The following article about group blogs, blogging-as-performance, and an emerging digital aesthetic or anti-aesthetic was published in the Irish Times for July 2, 2007:
Beyond Art and Design
Haydn Shaughnessy

I wonder how many artists agree with this statement. "I reached a point as a critic and as an artist when it seemed like to be a painter everyone had a studio trick that they kept to themselves to differentiate their work." So says Tom Moody, one of the Web's more influential art bloggers and practitioners.

It seems to me honest and accurate and applies not just to painting. Everywhere we turn we're being asked to differentiate ourselves, not just as artists but through what we wear and how we do our jobs. Moody is speaking though for a generation who feel liberated by new technology, for a group that has gone beyond the frustration of trying to find minor points of uniqueness. Up until a week ago his was the first blog to be exhibited as an artwork at artmovingprojects in Brooklyn, New York. Artmoving projects made Moody's blog a live installation. Even if you haven't embraced blogs yet you'd be tempted to say: Wow, with or without exclamation mark! The blog as installation is yet another example of how virtual, simulated and real environments are blurring.

On his blog a few days ago Moody provided a shortlist of group art blogs (see below), the online equivalent of the cooperative studio. These groups collectively raise an important question about the aesthetics of art born digital.

"As a painter I felt there was no ground left to be broken," says Moody. "And we're faced with these other digital tools which are new and have a lot of potential but don't, we don't, have any kind of aesthetic."

A loose aesthetic for digital art is emerging though? What norms, practice, and social and visual aspirations might inform digital art? I had Tom on the phone recently chewing over that issue.

A growing number of artists are using blogs to display their work (we recently featured Chris Ashley here on Convergence Culture, an artist who blogs an image a day). The Internet allows artists to connect quickly with each other and one result of that is they create cooperative blogs, just like some choose to open cooperative galleries. But as Tom Moody points out the chemistry of cooperation can be better. There's little financial overhead and there's no sense that cooperation is a necessary evil. But here's the interesting part.

In posting to a group blog, says Moody, you make a judgment about the work you would not like to show on your own blog. [1]

Through that act you are implicitly helping to form an aesthetic. It's not that you post to the group blog work you are not identified with at all. But you are saying something about your choices.

The underlying statement is that the artist has different artistic identities. Somewhere in the judgment about where your work belongs lie unarticulated statements about the nature and purpose of digital art. This emergent theory of digital aesthetics absolutely suits the medium. The judgments are not articulated but they are out on show.

The lack of an aesthetic is not the only problem facing digital artists. Galleries are reluctant to exhibit their work because as yet there are few collectors and no secondary market. And there is a suspicion. A digital art work when reproduced on paper can be reproduced indefinitely. Old fashioned prints created by master printers were at least authenticated by a third party. The unease that galleries and collectors feel are important practicalities.

Just like conceptual art thirty years ago digital art needs bold collectors who will buy knowing that a selection of these works will grow exponentially in value. But to be attracted that far, you sense a collector needs to know there are underlying disciplines at work, purpose and coherence that is at least comparable with their previous experience, a sense that a generation of artists, rather than the odd maverick, is pushing the medium, and confidence that the practitioners are not simply going to fade away..

To get that far the artists themselves need to start articulating the kind of purpose that resonates with a sense of destiny. Many digital artists, or performance artists who use digital media to get works into print, recoil from the idea that they can game themselves up into a "movement". Nonetheless when I put it to Tom he acknowledged: "More and more. I think the artists I'm working with and collaborating with are moving in the same direction."

Another problem for the digital artist is that many of the tools of the trade were created for designers Microsoft Paint [2] and Photoshop are two prime examples. Websites that showcase art made from these tools, particularly the influential Rhizome, an atheist's Bible of new media art, are to Moody's way of thinking, pushing a design aesthetic rather than an artistic one. [3] I'm not wholly sure that I agree with him, or that digital art should separate itself from design, but the point proven is that articulating the digital aesthetic is still a work in progress.

Group art blogs: [4]

References courtesy Tom Moody:




1. I can't take credit for this line of thought. It was first articulated by Nasty Nets member Marisa Olson on her blog: "[Nasty Nets has] been a nice place for me to follow thoughts I might otherwise censor or drop, and to make and post work I'd not likely post elsewhere..." The idea that an anti-aesthetic emerges from everyone on the site doing this is something I've kicked around with various members.

