As digital media becomes integrated into the art curriculum, art educators have been encouraging students to use computers and other digital technologies for personal and collective self-expression. Because the learning curve can be steep for sophisticated computer graphics software and other digital technology, many art educators find it necessary to spend most of their instructional time acclimating students to the software environment. In addition, many secondary and college level art students feel that learning computer graphics would better enable them to find a job after graduation. As a result, the students' learning focus tends to be primarily pragmatic. This combination often leaves little time in the curriculum for the art educator to engage students in critically exploring digital technology and in introducing them to artists who examine the cultural and political implications of its use.
Nevertheless, I believe when it comes to teaching students about digital media, art educators have a responsibility to devise curricular and pedagogical goals that go beyond preparing students for future employment in market-driven jobs. I also believe this responsibility mirrors the critical responsibility artists have in developing visions of technology that present alternatives to those inspired by commerce. These beliefs led me to pursue a research project in which I could explore, in a classroom setting, the implications of this responsibility. The purpose of my study was to investigate pedagogical strategies that would encourage secondary students to think critically about their perceptions and use of the Internet, guide them in analyzing works of Internet art, and introduce them to using the Internet as an artistic medium.
Prior to the development of the World Wide Web, users perceived the Internet as an information repository, political forum, and community builder (Stallabrass, 2003). The Internet has since become increasingly commercialized, playing a major role in the rapid acceleration of the global economic system (Schiller, 1999). This commercialization has transformed the Web, as search engines and content providers enforce homogeneity and regulation as well as a uniformity of look. This look has been imposed by browsers and developed from another design convention: the graphic user interface. The result has been a standardization of web design elements, such as frames, banner advertising, animated GIFs, changing cursors and rollover effects (Johnson, 1997). Recent use of Java and Flash does little to enhance the participatory and interactive character of the Internet; instead, it increases its allure as spectacle (Stallabrass, 2003). A significant body of Internet art is instructive for critical pedagogy in that its creators openly repudiate and critique this commercialization, favoring technological experimentation, online interaction, dialogue, hypertext narrative, political involvement, and making strange the Web's established design conventions.
What is Internet Art?
There is an enormous amount of art reproduced on the Internet due to the computer's ability to replicate any reproductive medium. This "art on the 'Net" can be described as an image that has been created with another medium, scanned into the computer, and displayed on the Web. For instance, if someone creates an oil painting, photographs this painting, scans the photograph to create a digitized image and inserts this image into a webpage, this could be considered "art on the 'Net." "Art on the 'Net" treats the Internet as a virtual gallery where digitized artwork is "hung" and viewed by clicking on a hyperlink. Often the purpose of "art on the 'Net" is to publicize or sell physical works of art. One example of this is Bill Gates's purchase of the digital rights to artworks in assembling the collection of his company, Corbis, the world's largest image database (Schmiederer, 1998).
What differentiates Internet art from art on the 'Net is that it is created specifically with and for the online environment. …