Taking Stock of Art Making in The Age of “I’m A Child of The Internet”

by Paddy Johnson on October 8, 2010 · 39 comments Opinion

The Internet Meme Generator, Internet Artist

Nothing discredits artists quicker than adopting mantras that mean absolutely nothing to their practice. A note to young practitioners using “I’ve grown up with the Internet” as an accolade: Don’t do it.

Here’s why:

1. It doesn’t say anything. Just because a two year old can figure out how to use an iphone, doesn’t mean they will grow up with instinctually better or even different knowledge of its functionality. It just means that one generation’s cultural references will be different than another. This has always been the case.
2. It creates meaningless pejoratives. Was your experience of the web in the 90’s more valuable if you were eight or 20? “I’ve grown-up using the internet” implicitly suggests the former even though the polarization itself is bogus.
3. It buys into popular myths about art making. Two sentences that mean the same thing, yet evoke entirely different connotations when used: “I grew up with the internet” AND  “My childhood experiences deeply influence my work.”

So what are some of the changes in contemporary art making practice that are brought on by the net and worth noting? Here’s what I see:

1. Decreased importance of authorship. Trying an idea out without attaching a name to it is common amongst artists using the web — particularly younger generations. Anon. Tumblr’s, temporary web pages, and even this year’s IMG MGMT essay What Relational Aesthetics Can Learn From 4chan, authored by Anonymous provide good examples. Unauthored work sometimes becomes authored once the project starts gathering steam as was the case with this blog.

2. Increase in collaboration + decreased importance on authorship. File sharing is very easy on the web, which means collaborations happen very easily. Interestingly, on the group image chat site, dump.fm files are shared and manipulated so frequently sometimes authorship is impossible to trace.

3. DIY branding (or increased importance of authorship).  In contrast to the i-don’t-give-a-fuck-about-authorship approach to art making on the web is the self-branding that naturally occurs when distributing digital files and text. Hello twitter art. Hello Nic Rad, William Powhida,MTAA, An Xiao, Cory Arcangel and Man Bartlett.

4. Decreased preciousness of art work. The knowledge that the web is constantly changing actively effects art work — at least that appearing on the web. Many artists — particularly those of a younger generation — have a much more cavalier attitude towards work they do online. Andrew Laumann expressed this thought recently to me in an article I wrote for The L Magazine titled, The Rise of The Online Gallery.

5. Decreased importance of who did what first. Ideas expire more quickly on the web because they are absorbed with greater ease so who did what first means a lot less. Uniqueness of vision is important, originality less so.

6. Greater interest in porn. KIDDING. That’s just called being in your twenties.


Scandalishious October 8, 2010 at 5:43 pm

Paddy while I agree with you in some regards, I do think kids who are growing up on the internet NOW will have a very different notion of representing themselves.

Children now have an easy capability to self broadcast. Kids will perform in their real life settings in one way for a certain kind of feedback, and another way online for a different sort of feedback, one that is based in anonymity.

Warhol’s fifteen minutes can turn into a lifetime at the microfamous (or even small community) level if kids are interested. This will mean a lot in the future for our sense of privacy and for our sense of self.

As media models change which allow the masses (our friends, family or individuals within our internet based communities) to become the focus of our attention, we start to move beyond generational differences simply being cultural references. Our sense of (projected) self and of others will change drastically under the watchful virtual eyes of our peers.

Anonymous October 8, 2010 at 5:55 pm

Thanks for your comment. I think generations are very different from each other for their experiences, so sure — kids growing up now will represent themselves differently than those before them. My main point was just that simply describing yourself as a child of the internet, doesn’t tell anyone anything about your practice.

Ar October 8, 2010 at 8:44 pm

“cavalier attitude,” as in “a courtly gentlemen,” of course.

j_d_hastings October 8, 2010 at 9:53 pm

Increased tolerance to noise, decreased tolerance to lack thereof

Kari October 8, 2010 at 10:39 pm

I don’t know, I still think it can be worth noting because there seems to be a bit of a divide between artists working online who have done so their entire lives, and those who are recent adopters.

j_d_hastings October 8, 2010 at 11:27 pm

I neither grew up with the internet nor am a recent adopter.

Anonymous October 8, 2010 at 10:55 pm

Yeah, but that’s a different distinction. I’ve had interns who grew up with the internet and don’t know the first thing about it. MTAA have spent most of their career on working on the internet but didn’t grow up with it. I think it’s sufficient to say you use the net a lot. Mostly it annoys me to hear “I grew up with the internet”, because it’s often used as a placeholder for talking more specifically about the work. I really don’t care whether you grew up with the internet, I care about how you use it. I could make a lineage from my use of ICQ, chat rooms and early dating sites to what I do now, but aside from being an amusing anecdote, it’s not substantial information. Why present it as though it is?

Colin Roe Ledbetter October 9, 2010 at 9:26 am

growing up on the internet is like growing up on the street, Sesame Street

Colin Roe Ledbetter October 9, 2010 at 9:34 am

I would never say I have grown up on the internet, but i have been using it for a good portion of my life. There is a difference in how artists work, and how the internet works.

