Is Website Design Art?
Recently, I went to see Jennifer Rubell's exhibition Not Alone, which closed a few days ago. As can often be the case with art, I came away with as many questions as answers. One of them being 'Is website design art?' If it can be, what does it take, and should we strive to achieve it?
Art and Web Design
Trying to define what art is can be as divisive as defining whether or not something is art. One of the most popular definitions comes from the French term 'l'art pour l'art' which is translated as 'art for art's sake'. This means that the sole purpose of art is to be art: it can't have any moral, instructive, or practical purpose. This has proved to be an awkward definition at times because it's a view that's potentially limited as a result of coming from Europe. However, for the sake of this blog post we need a definition, and as I'm from the European world, it'll do.
That being the case, if a website has any practical purpose, it can't be art. If it's supplying information, promoting a business, educating, or selling something, it isn't art. Everything then from news sites to company pages to encyclopaedias to stores aren't art. That includes, amongst many others, my website. Yes, it's attractive with a clear design (though I say so myself) but being attractive isn't enough. Being beautiful isn't enough. There's a practical purpose behind my website: to share information and promote the services I offer clients. For a website to be art then its sole purpose must be to be art, to be focused on engaging the senses and the mind alone.
Fusing Art with Technology
It's starting to sound more complex isn't it? The obvious question then is should websites be used as a platform for art or artistic expression? Given that every other form of communication has been used for art, why shouldn't they be? We all know that writing, painting and sculpture have been used for art, but modern platforms are being used the same way. Short fiction is being written on Twitter, for example, so high technology isn't a barrier to art. The catch with website design though is that it's considerably more complex than writing 140 characters on Twitter. If you want individual expression, an important aspect of art, then there would need to be an incredible amount of custom work carried out. The artist would need to be leading the way on that too. Artistic collaborations exist in countless other forms (Jennifer Rubell collaborated with Brandi Twilley on Not Alone) but the work can't just be farmed out. The catch here is that artists aren't often taught HTML or CSS! If an artist went to the trouble of learning creative website design, then they could lead the way on a true art website.
Artists, whatever their discipline, are rarely rich though and some web development tools are expensive. Would they be able to afford them? Would they be able to earn money from the project? There'd be no actual art works to sell afterwards, nothing that people could hang on the wall, or display on table. Would that then push them towards sponsorship to realise such projects? How about crowdfunding? Both require a certain degree of marketing and management to make them work. Also, if an art website could be fully explored in a short amount of time, how could you draw people back? The website would need ongoing development, perhaps taking a 'grandmother's footsteps' approach where you might not be sure what's been there from the beginning and what's a new update. That would require clear design and a lot of ongoing work. The length of that ongoing work might be something you'd use as a crowdfunding stretch goal, enabling you to extend the life of the project.
A New Challenge
As we can see then, website design as art comes with its own set of challenges to be overcome. I'm sure people are creative and inventive enough to overcome them though. Such sites may never have the impact that comes from interactive art such as Not Alone or Marina Abramovic's 512 Hours, but it could still be art. Yes, virtual reality is gaining momentum with computer games, but extensive 3D art in games requires a lot of development by large teams.
What do you think? Would you like to see artists taking to websites for their art more, or do you prefer the more traditional forms of expression? Will HTML one day be as vital for artistic expression as a paint brush? Let me know what you think in the comments.