2. MSPaint isn't really a program designers use, it's an amateur program that ships with every edition of Windows. Adobe Illustrator would be a better example.

3. Whoops--if I said that it's not what I meant. Rhizome is an art site. Rhizome and Eyebeam often feature projects on their reBlog pages that I consider more in the nature of design problems (robot alarm clocks that roll away from you when you try to hit snooze, to use an example from Eyebeam). But it isn't accurate to say that Rhizome "pushes a design aesthetic rather than an artistic one." If anything, it's the notions of conceptual art embodied in digital practice that I find problematic, when they take the form of what some of us have called XYZ art.

4. Not all of these blogs--or individual posts on the blogs--are based on an aesthetic of "what I don't show on my own blog." Everyone has different motivations for what and where they post and I make no claim to speak for everyone on these sites.

- tom moody 7-06-2007 6:04 am

I had not previously hear of Marisa's idea of the "anti-aesthetic," and you articulate it here really nicely. I think this model fits for most of the folks I know. It makes me wonder what non-blog-people coming to group art blogs might do differently (if this prototype exists)...
- Jeff S (guest) 7-06-2007 8:40 am

jeff - the prototype exists on your very own blog. neither me nor ricky have our own jams.
but I think tom already had me covered on that with the footnote.

though, in the days since starting doublehappiness, i've felt a shift in my decision making from questioning weather or not to make something to just making it and deciding weather or not / where to show it. for both web and non web stuff.

and re: "tools of the trade mspaint/photoshop"
my friend told me a couple years back about this musician he liked who eventually quit playing music in favor of making computer programs. the idea being that designing programs is the grander form of art-making because you are essentially designing realms and boundaries for human thought to exist within.
i can't remember the name of the guy, but i've always liked that thought.
- borna (guest) 7-06-2007 9:52 am

borna's right that it is probably not all that interesting to think about non-bloggers coming to "group art blogs"; to reformulate, it might make more sense to ask the same question about non-internet-familiars instead...which is worth expanding upon, but in a way that requires way more depth than is appropriate for a response to this article
- Jeff S (guest) 7-06-2007 10:13 am

i havn't red the whole post yet, it's just rad that your out there!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
- charles westerman (guest) 7-06-2007 10:13 am

pıdnʇs s,ʇɐɥʇ ɐɥɐɥ pɐɹ pǝɹ
- charles westerman (guest) 7-06-2007 10:18 am

Re: Just like conceptual art thirty years ago digital art needs bold collectors who will buy knowing that a selection of these works will grow exponentially in value.

I'm not sure the anxiety Haydn Shaughnessy is here expressing is shared by the majority of artists working in the modes he describes. Why should anyone strive to produce work in new forms that will incorporate snugly into the economy of scarcity, (ie real-world art collecting)? Sure, everyone needs to eat... but this should not predicate consignment to old exchange models. If you want to sell work, you can always make paintings or something.

The contemporary art market was clearing room for the most radical of practices (in the States, anway) as far back as the 70s: performance, conceptual art, video. Art that was against the art-object; some practices radical via their formalist ideals, others in their social agenda. While the market expanded to incorporate the full range of pluralities in its sanctioned discourse of contemporary practice, the art produced was recongized by institutions and commercial interests (sure) but also reified as commodities.

My point might be this: think of the 70s performance artists you can name off the top of your head, without thinking too hard. And then ask yourself if the careers of these (few?) justify the wholesale absorption of these originally disruptive programs into a wider art historical narrative, and what the consequences or outcomes might be.

Also: I want to suggest that the talk about group blogging be on terms of a community site of exhibition, rather than this murky anti-aesthic. What's the value of seeing group sensibilities form out of the concept of exclusion or personal rejection? It seems almost like describing these efforts as garbage art.
- bxk (guest) 7-06-2007 11:39 am

Just to clarify: Marisa was speaking for herself, on her own blog, about what she posted to NN. The idea resonated with others (including me) when she expressed it for the first time. It strikes me that if everyone has a similar motivation then you have a blog based on self-rejected material and trial balloons and then the question is, what is that? Is it garbage art or is it the "real" art because it lacks self-consciousness or ego?
- tom moody 7-06-2007 12:48 pm