I still have a problem with people “submitting” to blogs, instead of to galleries.
I am also sick of the coverage of “internet stardom” or tumblr’s “radar” every time a mag puts out an article on “how to be the next Flickr star” or “Deviant art is the new MOCA”
I fucking die.

Colin Roe Ledbetter October 9, 2010 at 9:37 am

Born- 1986
Mother gave up on oldest child after last child- 1993
Raised by the internet -1993 til present, and beyond
Death – never, google has an archive that keeps me living on into the future

Hhalle October 9, 2010 at 4:55 pm

I think in general you’re right, but I wouldn’t completely discount the impact that new tchnologies have on generations of artist who grew up with them. Permit me to quote myself here at length, form an old blog post I wrote a few years backs comparing the “Pictures” show at the Met with “Younger Than Jesus” at the NewMu:

The difference, it seems, is in the generational relationship to media: While Baby Boomers were passive consumers, Millennials feel some measure of personal control. If it isn’t the fulfillment, exactly, of the old Marxist dream that workers would own someday the means of production, it is a recognition that the internet permits consumers to dictate the terms of consumption. Just ask the music industry, which almost went out of business thanks to online file sharing, or newspapers like the New York Times, struggling to maintain print editions that no one wants to buy, while attempting to figure out ways to monetize online content that no one wants to pay for. If the “Pictures” artist were rebels without a resolution, the twenty-somethings of “Younger Than Jesus” now have the tools to effect a real visual revolution. Whether they’ll use them remains to be seen.

Things may be changing as they always do, but I think points here still apply…

Anonymous October 9, 2010 at 5:21 pm

I think those are real distinctions worth mentioning. I hadn’t meant to suggest that the differences themselves aren’t meaningful but rather that the use of “I grew up on the internet” doesn’t reveal them. In fact, I think it gets in the way of meaningful discussions on those differences because it carries all these unarticulated connotations.

Jennifer Chan October 13, 2010 at 6:52 am

Perhaps what “I grew up on the Internet” actually means “My subjectivity and (non)identity as a youngster in a globalized world is extremely influenced by my personal and social experiences on the Internet and I make art about shifting notions of space, time, aesthetics and artistic distribution in real and virtual spaces, while subverting pre-existing paradigms of cultural production and distribution.”

It’s hard to not hold qualitative judgments about intellectual reasoning up against the art, its conceptual strength, or the personas that produce them.

Anonymous October 9, 2010 at 7:52 pm

There is a blog called Net Gen Skeptic ( http://www.netgenskeptic.com/ ) that questions – mostly in the context of education – whether “digital natives” have different cognitive skills or insights that need to be understood and addressed by teachers. It’s an interesting inquiry. The so-called Pictures Generation of the ’70s-’80s was proud of itself for being “TV babies” who were supposedly more media savvy than their parents but I don’t remember critics claiming special powers of perception for these folks–everyone was too damned jaded. By contrast, the way current curators talk about the Net Gen is really like the second coming of Christ. Not just the curators, I have many Net Gen friends who speak this triumphalist rhetoric. I don’t really understand it: we all “grew up with the net,” it’s just that some of us don’t remember anything before it. As a fan of science fiction and cyberpunk, I don’t rule out that there’s some David Bowie-esque Homo Superior growing in our midst, I just wish curators would shut up about it until we have proof.

Duncan Alexander October 9, 2010 at 9:53 pm


So tired of this debate. Millenials didn’t ask to be anticipated as “digital natives,” and every time some Gen-Y member asserts that their early online experiences influence their art practice, everyone brings out statistics about how Millenials are average in their computer use, “after all.” It seems obvious to me that if someone is acknowledging their net experiences as significant, that that person is probably not in the middle of the bell curve of net users in terms of ability. On that note, why don’t you ever see comparisons of larger age brackets in these studies on computer ability? I’d like to see how Boomers, Gen-Xers, etc. stack up.

“I could make a lineage from my use of ICQ, chat rooms and early dating sites to what I do now, but aside from being an amusing anecdote, it’s not substantial information. Why present it as though it is?” I actually think that this is substantial information. When a person makes the claim that their net experiences have shaped them, critics should pin them down. The internet is not homogeneous. Were they using IRC to chat with Swedes about ROM hacking when they were 13, and that’s why they make command-line characters in their murals? Or were they networking IRL and and primping their Livejournal (FRIENDS ONLY!) accordingly, leading to a life of realtime collage? Context is key.

Last thought: in my personal experience as a Millenial (1989) I have never encountered anyone over the age of 30 who has treated me like I have some sort of inherent computer knowledge, except for maybe my mom. Honestly, I’d appreciate it if older people would take my skill set more seriously (I’m looking at you, potential employers!). If it’s anyone’s fault that “triumphalist rhetoric” exists, it’s surely not ours, and for as many people my age that are out of work, living with their parents and struggling under student loans, I don’t know that we’re even benefiting from it.

