"Post-painterly abstraction" was Clement Greenberg's term for a kind of self-referential art that, by the 1960s, was becoming increasingly less rooted in the physical world of art-making materials. The then-new polymer paints made possible a kind of uninflected visual experience: color experienced as pure presence. The minimalists took this logic further than Greenberg was willing to go with an emphasis on found materials and processes: e.g., Dan Flavin's colored light bulbs. Extend the logic even more and art would be a series of Sol Lewitt-like commands to a piece of hardware such as a computer monitor, telling it to beam certain colors in certain configurations directly to a remote viewer's eyes.

And that's what Christopher (or Chris) Ashley is doing with his "html drawings," it seems to me: these aren't jpegs that can be right-clicked and saved but a series of instructions to your browser, telling it to draw tables in particular shapes and fill them in with hexadecimal colors (#0088bb, #00bbbb, #0077cc, #00CCCC, #0099cc, and #00dddddd in the piece above, for example). As you can see from Ashley's archive, some of the configurations get quite elaborate. I like the simplicity of Santa Cruz, Monterrey, Pacific Grove (reproduced here without permission by saving the html in "View/Source" on my toolbar, hope it's OK), but also the complexity of The Asian Influence in Drawing, I - XV and the super-baroque Hippie Dreams, I - XII, the latter of which also incorporates .gif files. One quibble: an aspect of a project like this ought to be that each viewer experiences the work as his/her browser interprets it, just as painters ultimately must lose control of the lighting conditions and surroundings in which their art is viewed. Ashley has said that certain pieces are best viewed on IE, which favors a proprietary format and kind of stunts the magic of a million possible readings (including "incorrect" readings) of the work.

Ashley also has a nice weblog here. This is my off-the-cuff take on his work, BTW, and may not jibe at all with his own theory; looking forward to exploring the site(s) and learning more.

- tom moody 8-24-2003 7:45 am


On the contrary, with HTML the artist loses control entirely. The complete transparency of an HTML implementation allows others to copy and modify at will. Further, each display device has its own understanding of color and space (and time, for that matter). Besides the relatively common direct view CRT and backlit LCD, there are at least a half dozen other display technologies in use today, each with their own peculiarities. Add to that the personalized setting of the display device (e.g. late afternoon in a second growth redwood forest in the Santa Cruz Mountains).

- mark 8-25-2003 5:04 am [add a comment]

I get the joke, but for those who don't, or aren't peeking at the source code, you took Ashley's table design and plugged in different color values. Nice ones, but still, that goes well beyond the vagaries of small browser or screen differences and into the realm of active collaboration. Any individual artistic expression can be easily copied and tweaked on the internet. What the artist "owns" is a sensibility and commitment over time to a particular project. My gripe about specifying the best browser to view work on pertains more to unnecessarily limiting one's potential audience (and flattering Bill Gates) than the advisability/inadvisibility of trying to control art in a fluid arena.
- tom moody 8-25-2003 11:40 am [add a comment]

- mark 8-26-2003 7:54 am [add a comment]

I've posted on my weblog regarding this discussion: http://iu.berkeley.edu/CA/2003/08/26
- Chris Ashley 8-26-2003 9:55 pm [add a comment]

Thanks for your email and the post(s), Chris. I'm getting ready to go out of town so this is a short comment. Sounds like we're thinking alike on html. Just mentioning IE makes everyone see red; it's becoming like the boss you're dependent on but can't help bitching about.
- tom moody 8-26-2003 10:13 pm [add a comment]

tom, whereya going?
- linda 8-26-2003 10:50 pm [add a comment]

Since 1997 Iīm using a similar HTML painting technique called "squaring of words" / paintings. To me, itīs just a contemporary painting technique. Everybody is free to use it, too. Thatīs the great thing with HTML & open source. What counts are the results. And those of Chris are great!
You may have a look at www.advancedpoetx.com
- s.holzbauer (guest) 8-26-2003 10:52 pm [add a comment]

corrections: "squaring of words" / paintings
- s.holzbauer (guest) 8-26-2003 10:56 pm [add a comment]

i considered a similar premise (albeit less eloquently) in a weblog post a couple of weeks back:


lewitt's instruction art must be the closest reference point on the matter, although there's an interesting dichotomy between the "renderer": the artist obeying the instructions, vs the web browser.

by sheer coincidence, i also once wrote a dynamic html script that would allow wysiwyg creation of html drawings within a web browser. i'll dig it out as soon as i have the opportunity, and send it your way.

brecht's "two durations":
#ff0000 #00ff00
- dan 8-30-2003 6:48 pm [add a comment]

too much tv

- mark 9-03-2003 8:45 am [add a comment]

Sometimes your spammers take me back to a good thread.
- L.M. 4-17-2007 1:40 am [add a comment]

Yeah, I sometimes think of these as parasites that give the host feedback about buried memories, etc and then I remember I want to kill all spammers.
- tom moody 4-17-2007 2:10 am [add a comment]

- bill 4-17-2007 2:20 am [add a comment]