Hmmm. I see I got a few points muddled. I've found over the years that's the regular consequence of trying to communicate ideas I don't understand with the insiders expertise to a larger audience. I also agree with the bxk point about absorbing a generation of artists into a historical narrative etc. I tend to think it is a good thing if any artist finds a wider public because as a writer I'm conscious of always wanting to enlarge my public. I'd love to see a lot of the digital art I admire find a wider public too but in discussions I have with people it is often dismissed so I do think as artists refine their purpose I can do better at convincing sceptical people of its unique and comprehensive value (yes I know there are artists who will say they don't care about that). I've also found lately though i am talking to more and more people who see value in the complex way we should so by value i dont mean cash and I do mean there is a growing number of people who want to express a broad range of values in their lifestyles and might do that by engaging with art..
- haydn (guest) 7-06-2007 4:42 pm

"Cash" is unfortunately the closest thing the art world has to a peer-reviewed journal. It means there's enough consensus about an idea's or a career's importance for someone literally to invest in it.
Digital art and ideas have made some inroads into this cash system but there's far from a consensus about what's important. Paul Chan? Paul Pfeiffer? People are buying that work. I would like to see someone investing in the art I like so history isn't just the Pauls. I'll worry about whether the system is wrecking the newbies' work when it happens.
- tom moody 7-06-2007 5:54 pm

TM: Re: the anti-aesthetic: While I like the idea of this collected, rejected work, it's a hard sell that it "lacks self-consciousness or ego." Doesn't it take some air of self-importance to display attempts, rather than successes? I like it when artists sell their sketchbooks, but I wouldn't say it's a selfless endeavor.

My problem with talking about the future of new media isn't with art historical narratives but rather with that future resting in hands of "bold collectors" buying "works [that] will grow exponentially in value."

There is important work that doesn't sell so much; and there are also many many rich artists who you or I have never heard of. The two Paul's you cite sell work, but they didn't always. Especially Paul Chan. Both are important artists (Paul Chan moreso, I'd argue), but they certainly aren't kids who grew up on the internet.
- bxk (guest) 7-07-2007 4:42 am

I can't say I have any ego-investment in, for example, these photos of Dr Zizmor ads. I opted to post them on NN rather than my own page. Why? I don't know. Some people might like them more than what I choose, in my towering ego, to post on my blog. Some might like them more than the works of Paul Chan (me--not much of a fan of his). Chan was born in '73, so the Net has been around since his early 20s--my guess is he is too serious to make art there.

Or your GIF, bxk--I like it, but it's a curatorial judgment more than a daring leap for me as artist. Why did I post it to NN? Mainly 'cause it's something I thought they'd be interested in.

- tom moody 7-07-2007 6:22 am
- bxk (guest) 7-07-2007 6:32 am

I like this gif:
- bxk (guest) 7-07-2007 6:33 am

btw, thanks for posting that to NN, Tom!
- anonymous (guest) 7-07-2007 6:34 am

You're too fast, posting these Chan links before I have a chance to fact check my rants.

- tom moody 7-07-2007 6:36 am

Some of that work I liked is OKAY. I like the fonts probably the best, although I wouldn't go to the trouble of installing them on my own computer. When I look at art on the net I still prefer to look, rather than interact......

But yea, lately he seems to be making very 'museum-ready' work. And I really don't like him in a lot of interviews...
- bxk (guest) 7-07-2007 7:01 am

I revise my guess--he is too serious *not* to make art on the Internet (although these are "whimsical"). I believe he and I inhabit two different 'Nets. Just giving these a quick peruse, but I'm getting the same knot in my stomach I got when I read the Artforum cover story on him. As you may have guessed I like to keep my art, politics, and literary references separate, so this much effort to combine them makes me quiver like one of those latex shape-shifting "beasts within" from '80s horror movies. If I have any revelations or changes of heart I will post them.
- tom moody 7-07-2007 7:06 am

I posted before reading your last comment.
- tom moody 7-07-2007 7:08 am

Ya, art for liberal arts grad students. I feel you on that. Nice breast image.
- bxk (guest) 7-07-2007 7:27 am

Beast--not breast!
- tom moody 7-07-2007 8:04 am

just on afterthought, I'm red or rosy
1. speaks to freedom of expression and immediacy i.e. i want my art/stimulation/simulation/feedback/opportunity/community and i want it now
2. programs are useful? is/are there irrational/illogical programs and if so what are they?
3. a friday the 13th youtube playlist sounds like fun, should apologies cease to exist?
4. these blogs exist/live in the present, the right now. maybe refer back to #1 I like that alot!

- charles westerman (guest) 7-08-2007 2:18 am