Art On the Net
In 1971 the Pentagon's Advanced Research Project Agency, ARPA for short, created the first network of computers, and predecessor of the Internet, known as ARPANET. 24 years later, after many advancements and a change in name to the Internet, net for short, Sandra Bullock starred in a movie entitled, The Net. As of 1999, the awareness of the Internet has continued to grow exponentially, as has the use of the terms Internet, and the net, to catch people's attention. Nearly every company, organization, and many individuals have some sort of Internet presence. Everybody has or is in the process of jumping on the bandwagon, artists not excluded.
After looking at the ZKM's (zentrum feur kunst und medientchnologie) net_condition, supposedly a look at the condition of "net art", I found that most projects claiming to be "net art" were more correctly "art on the net". Many of them had nothing to do with the Internet and merely used it as a method of distribution. The Internet has intrinsic properties such as tele-presence, the ability to let people interact with another object regardless of their physical location, and bandwidth, the amount of data that can be transferred from one point to another in a certain period of time. These qualities should be used in the artwork itself to be classified as net art.
A further illustration is this. A painter starts off with a blank canvas suitable for any type of painting, some brushes, and a few containers of paint. The painter makes certain decisions concerning the types of brushes used, as they each have unique features. Each type of paint also has various specific properties which must be taken into account. After finishing the artwork, he or she is left with a painting. The way this painting looks will be in direct relation to the paints and brushes used in its creation.
Many so called net artists use the Internet as a canvas, something on which to display their mixture of digitized media; however, the Internet is so much more than that. A computer screen is the digital equivalent of a canvas, whereas the net is more like a dynamic painting. Anything that aspires to be called "net art" should not exist without the Internet. I have put up an example of a project that I think can accurately be described as "net art" at: http://www.madpickles.org/art160/manifesto.shtml. It clearly uses the inherent properties of the Internet in its creation, and could not exist without the net. Another example, which I will only describe, could be likened to John Cage's Four Minutes and Thirty Three Seconds. Here, an enormous file, for now we'll say 5 gigabytes (ok, 2008 update, let's make that 5 exabytes), is posted on a server with a link to it and description that makes people want to acquire it. People click on the link and wait. Of course, no regular person can possibly download that entire file in a reasonable amount of time. What they choose to do in that time would be the art, a direct result of the bandwidth limitations of their connection to the Internet.
Most so called "net art" out there is just capitalizing on a buzzword, and could exist comfortably on a floppy disk or CD-Rom, and work just fine if the Internet did not exist. If an artwork does not utilize Internet specific attributes, then the artwork, if it appears on the net, should be classified as something else. Their use of the net as distribution or a showplace is a completely different topic, and does not make constitute "net art".