Paddy Johnson Schooled Locals on Net Art and the History of Blogging

Paddy Johnson Schooled Locals on Net Art and the History of Blogging
Photo by Melissa DeMarziana

Would you call your Instagram feed art? Are the 140 characters you spin on Twitter poetry? According to Paddy Johnson, founder of Art F City and a featured speaker in the Miami Rail's Visiting Writers Program, these forms of blogging are analogous to art. Last week during her Knight Foundation sponsored lecture, Johnson expounded on her ideas about the interrelationship between the early web and contemporary art forms.

Back in the early days of the web, intrepid internet users (AKA nerds) would spend long spans venting about things they were passionate about, without paying any attention to how to commercialize their virtual products. In the same way, artists often produce work they're passionate about and then worry about the messy business of selling their art later.

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After 2010, the web took a different turn. Google changed the way it filtered and organized its search results from organic traffic to a system that tips the table in favor of large media companies. Yet despite the recent coma-induced state of the independent web, "to understand how the internet works today, you have to understand how it developed," Johnson explains.

Justin Hall is credited with starting the first blog in 1994 while he was a freshmen at Swarthmore College. On his page, he would anonymously post about anything and everything, from class discussions to sexual experiences. The anonymity of the early web was crucial to the development of web aesthetic. Freed from the chains of social responsibility, internet enthusiasts could bounce around from chatroom to chatroom, enjoying an unprecedented degree of open expression.

Super Mario Clouds, by Cory Arcangel (2002-2005; GIF still)
Super Mario Clouds, by Cory Arcangel (2002-2005; GIF still)
Courtesy of Paddy Johnson

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"Net art didn't happen on the computers themselves, but in the interaction or communication between computers," Johnson muses as she clicks through a series of screenshots and GIFs from early GeoCities sites.

From 2000 to 2005, the independent web was so popular that some prominent voices within the art establishment were calling for the death of imagery. "It seems crazy to say this today, but a lot of artists felt that since images were so easily available on the web, no new images needed to be created," Johnson explains.

By 2007, the independent web had burst, along with the housing bubble. Too much private investment, along with the rise of social media, forced Google to cordon off parts of the web accessible via its search engine, essentially creating a mainstream commercial web that forced the small voices out and sites like BuzzFeed in.

While the independent web might be dead today, and the future of blogging in general is pretty murky, the influence of net aesthetics can still be felt. Scrolling through your Tumblr or Instagram feed will likely land you on the work of fan-artists, GIFers, or nostalgic millennials eager to reappropriate the early net style they grew up with. Though they're out of business, blog-based looks are certainly not out of style.


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