Is Visual Representation Enough? by Kayla Gilbert

How much influence should aesthetic have when considering new media art? Are pieces that explore a concept through technology with little or no thought to the aesthetic values still considered new media art, or just visual representation of data?

Much of this question is rooted in what you consider as art, the age old question that has yet to really be answered.  Many artists are taught that art is everything and anything.  From Marcel Duchamp’s urinal to Lucio Fontana’s slashed canvas we have been challenged to transform our understanding of art as artists explore a range of new concepts.  Yet, each artist was just that, an artist.  That is to say, when artists are creating new works or considering new forms of media they are concerned with subject matter and aesthetic value.  You will not find one piece of artwork in a major gallery in which the artists did not take time to contemplate most if not every single aesthetic aspect in their piece.  From content to color palette, artists are mindful and care about all of their artistic decisions. Edward Shanken’s unpublished essay Contemporary Art and New Media: Toward a Hybrid Discourse? notes that new media art does not reflect a solid understanding of art history or aesthetic and theoretical progressions in mainstream contemporary art.  Fortunately, many pieces of new media art are heavily concerned with subject matter or content, which is a key component of art.

One piece that I feel lacks a certain concern with aesthetic values, but has both an interesting and sound subject is Josh On’s piece They Rule made in 2001.  It explores corporate power relationships between major companies in the US such as Pepsi and Coca-Cola.  The companies are displayed as businessmen or businesswomen holding a briefcase.  As Christine Paul notes, “They Rule is a reminder that data access on the Internet is a two-way street: the project subverts the use of the Web as a mere marketing tool that turns us into transparent customers by making visible the intricate web of relationships between corporate entities and the ruling elite.“ (Paul 205).  They Rule is an extremely intriguing and innovative new media project that has a visual representation to help us understand.  However, I do think that the visual representation could have taken the work a step further and really made it into a strong piece of art.


Another work that I think includes more consideration for aesthetic values while portraying an interesting subject is W. Bradford Paley’s TextArc made in 2002.  This work represents an entire text on a single page and lets you to filter through it.  This work is visually compelling and is created by the use of new media.  Thus, I think this is quite a success for what we consider new media art.


When new media artwork lacks aesthetic consideration and deep contemplation of subject matter, I believe that it truly fails to become art. Thus, to the beginning question, I think for a new media work to be considered as art and not just a project or interactive game, it has to pay close attention to aesthetic values.  If it doesn’t, what’s to stop someone from saying that a professor’s keynote lecture on global warming is art?  There has to be something more than just a strong concept with some type of visual representation for a work to be considered art, in my opinion.



Paul, Christiane. Digital Art. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2008. Print.