:
I find this to be the equivalent of going to see the Mona Lisa in Walmart.
OK, the Mona Lisa situation is bad enough even without Photoshop.
All these people … Are they there to see the Mona Lisa or to take a photo of three rows of people trying (and failing) to see the Mona Lisa?
If you want to really see Da Vinci’s masterpiece, how about this:
Thanks to Medium’s clean, minimalistic design, you can actually just focus on the painting. I would even dare say the experience feels intimate.
Contrast this with websites specialized in artist portfolios.
“Were you listening to me, Neo, or were you looking at the woman in the red dress?” Or that Mirror’s Edge Maya ad or whatever. Point: it’s distracting. Choosing stylish fonts and colors doesn’t do you much good when your website has more elements than a Rococo interior.
I’m honestly amazed at how much we’ve adapted to ignore all the unnecessary crap. Scanning past ads on clickbait articles had done us good.
Do we really need all these menus and sidebars? …
At this point I should give a disclaimer. I love these webpages. I love that I can discover new artworks and connect with fellow artists on them. I am grateful for all they are giving me. When I see that gorgeous ZX Spectrum attribute clash up there I forget there’s any text on the page at all. Goodness it’s so beautiful.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to do better. Why do I need to fight to ignore things in the first place? While I can understand the sub-optimal results that comes from the necessity and convenience of posting things into generic social feeds, I think websites that are meant to showcase art shouldn’t compromise that much.
Online destinations are as much spaces as their physical counterparts. There is an added value of going to a real museum or a gallery. It’s the experience, the presentation. It’s being in awe of the size of the artworks, exploring the details, taking in a body of work, connecting the dots the curators left out for you.
If I had a VR headset at home I’d be writing another article, something about the future of art galleries in the digital era. Without one, I’m here complaining on the Internet. But I don’t like to complain. It’s up to every individual to design and run their websites however they want. So that is exactly what I will do, design and run my own online gallery instead.
My two principles are going to be:
- Distractionless viewing.
- No uploading needed.
To demonstrate what I mean, may I present my very first step in this direction, an exhibit of top Pixel Dailies from 2016.
2016 Pixel Dailies Retrospective is a on online gallery that covers 366 themes posted in the Pixel Dailies Twitter community last year. Every day the @Pixel_Dailies account announces a theme and artists respond with their own interpretations. If you need a longer introduction into the Dailies, I wrote about their 2015 activities here.
The exhibition just went live and since it is a yearly review it had its own set of design consideartions on top of my main principles (read: it comes in the format of a calendar).
Still, it is a good introduction into the way I imagine things.
1. Distractionless viewing
When you look at an artwork in the gallery, there is not a single thing that clutters the website around the art.
Only after you’ve taken in the artwork in full and you scroll down further, you are presented with informational details.
The design is such that there is always enough border around the artwork so you can scroll it into view with nothing else around it.
I’m even working on supporting true fullscreen where even the browser UI disappears.
(It’s not ready yet. The colored backgrounds I’m using are quite computationally expensive and don’t perform consistently across browsers. Don’t be surprised to hear your laptop fans ramp up when you explore the actual website.)
You won’t find any ads jumping at you on the website. Only if you dig into the about page and read all the way to the bottom you will learn that I’m doing this as part of developing my adventure game.
Again, it’s up to each individual to figure out how to keep their websites alive, but placing ads next to artworks is not my idea of synergy.
2. No uploading needed
Second principle means there should be no extra effort necessary from the artists. The last thing the community needs is yet another platform where we need to upload our works. We have Twitter, Tumblr, DeviantArt, Facebook, Pixel Joint, Instagram, Dribbble, Behance and who knows what else to keep updated.
Instead, the system should be smart enough to find where you already upload works and build a comprehensive database of art and artists, something like IMDb.
On top of that, curated selections will then showcase the best works.
The artist features in this magazine and on my blog have been doing that all along (except I had to manually dig through everyone’s body of work).
The Pixel Dailies Retrospective is a more sophisticated example. Curation comes from the @Pixel_Dailies account, while my database makes sure their selections automatically show up in my exhibit.
The artists don’t have to do anything to get exposure (except create quality pieces that get featured).
This is the gist of it for now.
The only thing there’s left for you to do is go explore the 2016 retrospective yourself, if you haven’t done so yet. I hope you will enjoy the experience and discover some great artists. The design is nowhere near perfect yet and it’s by far my last statement on the topic.
It is the first step though.
Thank you for reading my commentary on the state of art online and what should be done differently. I’m of the strong opinion that if you really want something, you won’t just complain on the Internet, you’ll go out and do it. Like I said somewhere else, aspirations are cheap. (Just like ideas. And opinions. Oh yeah, it was on my Instagram.)