The Net of Art and the Art of the Net

by Hans-Georg Türstig, Ph.D.

Ancient Indian mythology describes a net of Indra, the king of gods. This net spreads endlessly in all directions and represents the way in which everything exists. Merely a symbol or indeed reality itself – who knows? In every knot of this net there lies a brilliant jewel, infinitely many which mirror each other, infinitely often, and in each exists the entire net. Even in those ancient days not a unique thought, for Varuna, e.g., the ancient Indian god of the waters, exists as completely in a drop of water as in the entire ocean. Every part of the whole is the whole, the monad of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz, cosmic holography, the internet, the net of art, the art of the net, more artful than artificial.

The artnet connects countless images, infinitely overlaying and creatively complementing one another – unfolding freely. Everything is connected, directed towards each other, dependent on each other, interconnected. Technologically created, the internet forms a cyberworld which fits neatly into the mundane world, resembles it and thus significantly influences our understanding of being, of our being in and our handling of the so-called “reality”.

Net-art weaves itself as artnet into the world-wide-web, strings creative energies together into a creative stream which flows through all countries and cities transcending borders, languages and cultures. Each creative impulse oscillates in the entire net, influences the whole and unites people as for example in my Saptakam project described later on. Creativity in a digital reality, experienced and manifested together, which breaks into the mundane world as a picture on a screen or as a print. The merely virtual reality of a digital file manifests itself within the “touchable” reality, endlessly reproducible, each work of art a jewel, and in its facets it reflects itself and everything else. Net-art simultaneously emits and receives creative impulses, recreates the artnet again and again. Net-art lives in and as the artnet.

Artnet includes digital and digitalized works of art. The latter ones include scanned images of an original placed into the net. Digital Fine Art on the other hand knows no original outside the cyberworld and thus is net-art in a more restricted sense. Here then we can differentiate between art which was created without any “real” elements entirely at the computer, and art which includes “real” elements such as photos or scanned material  as well as digital images of originals which have been further processed with the help of software and computers.

Net-art thus employs modern technology, yet how these tools are employed obviously depends on the knowledge and creative capacities of the artists. In this sense this new medium is not different from more conventional ones. Digital works of art can be printed, pulled out of the cyberworld into the mundane reality, and can thus remain within the traditional framework of art. It gets more exciting when net-art additionally or exclusively combines in two ways to form an artnet.

In one sense, the various artists together form a creative collective uniting people across all borders, languages and cultures. This artnet is more static but contributes significantly to global understanding and transcultural exchange which could very well become the basis for a lasting peace here on our home planet.

Artnet becomes dynamic when artists together take part in collective creativity as e.g. in my Saptakam project of digital artfields ( Saptakam is a Sanskrit word and means “a group of seven”. A group of seven artists creates a digital artfield for a certain digital or digitalized image. Artist 1 creates from the source picture (A) two digital images (B and C). Basically one can differentiate between three creative interventions: modifications of the colors, modifications of the forms, and changes based on additional image elements including frames. In all cases, the creative process utilizes software which offer diverse possibilities, especially when different software is combined such as photoshop, painter, paintshop, picture publisher etc. This allows a smooth and unlimited process of an image.

Artist 1 now emails images B and C to two artists (2,3) preferably in other countries. They create on the basis of B and C each two images (D,E and F,G) and forward them to artists 4,5 and 6,7 respectively. These each create again two pictures (H-O), which completes one digital artfield consisting of 14 images and the source picture.

Digital Artfield for image  A  

















1 A



























2 B








3 C






















4 D




5 E




6 F




7 G



















































 The process is now repeated, beginning with artist 2 who provides the source picture. Once each artist has been number 1, i.e. provided a source picture, one creative cycle of the Saptakam is complete: 7 digital artfields with a total of 105 pictures. Such a complete cycle is also called a saptakam. Thus a saptakam denotes the group of seven artists and a group of seven digital artfields with a total of 105 images. For an example of an actual Saptakam you may use the following links to seven digital artfields:

 1. Humility     2. Beyond      3. Moving     4. Nothingness      5. Depth      6. Beauty     7. Daemon  

Each element of the digital artfields is equally valuable and valid, has the same right to exist as the entire field. Saptakams and digital artfields liberate single images and artists from their individual isolation. There is no final product and yet each individual image can be appreciated  independently as a work of art, just as each digital artfield and each saptakam. Thus a network of digital artfields spreads around the world, vibrating with creative energy and uniting artists from different cultural, political and religious backgrounds. Exhibitions of printed artfields can equally travel around the globe and bring the digital artfields from the cyberworld into the world of conventional art.

