December 17, 2014
The digital art of Mark Napier
My first encounter with the artist Mark Napier and his digital artwork Riot from 1999, is when its thumbnail catches my eyes while I am browsing the Whitney artport. This is the Whitney museum’s online portal to digital art. The colorful composition of the thumbnail stands out in the crowd, as it is showing a digitally warped and almost abstracted face. It takes me quite a while to figure out both the visual properties of the artwork as well as the artist’s statement. Despite being used to look at physical art and constantly being exposed to online feeds of paintings, drawings etcetera, I find it hard to understand what I am looking at. To my help, I try to make references to the article Philosophy on art by Theodore Gracyk, in which he compares Hume and Kant’s philosophies on beauty and how to distinguish what art is.
The Whitney artport’s describes Napier’s piece as “an alternative, “cross-content” Web browser.” A link takes me to the actual web page of Riot and my screen gets filled with a chaotic composition of pixels in red, yellow, white and black. An orange box in the right top corner says “RIOT” with large capital letters and the subtitle explains the function of this alternative web browser as it “builds its page by combining text, images and links from the recent pages that any Riot user has surfed to.” When I click on the link that says “Enter Riot,” an error message pops up and I feel like I am missing out on the artistic experience.
I spend a few minutes searching for other works by Mark Napier that I might find easier to understand and I end up going through his archive of gallery installations. To be completely honest, I even struggle to figure out the logic behind his artist website. Eventually, I stumble over another of his net art pieces called digital landfill and the similarities to Riot are striking. I feel like I might have a chance at understanding his art after all, but I am still confused over the function the artworks seem to be offering me. From what I understand by the descriptions on the digital landfill’s home page, it is a “virtual compost created by the Landfill, a fertile source of ideas for artists and web designers.” While trying to understand the digital art, I unintentionally tried to analyze it and distinguish features according to Kant’s features and judgment of taste (Gracyk 7). I catch myself thinking that it sounds cleaver and somewhat useful. This thought reminds me of the feeling I get when I realize the meaning of what we commonly call art such as physical art on paper.
Visual art is a form of language and I find myself trying to learn the digital aspect of it. The art I appreciate the most is the kind of visual experience that give me another, preferably new perspective on things that I am already familiar with. In addition to that, it is worth mentioning that I am not very familiar to the digital language and perhaps that is why I struggle to understand its attempts to artistic approaches. I do not believe it is a coincidence that I find myself better understanding the digital art by Napier that had been shown in a physical gallery space. It is nice to see examples of digital works translate so well into a gallery space, which further allows a much greater audience’s appreciation. Bottom line is that I do think that digital works can be art and that art is not necessarily depending on a physical wall.
Technology gave us a different language and more complex ways to interact. The art adapted to this, using its advantages and possibilities for new expressions. Digital art might be harder in terms of understanding since it is still quite new and to the ordinary person it is still an unusual approach to art. The discussion between Hume and Kant regarding what distinguishes design from art is here valid due the fact that digital artwork’s greatest strength still is the technological function of it. Further, the digital art’s higher level of complex concepts often interferes with the simple concept of judging whether a painting is of liking or not. What separates digital art from design is unfortunately still very blurry and the question still depends on the aesthetic judgment of taste, something Kant emphasizes in Gracyk’s article (7). I personally believe that a piece of art is successful if I enjoy the visual experience that it presents to me and it becomes of even greater personal value if I understand its concept. And the same rules apply to digital art.
By studying more design and digital art, I have come to realize that I understand it better now and I have a greater appreciation for it. It took me a few years to understand so called classical, physical art too, but I enjoy the challenge and the experience of discovering perspectives that new art presents me. Being able to now appreciate more digital works of art has certainly brought more beauty into my life. I agree with what Joseph Addison once wrote, expressing that “there is nothing that makes its way more directly to the soul than beauty” (Gracyk 3). In other words, I find Mark Napier’s digital works inspiring, functional and beautiful at the same time and therefore it is art.
“Artport.” Artport. Whitney Museum of American Art, 2014. Web. 17 Dec. 2014. <http://whitney.org/Exhibitions/Artport>.
Gracyk, Theodore. “Philosophy of Art, Hume and Kant: Summary and Comparison.” Aesthetic Theories of David Hume and Immanuel Kant. N.p., 2002. Web. 17 Dec. 2014. <http://web.mnstate.edu/gracyk/courses/phil%20of%20art/hume_and_kant.htm>.
“Whitney Artport: Mark Napier.” Whitney Artport: Mark Napier. Whitney Museum of American Art, n.d. Web. 17 Dec. 2014. <http://artport.whitney.org/exhibitions/biennial2002/napier.shtml>.