The Web Site Marketing Group


What the Art Can Teach the Internet
By Mike Freedman

The World Wide Web is a new and important medium for textual, audio, interactive and visual communication. Web developers can learn much from research on visual art's impact on human physiology and psychology. Significant evidence now indicates that visual art can impact us at a very emotional level, act almost like a drug to bring us pleasure, produce healing physiological changes and bring us new perceptions and new ways of thinking.

Although the web is new, some of its power comes from its use of images to tell stories, which is an ancient human activity. Cave drawings created 20,000 years ago in Lascaux, France told stories and were signed with handprints. Online technologies allow us to create bigger, better cave walls. How big? Visit http://www.gpsdrawing.com/gallery.htm to see work as big as the sky.

Visual images and symbols also have the power to affect people emotionally. In Aesthetic Realism and Picasso's Guernica: for Life Dorothy Koppelman write that "When the fascist bombs struck the Spanish town of Guernica in the middle of the night of April 26, 1937, the horror Picasso felt was like lightning striking him; and that light is in this painting." You can still sense that emotional light, even in low-resolution versions available online, such as http://faculty.dwc.edu/wellman/Guernica.htm

In "How Much Art Can the Brain Take?" http://www.mit.edu/~pinker/art.html Steven Pinker, Professor, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, writes that art can push our pleasure buttons: "The visual arts are one example of a technology designed to defeat the locks that safeguard our pleasure buttons and to press the buttons in various combinations. Vision solves the unsolvable problem of recovering a description of the world from its projection onto the retina by making assumptions about how the world is put together. Optical illusions, including paintings, photographs, movies, and television, cunningly violate those assumptions and give off patterns of light that dupe our visual system into seeing scenes that aren't there. That's the lock picking. The pleasure buttons are the content of the illusions."

The content of popular art, Pinker argues, is often rooted in biological need. "Everyday photographs and paintings (the ones that most people hang in their living rooms, though not necessarily the ones you would see in a museum) depict plants, animals, landscapes, and people. Many biologists believe that the geometry of beauty is the visible signal of adaptively valuable objects: safe, food-rich, explorable, learnable habitats, and fertile, healthy dates, mates, and offspring." Paintings that show lush environments, such as those by Cuban artist Thomas Sanchez, who presents incredibly verdant scenses, are enjoyed by diverse audiences.

Physician Michael Samuels ( http://www.artashealing.org ) writes that art is associated with healing and spirituality and can impact autonomic nervous system, hormonal balances and brain neurotransmitters. "In fact it is now known by neurophysiologists that art, prayer, and healing all come from the same source in the body, they all are associated with similar brain wave patterns, mind body changes and they all are deeply connected in feeling and meaning," Samuels writes. "Art, prayer, and healing all take us into our inner world, the world of imagery and emotion, of visions and feelings."

Images can express new concepts that change the way we think. The Guatemalan artist Dario Escobar created what at first looks like a traditional paper New Year Hat. But the hat uses a military camouflage pattern that both celebrates and mourns a world at war. Often conceptual visual art works make us re-think what conventional images mean. We do a double take - and in that moment we understand through a new way of thinking. Another example from Escobar can be seen at http://www.sdr-arte.com/de05.html

The computer and online technologies are being used to create complex new images and environments. Innovative artists are using the Internet to explore new ideas and rethink the connections between technology and art. Sites focused on today's online art include:

The new MOCA - http://www.museumofcomputerart.com
Digital Salon http://www.digitalsalon.org
ArtByte http://www.ArtByte.com
Turbulence http://www.turbulence.org
Linkdup http://www.linkdup.com

Visual artists, like web developers, are on a mission of discovery. For pioneers, in art and online communication, freedom of expression is always at risk. Example of censorship in art can be found at the Free Expression Network at http://www.freeexpression.org/censorship/censorship-art.htm

An interesting junction of banned online art and information can be found in art banned by DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998) because, as this site's anonymous author warns, "it contains the source code to an "illegal circumvention device." It should be noted for those in the U.S. that viewing or possessing any of these files is probably illegal. With that said, here's the art and how I did it: http://mnemosyne.csl.psyc.memphis.edu/home/chipmanp/dmca-art.htm

Online business leaders with important stories to tell, can gain inspiration and insights from powerful works of art, from cutting-edge works of contemporary and conceptual art to the oldest human images, to help foster new perceptions, thoughts and ideas. This will require both effort and courage.

With response rates declining for virtually all forms of online communication, it may be that concepts that push the boundaries of convention are most likely to lead to new ideas and break through media clutter to connect with audiences. As Roy H. Williams, a fearless advertising wizard, wrote in the Wizard of Advertising http://www.wizardofads.com/, "the risk of insult is the price of clarity."