Web.art (the Internet art) has undergone great expansion in the recent years, both as a form of artistic expression and in terms of its technical potential and number of innovations. Almost every day, there are some novelties in the way these works are made; technical improvements and new program languages are introduced, new software is used. This progress is accompanied by the emergence of numerous new sites, web magazines, galleries, discussion panels, festivals, competitions, etc. All this makes web.art extremely varied and dynamic and therefore difficult to define. However, there are parameters common to all forms of this art, common denominators by way of which we can still determine the nature of web.art, particularly in relation to the so far existing forms of artistic expression.
It should be said at the outset that web.art does not denote the very widely spread passive presentations of artists and their work on the Internet. They represent a reproductive approach to the Internet. In these presentations, paintings, sounds or moving pictures of works created in other media are reproduced on the Internet, that is transformed into a medium different from the original.
Web.art works are created exclusively for the Internet, for its language and technical capacities, and they address solely the users of this world wide computer network. Therefore, not only are they created in the language of the network, but are the most comprehensible and most effective in that environment and communicable by network distribution and presentation, i.e. through computer monitors and speakers. It is the configuration in which those works are at their most natural and in which they facilitate an active attitude of the viewers during reception.
In fact, one of the common characteristics of web.art works is its interactive nature, which means that the viewer becomes an “accessory” to their creation. He chooses the paths and links he will take to move through the work, he is often in a position to build into the work his own text or visual or other contents, as a kind of commentary or an essential element of work, or to activate numerous elements of the work: picture, sound, animated and video fragments, thereby developing his appreciation of the work through an active experience. The web.art works, as we said, most frequently take their final form thanks to the viewer's activity, and since they are open in character, they continuously acquire new forms. As opposed to the up-to-now dominant art forms, in which the artist presents to the viewer a ready-made work, of certain form and dimension, a web.art work may further develop in an unpredictable direction, being totally unlimited in time and space.
This brings us to a second essential characteristic of web.art - its hyperdimensionality. Namely, a work that is unlimited in time and space, just because of its openness and interactive participation of its user in its shaping, cannot be framed by dimensions. Works develop in many directions, thanks to numerous web page connecting links and numerous information such as images, texts, sounds and animations which induce the user to move through the works and to complete them. Often the user, usually a computer fan and web-artist himself, devises entirely unexpected paths and solutions, thus building his own creativity into the “given” framework, surprising the original creator of the web-work himself. In this way, we perceive the web.art as a constant exchange going on among creative people round the world, their cooperation and mutually complementary work aimed at the creation of an art network, ultimately leading to a global spiritualization of mankind. Because, computer art and communication, due to its evasive electronic nature and immateriality of the media, is the closest to the spiritual categories of mankind.
We have thus come to the third common characteristic of web.art - immateriality. As a matter of fact, a web.work does not exist in real space and material form, but only as a digital code on a computer disc. It can be perceived only on a monitor, in the form of thousands of glimmering pixels and sounds. A web.work is thus an evanescent visualization of the creators and user's ideas, a reflection of their minds’ impulses and a reaction to sensual irritations, always remaining immaterial, intangible and predominantly mental.
In a way, digital art is a realization of the strivings in the 1960’s modern art movement, coinciding with the appearance of ideas concerning dematerialization of art object and transition of creative art work into the mental sphere, which was best reflected in the appearance of conceptual art. This art movement also coincided with artists’ efforts to create a multiplied, modular, democratic, non-commercial and planetary art, the characteristics of which are multimediality, process, interaction and telecommunicability - precisely what the Internet has made possible.
