Online Art as Public Art

While walking with Rebecca earlier today, I began thinking about how online art should be funded. Only some models of funding the material arts (painting, drawing, sculpture, etc.) can effectively translate to work that exists online. Websites can’t really be sold to patrons in the way a painting can; there is no value added in owning the domain name, and limiting access to the domain defeats the point of it being online. Grants for the creation of new work can obviously be applied to work that exists online. Corporate sponsorship is another option, although I find it generally unfit for funding personal work (since you have to promote the company’s agenda). What struck me as the most obvious and probably far-fetched method of funding online art is by designating it as public art.

Online art is inherently public art. It exists on the internet, that virtual space is where many people spend the majority of their time (Dangerous words in there; this ain’t journalism). Just as we beautify the public spaces we walk past on our way to work, we should beautify the virtual space that we visit in between trips to productive/useful web sites and applications. It’s not that we always notice the park or sculpture on our way to the office, but that we have the option to stop and appreciate it.

The obvious challenge in all of this is knowing who should fund public works in a space so public it operates largely without regulation. Internet service providers could fund unique works. 2% of their expenses could go enhancing the quality of the content they provide access to. Wouldn’t you feel better knowing that AT&T or Comcast actually cares about the things they’re bringing in to your home (not in an anti-net-neutrality way)? Maybe cities should promote the online work of their residents. Physical-world tie-ins bind the content of the online works to a specific place, making the work more meaningful when you visit the city. I would be happier to run across more engaging personal content online that encourages me to visit a new city than to see a Mark Di Suvero sculpture when I get there. Or perhaps an independent entity should be formed, a branch of the NEA (miserably underfunded as it is) or UNESCO.

Yeah, making the work is not about money. However, if making artwork for the internet (or anywhere) began to at least fund itself, it would make thinking about money less critical. Right now, everything is decidedly about indirect revenue streams. I have a day-job making commercial stuff for the internet as a result of spending my free time making my own work. The money I make allows me to pay to keep my personal sites up. Just imagine the quality of work people could produce if they didn’t need to hold down a day-job.