Virtual theatre - Art in cyberspace
© Copyright 1994-2002, Rishab Aiyer Ghosh. All rights reserved.
Electric Dreams #27

Art is both an expression of personal creativity, and an expression of community. Individual lovers of the arts from painting to music to literature have begun to find computers useful for a number of activities. Specific to art are the applications for creating, enhancing, and manipulating music, photographs, murals and movies. Computers also help authors and readers navigate texts and easily access material on multimedia CD-ROMs from the complete Oxford English Dictionary to a rather expensive collection of all English poetry till the last century. An information society's greatest contribution to the arts would be, as in many other areas, a sense of community. The Internet - cyberspace at its best - is after all the largest community of intelligent, talented people from across the globe.

While computer-related discussions still form the largest portion of resources on the Net, at a close second comes education. Teachers, educators and others talk about learning methods and projects for learners from kindergarten to university, and most of them are not talking science. Many of them are discussing the arts, even if indirectly. Education is often behind a number of interesting experiments in Internet-based art.

There is of course a huge resource base for (and usually by) artists themselves. First there are what I would call the 'dead resources' - archives of paintings and books. Most would call them treasures - the complete works of numerous authors and poets; thousands of digitized works from Rembrandt to Dali; music scores and samples; film clips.

But these are just dead resources - they are static, unchanging classics. It could still be possible, at far greater cost and not without disadvantages, to collect digital or analog versions of such material from elsewhere. What only cyberspace allows, however, is the participation in an artistic community large and diverse enough to sustain arguments on the most arcane of subjects. Participation with an immediacy that might not be face-to-face, but is almost as good (some would say better).

On the Internet, there are a number of people who use newsgroups or mailing lists to discuss Hispanic classical comedy or historical costume design, postmodern literature or film music scores. Electronic journals are usually distributed free - the Bryn Mawr Classical Review, for example, provides detailed reviews of scholarly works relating to Greek and Roman history and culture.

Interesting cyberspace experiments abound. Apart from the many digital galleries of old and new works, usually multimedia or electronic paintings, there have been some 'global painting festivals'. Here, people log in from anywhere and cooperate with others elsewhere to create works of art. Similar experiments are possible in drama, with extempore interpretations of old plays. As more people get involved with networking, newer ideas emerge.

Creativity and community go hand in hand. So do art and cyberspace, really. What has kept many from accepting (and benefiting from) this is the apprehension that 'cyber' is 'techie' - for scientists. This did have some justification, but as the information age slowly draws in each and every human being, cyberspace's wires-and-bytes flavour will disappear. Artists will be one of the most important participants in this society to come.

  • Electric Dreams Index
  • Homepage