[-empyre-] Is the Internet like a Medium of Art?

Daniel Herwitz herwitz at umich.edu
Sat Apr 5 04:45:34 EST 2014

One has the sense that the internet is no more a medium than language is.
Language may become poetry, prose, screenplay, blog, scholarship, essay and
so one, it is irreducible to any given medium or genre. The internet is,
one might think, similar. One can put anything up there, design a website
every which way, from curated images to pure text to any imaginable
coordination of word, image, projection, in any form of simultaneity or
narrative. The limit is merely the technology, which is immensely
capacious. But there are ways in which the internet is like a medium: it
derealizes whatever is uploaded from all traces of physicality. The
aesthetics of the nineteenth century according to which it was necessary to
view the cathedral of Chartres in early morning when soft light bathed its
facade in golden haze, and then inside at midday when the summer light of
midday illuminated its stained glass windows in deeply saturated green,
blue, purple, and red, in order to know the art and aesthetics of the
cathedral, when the aura of place was supervienient for the aesthetic
imagination, simply evaporate, turning the artwork on the internet into a
dimensionless, placeless, strange thing, at once ghostlike and as banal and
ordinary as morning email. Images on the internet are at once abstracted,
and consumables, and this means that certain kinds of media fare quite
differently on the internet than others: paintings uploaded as images lose
all materiality, sculpture the same, film projection loses size but retains
one dimensional scope, performance (whether skyped, taped or crowd-sourced)
happens in an encomium wholly apart from the theatre. The internet may not
be a single medium but it is a clear filter which filters distinctive kinds
of art media quite differently. This means art communication on the
internet is at once a loss and a gain, and needs to take cognizance of
that. The important thing is to try to create art that will not degenerate
into a mere example of another website of millions, on which people click
for a few seconds between clicking on everything else. How does one retain
the quality of absorption, uncertainty and intensity associated with the
aesthetics of the nineteenth century, that is, associated with seeing art
in its place (Chartres) and for a long time. How long is enough, and how

Daniel Herwitz
Frederick G. L. Huetwell Professor
Department of Comparative Literature
University of Michigan
2012 Tisch Hall
435 South State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1003
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