How the internet changed visual culture

Omar Kholeif’s new book charts the rise of networked culture and its relationship with creativity. We hear from the writer and curator about the biggest turning points and what ‘internet art’ really means

The punctuation in the title of Omar Kholeif’s new book is symbolic in more ways than one. The underscore in Internet_Art: From the Birth of the Web to the Rise of NFTs goes beyond a simple riff on the language of computers. “We are discussing the mass medium of our time. It has changed everything,” the writer, curator, and historian explains. “Hence why the book is titled Internet ‘underscore’ Art, because the internet underscores every facet of how we consume, digest, and produce visual culture today.”

The book is intended to tell “a story of art that parallels the rise of the internet in a historical context – one that seeks to hold a mirror back up at the constant culture of speculation around art, aesthetics, and digital culture”, says Kholeif. It begins by setting the record straight in terms of what the elusive term ‘internet art’ really means, explaining that it “isn’t necessarily art for the computer or even art about the computer. Instead, it is art that is produced with a knowing awareness of the networked nature of our collective culture.” What sounds like a niche strand of art suddenly feels as though it’s everywhere. The book itself is possibly the best example of how broad ‘internet art’ can be. Kholeif drew from all corners of the internet but wrote most of it by hand.

Internet_Art’s jumping off point is 1989, the year Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web at Cern, and stretches through to today, with relatively smaller closing chapters dedicated to rapidly evolving tech innovations like the metaverse and non-fungible tokens (NFTs), which have only burst into the mainstream consciousness in the last couple of years. A sequel to this book written in 30 years’ time would no doubt look altogether different.

Image shows the golden book cover of Internet Art by Omar Kholeif
Top: Sunrise by Guan Xiao, 2015. Courtesy the artist and Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler; Above: Cover of Internet_Art