One could also envision a linear treatment of an image where a picture is digitally manipulated and then passed on to the next artist, theoretically ad infinitum. An evolution which however does not lead to a final product. It is here where we humans have taken ourselves out of the natural global context and declared ourselves the crown of creation. Morris Berman expressed this in his book The Reenchantment of the World in this way: “Modern consciousness thus regards the thinking of previous ages not simply as other legitimate forms of consciousness, but as misguided world views that we have happily outgrown.” But it is “this attitude … which is misguided” because there is no such thing as the crown of creation. Similarly in case of a digital processing of an image there is only one or many arbitrary final products which depend in their existence on the decision of the artist. This can support an attitude towards nature where each living creature and each element of being has not only equal right to exist, is not only equally valuable, but as an essential part of nature creates and maintains the entirety of nature. All works of art are in this sense part of an artnet, which they create and maintain. The whole is not more than the parts, the parts are not less than the whole.

Nobody can foresee the future of net-art. However, it is important, especially at this early stage, to explicate the possibilities of digital art. In other words, we don’t need to artificially limit net-art to the conventional framework of art but can indeed lift these limitations and take advantage of its special features without consideration of the traditional art market. Foremost we have to address the phenomenon of the “sacred original”. Many digital artists opted to give their pictures the appearance of an conventional original by offering “limited editions” of their artwork. In reality, however, the prints are only numbered when they are being printed, thus a picture can have the number 5 of 76 but only 5 pictures do exist. Changes in technology, printer, color and paper can alter pictures to an extent that one can not meaningfully speak of an “edition” at all. And even apart from all this, perhaps 76 pictures will never be printed, who knows? Another possibility to meet the traditional idea of an original consists in printing a file x times and then destroy the file. Considering the relatively large amount of pictures typically created by digital artists, this will become quite expensive even at a small edition of say 10 per picture. But why should we support this rarity-cult at all? True, we are used to consider something valuable when it is rare or unique, which means we primarily don’t see the art, beauty, aesthetic pleasure etc., but the market value which depends on how unique or rare the artwork is or on how famous the artist happens to be. Digital art however has the opportunity to break with this “tradition” or at least to not only offer art in this fashion. Thus we can bring people to art and speak to people with our art who traditionally never even thought of purchasing a piece of art. Mainly, because art is too expensive. One can satisfy art dealers and collectors with unique images if necessary. But perhaps especially as net artists one can lead people back to an attitude towards art which independent of a theoretical or abstract market value encourages people to buy art when, simply put, they like something. That will help us all, whether we create or “only” love art, to get away from the widespread and almost global attitude of profit maximization.

Pure net-art – art which exclusively exists in the cyberworld of the internet – has still other dimensions. As we have seen above, artnet can be quite dynamic and alive. The creative process does not have to freeze into a final product and does not have to be limited to individual artists. Artist together can create fluid art which can be stopped at will. Similar to a projection of an infinite film where individual images can be taken out of the process without interrupting or ending the creative process. As in my saptakam project, the borders between the individual and the group disappear: individually we create single works of art and together these images create artfields. Art of the net creates a net of art. That again can enhance an attitude towards nature where we don’t only perceive final products (stone, plant, animal) but the natural process of creation. The individual stages or phases of evolution and the path have the same meaning, the same validity as the goal – if something like a goal exists at all. A sandpainting for example has its meaning not so much in the final product as in the creative process and interestingly enough the word “painting” denotes both, the final product and the process of painting. The sandpainting is ritually destroyed soon after its completion. It is more important therefore to be present at the creative process than not to admire the final and short-lived product. Net-art too offers a similar return to the awareness of a process rather than a product.

Furthermore, similar to theater, net-art can give layperson and traditionally passive observers the chance to intervene in artistic processes, to become creative themselves. Indeed, sometimes the question who is an artist and who is a layperson can hardly be answered. Functions of software can independently modify images so that the technicians and programmers who produce the software contribute substantially to the creative process. This is of course also true for chemists e.g. who develop colors. Moreover, certain functions of software can be utilized in ways that were not intended by the programmers. Thus it is already difficult to determine where the creative process happens and who is the artist. In a way this is true for music too when e.g. a synthesizer produces certain rhythms and melodies and the musician merely adds a few finishing touches.  This is not a new phenomenon however. Just think of artists such as Michelangelo, who also didn’t paint every detail but often had many helpers and they themselves merely added their blessing or a few brush strokes.

Net-art finally is impermanent, can be created and destroyed relatively fast and thus has elements of a consumer product and can turn the public into consumers of art. Examples are the “pictures of the month” found on many websites. Though consumerism has the bad reputation of being superficial and there is the danger that net-art leads to an art-addiction, at the same time we have something special here which can help us to change our attitude towards life. Conservation, i.e. the conservative, is replaced by a more playful attitude towards the continuously changing nature. Certainly there is the urge to last expressed so beautifully by Hermann Hesse in his poem Klage (1934) (my own translation):

            “We were not granted Being. We are but a stream …
… we are driven by thirst for Being. …
Once solidify to stone! Just once to last!”

But precisely because permanence is impossible in the material world, dealing with the less permanent, potentially at least constantly changing, flowing net-art can lead us to a more positive and realistic attitude towards the transitory nature of life.

© 2003 Hans-Georg Türstig, Ph.D.