In this connection, there is an apparent similarity between the Internet and web.art concept and principle and some earlier forms of communicative art such as mail-art in the early 60’s and network art in the 80’s. Having sprung from Fluxus and conceptual art, mail art was based on international communication among artists, who exchanged ideas, art works and cooperation projects. The appearance of this art movement is associated with the American pop artist Ray Johnson, founder of the New York Correspondence School of Art in 1962, which, at the beginning, involved the exchange of art works by mail among about a hundred artists from New York, later to become more international in character. In Europe, this kind of exchange art is associated with the work of artists gathered around the French movement New Realism, also in the early 60’s, two members of which, Ives Klein and Ben Vautier, were known for their activities supporting the exchange of art works by mail. Not only did authors distribute their works throughout the world, finding new poetics in the process - which very much looks like the essence of present-day Internet - rather, works of art were being created in an interaction of artists, by adding their own individual subject-matter to a certain matrix; in this way, numerous international art projects, exhibitions and publications were realized.
Indeed, it was typical of mail-art, and later of the network movement, that the majority of works were created as a reaction to received works, or artists launched projects with a defined subject to which hundreds of others addressed their contributions, from their own viewpoints, and applying techniques they were accustomed to. Ever since the early 60’s there were projects where intervention was requested on an original that was sent - either by each artist on his own copy, or by more artists on one and the same original which was circulated through the network. Clearly, these are the characteristics of interactive art, such as the present-day web.art.
Multiplication of matrixes and originals, on which interventions by the participants were called for, leads us to a conclusion that mail art and network communication were characterized by hyperdimensionality as well, where collective work was created on a global scale, without spatial and time limitations, in an open process, with entirely unpredictable results. Also, the international communication among artists, based on the exchange of ideas, gave the mail-art and network a predominantly mental character.
Within the mail-art exchange, there was a worldwide circulation of texts, images, collages, audio and video tapes whereby a desire for a multimedial character of art was achieved. Soon, phone-art and fax-art came into being as part of the mail-art, and it brings us quite close to the Internet as a field of international creation and communication.
The concept of network, the artist's becoming part of the network, typical of the early 80’s all over the world, as a logical continuation of mail-art, was aimed at gathering a large number of artists around joint international projects, initiating discussions about the essence of this movement, cooperation on live actions and performances, and publication of joint books, fanzines and anthologies. Such were, for instance, the Decentralized Networker Congresses in 1986 and 1992, which took place, as the name says, at the same time at many different places all over the world, with several hundred participants, who sent their ideas and conclusions to one center, to be published and further distributed. All this irresistibly reminds one of the present-day mailing lists and discussion groups on the Internet.
Some of the most important and most active mail artists and networkers indeed provided a bridge to the Internet, having started their activities in this medium as early as mid 80’s, which was obviously just a continuation of their previous way of communication. So, for example, Ruud Janssen (the Netherlands) launched a bulletin called “TAM” which could be read through modem as early as 1986. In the same year, Charles Francois (Belgium) foresees in his computer communication an “electronic tourism” in the future, and an American, Chuck Welch has been active on the Internet since 1991 with his fellow-countrymen Honoria and Mark Bloch, particularly in 1992, during the Decentralized Networker Congress.
In January 1994, Welch issued the first electronic mail-art fanzine “Netshaker On-line”, and in 1995 launched an Internet campaign called “Telenetlink”, in which he invited the former mail artists and networkers to join the Internet. Today, all of them and hundreds of other networkers have their web-sites, Janssen is in charge of a sizable cyber-magazine and Welch of the Electronic Mail-Art Museum. Similar museums on the Internet already exist in Hungary (Gyorgy Galantai's "Artpool” ), in Italy (“Mail-Art Gallery and Museum”) and in Japan (“Sora”). In this way, mail-art and network movement have naturally flowed into the Internet, rightfully taking the credit as being the predecessors of this global phenomenon of human civilization.
The present Internet is a dream of the world-without-boundaries come true, where there are no geographic or time distances. Just like once for mail-artists and networkers, there are no racial, national or ideological barriers for today's web-artists. A dream of the global work of art, simultaneously and permanently available to the entire population of the planet is coming true. This form of art has managed, thanks to an increasing number of the Internet users, to become a part of everyday life, thus in the best way carrying out a mission of changing the awareness of mankind - something the artists working in traditional media could only dream of.