The internet is an empowering place for the individual and this includes the field of art. It is not necessary to find an expensive gallery as an interface to the public in order to display an artwork online. With a reasonable amount of technical expertise or assistance, virtually anyone can present material on the web, be it artistic or of any other nature.
Of course, whether it is worthwhile is another matter. And who decides anyway? The internet is certainly very different from any other medium, and it offers both benefits and drawbacks.
Serious artistic endeavour has only really started on the internet since the establishment of the web in the early Nineties. An early example was UK-based Jake Tilson's The Cooker website (www.thecooker.com), with its distinctively colourful and animated style. Another interesting and pioneering virtual art museum website run by an individual artist is the Lin Hsin Hsin Art Museum in Singapore (www.lhham.com.sg), complete with its own virtual toilet.
I include these two examples at least in part because they are not in the book under review. A survey of internet art is inevitably eclectic, and it remains to be seen what history deems important or not in this field that is barely more than a decade old.
Rachel Greene's book is divided into four lengthy chapters together with an introductory history of the internet. There are a few inexactitudes for the technologically pedantic, but the author is obviously at home with the artistic and social aspects that are the main point of the book.
As well as the expected compendium of websites with associated screenshots, sociological facets such as online communities and "cyberfeminism" are also covered. You will find the author under the Rhizome.org art community website, for example.
Although there is much interesting material here and some analysis, overall it is difficult to get a sense of where things are going from this book, but there is plenty of detail to consider and digest. Perhaps, not unreasonably, it is up to the reader to try to make sense of it all.
The book ends rather abruptly with little consideration of the future. That is probably appropriate and safest in a book of this type, since it is difficult to predict the route that online art will take. It is likely to involve the interplay of developing technologies with lively and unorthodox minds. I am sure there will be much interesting development over the next decade, with the potential for a second edition of this book in due course.
There are a worthwhile, compact timeline, glossary and lists of online resources with web addresses at the end of the book. It would have been helpful to offer an online version to avoid having to type URLs. The book's index is good for names, but less comprehensive for more general terms. For example, "ASCII art" is not included, but is covered in the book.
The book is well illustrated in colour throughout and represents excellent value. It is within reach of any individual with even a general interest in online art. It could be used as the basis for a course unit on the subject in an arts course, although it is not specifically designed as such. Anyone curious about this topic is bound to find something new and of interest, even if they may well find some favourite website omitted. I am glad to have the book on my shelf.
Jonathan Bowen is professor of computing, London South Bank University.
Author - Rachel Greene
Publisher - Thames and Hudson
Pages - 224
Price - £8.95
ISBN - 0 500 20376 8