Art and the Internet

Internet Gallery

How the Ubiquitous Nature of the Internet Has Affected Artists and Their Work

Over the last couple generations, many major technological advances have radically changed the way we all live our lives and interact with the world. That said, few, if any of them compare to the sheer scope and widespread use of the internet.

A vast interconnected system of computer networks that spans the globe, the internet has fundamentally changed the ways we can interact with the world around us. It wasn't that long ago, historically speaking, that it would have seemed a downright preposterous notion that one could have a device in one's home that could be used to communicate with people on the other side of the planet, find and share information, entertainment, and just about everything in between, from all over the world, let alone use of such devices being widespread and commonly found in most every household in developed nations

“The cosmic mind of artists is like cyberspace without the equipment” -Dr. Lorne Waring

Among the many things that have been affected by the dawn of the internet age is the way that art is made, shared, viewed, and influenced. Art is more visible and prevalent in our society than ever, communities of artists are easy to find and join thanks to the internet, and digital tools are more prevalent and accessible.

Of course, it's not all good. The internet also makes it easier for people to—either intentionally or accidentally—steal credit from an artist and hurt them in the process.

I'm going to take a look at all of this and more in today's article, so buckle up and keep reading the little pixel-formed words on your screen that compose this humble piece of internet content you're currently in the process of consuming.



There's certainly no doubt that the internet has caused the general visibility of art to skyrocket. At one point in time, you would have had to actually go to wherever the original piece was physically located to be able to see it. The printing press and similar innovations allowed some kinds of art to be more widely reproduced and distributed, but it was still very limited. Nowadays, though, you can find a digital version of just about any famous painting by simply doing a Google search for it. And what's more, you can discover all kinds art you never even knew existed from the comfort of your own home.

“…the Internet is an extraordinarily seductive representation of the world” -Virginia Heffernan, Magic and Loss

Further, as artists, we have a better platform than any in history to show off our art to any and all who care to look. With the internet, any of us can post our art and have it be visible to anyone with an internet connection. We can use sites dedicated to the purpose (like Paperdemon!), or we can even purchase our own domain names to create an online portfolio.

As a result of this, artists who would have otherwise had little to no recognition or exposure can gain a measure of recognition and feedback they might not have found otherwise. This can help nurture and promote the growth of new artists, helping to ensure they don't give up as easily.

Further, the internet as a means of distribution of art helps ensure that more people get to see a greater amount of art at any given time than would have been possible, or even imaginable, just a few generations ago. This means art gets to be appreciated and enjoyed by more people, and is a greater part of the average person's life, whether they are artists or not.

Collaborative Communities

If you want to get better at art, you need to practice, that's for sure. But it also doesn't hurt to learn from others, whether it's taking formal art classes or just comparing notes with fellow artists. Once upon a time, artists had to live nearby, generally in the same city, for this to be feasible. With the advent of the internet, however—and its myriad forums, message boards, instant messaging services, and so on—this is no longer the case.

“We have to come together, worldwide, and 'think.' We have a tool - the internet - to let us do that. Let's use it wisely.” -Jimmy Wales, Co-founder of Wikipedia

YouTube is absolutely bursting at the seams with how to draw videos of all shapes and sizes. On-line classes are becoming common in a variety of areas, including art. Sites dedicated to discussion and sharing of art are growing more and more ubiquitous. All of these things help ensure that the aspiring artists has plenty of support and inspiration out there, so long as they seek it out.

Having ready access to advice, critique, compliments, reference material, and inspiration from one's peers is a sure-fire recipe for taking an artist and making them better and more passionate about their work. Thanks to this, it is easier than ever before for the average person to pick up art on the side—whatever else they may have going on in their life—and to learn and grow and become a skilled artist with nothing more than a desire to learn, and a connection to the internet.

Digital Art Tools and their Increased Prevalence

I can't speak from experience here, because I work almost exclusively in traditional media due to a combination of limited finances and most digital tools being outside my comfort zone as an artist.

And besides that, this section could be an entire article in and of itself. Nevertheless, it would seem complacent to write an article on how the internet has impacted the art world and not at least mention the increased availability and prevalence of digital art tools.

There is no one right way to make art, and an extensive variety of tools and methods for art-making have existed throughout history. Thanks to technological advancements in recent generations, though, there are a growing number of ways to create what we call “digital art.”

Digital art is a somewhat loose definition, but is generally understood as any piece of art that uses digital technology prominently in it's creation. In other words, when I draw something in pencil and ink and put it in my scanner, it's traditional art, even though it's been “digitized” by the scanner. If I draw something using an image editing program, a digital tool like an art tablet, etc, etc, that's digital art, because the digital technology was an integral part of it's creation.

The ubiquity of the internet has lowered the barrier to entry for digital art. Software and physical tools abound, and range from prohibitively expensive to entirely free. Further, it's easier than ever to learn how to use your fancy digital toys thanks to the power of collaborative art communities, as mentioned above.

Credit Where it's Due, Please

As with most things, though, the internet doesn't come without it's downsides—both for the art world, and just in general. One of the more problematic issues in the art world that the internet has only helped to run rampant is the use of art without credit to or consent from the artist.

Now that anyone can have their own “space” in the internet (be it a blog, their own site, etc, etc), and anyone can find a piece of art and simply hit “copy” and “paste,” or download and upload someone else's art, or create highly derivative work from someone else's art, it's easier than ever to steal credit from hapless artists who've posted their work on the internet.

This can be very harmful to artists because it redirects attention away from the actual artist and toward the “thief.” Any recognition or appreciation an artist could have gotten from viewers of the improperly credited work is lost.

There are things artists can do to mitigate art credit theft. For one, clearly state your rules for use of your work on the description or caption. Secondly, if you ever catch someone else claiming credit for your work, or using it without permission or proper credit to you, be vocal about it. Clearly assert that you are the original artist, and back up your claim with a link to your original posting.

You can also “watermark” your work, making it harder for others to steal and plagiarize it. A watermark is a sort of faint marking on the art, similar to an artist signature, that can be very hard to remove without it being clear the art was altered.

Further, please remember that if the art being stolen was taken from or posted on an art sharing site, to contact site moderators and/or administrators. At PaperDemon in particular we take art theft very seriously, and offending members are banned.

And for those who wish to use other people's art for their own purposes, I want you to remember two very, very important things: obtain permission, and credit the artists properly.

Check the caption or description of the work you're interested in using. Sometimes artists will state our preferences and/or permission for use there. If not, send a message, and remember that they are allowed to say no. Do take no for an answer if it's the answer you get.

As for giving credit, follow whatever preferences or requests the artist has for how to credit them. If they don't specify, fall back on this rule of thumb: include the name and/or screen name/handle of the artist, and link back to where you found it so others can check it out and support them.

What We've Learned

  • The internet increases visibility of art, and can help “small-time” artists be seen.
  • On-line communities of artists can help each other learn and grow.
  • Digital art tools are even more plentiful and readily available thanks to the internet.
  • The internet also makes it easier for people to steal credit from artists.
  • This can be mitigated by the artist taking precautions and the would-be thief obtaining permission and crediting properly.

Hey, you made it through all the digital content above this line! Nice job consuming internet media.

Now, go check out the rest of the site if you haven't already, maybe even make an account and upload some art, or leave some comments on stuff you like. Go crazy; the Internet's not going anywhere anytime soon.