Anonymous October 10, 2010 at 2:34 am

If you look at the jstchillin manifesto ( http://www.jstchillin.org/about.html ) they hit the digital native stereotypes pretty hard (“If ur lukin 2 meet nu frndz, enemies or if ur lukin 2 ave fun…” “a new material idealism that is being bred out of the culture of digital natives…”). Older curators buy into this “authenticity.” I talk about home computers and workplace computers (i.e., Windows) in my artwork – tools and subsistence jobs that affect every generation (and provide a rich source of negative inspiration). I didn’t think it was generation-specific until spending some time on dump.fm, where I constantly have to field questions and criticisms about my age. Just the other day, Duncan, you were arguing that older people are more easily shocked by porn and gore on the Net–it’s not true but it puts me on the defensive against your supposedly more thick skin.

Ali86 October 10, 2010 at 9:10 am

I experienced a moment of sadness as I read about disillusioned art youths, believing their early initiation into the web gave them a license to bandy about the cliché, ‘I’ve grown up with the internet’. Sadly that is often what we’re taught or led to believe. I’m such a youth and have had the phrase thrown at me as a reason for excelling in areas where baby boomer peers and friends do not. The attack in itself doesn’t tell me what internet art practices I might be utilising best, only that I am a child of the net, I should know better, I should know more, I should have inherent knowledge. I believe the quip is assigned as often as it is taken on by young people. So Paddy I think you make a great point, saying youths shouldn’t use the adage as a selling point because ‘I’ve grown up with the internet’ is vague and has no immediate relation to art practice. But where do we first get the idea that the phrase is something noteworthy or distinguishable?

Duncan Alexander October 10, 2010 at 4:05 pm

Good example. I should be more specific: I’d believe that academia holds faith in “digital natives,” whereas most people don’t really care. You know how I feel about jstchillin & friends: playing like you’re a 14-year old on AIM is (apparently) successful pandering to stereotypes that academics in power (curators etc.) hold. That said, I have no problem with roleplaying; Paperrad pulled it off because they were 100% behind the mindset and imagery. When Denny, Ito and friends do it though, it’s to sell an identity that prefaces work that in no way stems from that identity. No teenage script kiddie is going to make “Brand New Paint Job,” that painting of the stock image girl or “Paint FX.” (Well, maybe the latter in a sarcastic gesture.) If anything, the fact that their header quotes Proust should be telling. It’s a foot in the door, but it feels duplicitous to me.

As for the thick skin / porn gore thing, I was speculating about how access to shock images has been easier for younger people due to the presence of the Internet. I don’t doubt that there are older Internet users that have the same “defenses,” but I would guess that more young people that are regular net users have spent time in the dark corners of the Internet than older users that have been online for the same time. I have no data, so I admit I could be wrong; I was just wondering out loud and wanted to hear from other people what they thought. The trouble with chatrooms is that the speed (i.e. popularity) of the room severely limits intellectual discourse.

sally October 10, 2010 at 7:45 pm

I think most of the variations of porn shock had probably been covered by the time humans invented agriculture.

Duncan Alexander October 13, 2010 at 3:39 am

A correction: I’ve been informed that Paint FX and BNPJ are neither explicitly attached to jstchillin nor are intentionally taking on a “digital natives” tone. Shoddy examples, I admit.
However, I still argue that FX can be interpreted as taking a tone of naivety/cynicism that might lead one to a “native-esque reading,” if I may make up words.

Anonymous October 13, 2010 at 4:03 pm

PaintFX isn’t such a bad example. I would call this writing of Parker Ito’s “digital native-esque,” especially since he’s elsewhere self-identified as a net native (from State – http://thestate.tumblr.com/post/750003986/parkerito ): “PAINT FX (imagine a really badass voice saying this) is the newest, hottest, sexiest, nastiest, chillest, painting collective/ club/ company/ brand/ website/ blog/ party consisting of Jon Rafman, Micah Schippa, and myself. We’re kinda like Jogging meets Poster Company meets shiny stuff, but we’re way juicier. Each work featured on the site is intended to belong to the brand PAINT FX as opposed to the individual who created the work. Maybe we’ll outsource some work too. We started the project because we were popping huge boners off of juicy gestural marks and we thought it would be fun and easy to make a lot of those. But PAINT FX doesn’t favor styles or themes, but favors shiny computer screens…”

De Kooning is spinning in his grave over “we thought it would be fun and easy to make a lot of those.”

Chrishonker October 10, 2010 at 7:02 pm

are you writing just for the sake of writing? or is there a point to this?

Jennifer Chan October 11, 2010 at 5:56 am

I base my research in amateur netporn because I grew up watching netporn.

This has nothing to do with wanting to be transgressive or novel or even having an affinity for it, but a desire to think about the shift in notions of taste, judgment and community that occurs when one brings their most aleatory desires to the WWW.

Other than that, it simply is not talked about enough but all of you are scoffing at it!

Matt October 11, 2010 at 12:55 pm

Excuse me while I go edit everything I’ve ever written.

Anonymous October 11, 2010 at 1:28 pm

Would rather not talk about this issue at all. For the record, dump.fm is a brilliant site and it was conceived by “children of the net.” I’ve been 100% supportive, even if the site provides a forum for the NetGen nazi who told me my “perception of dump was horribly fucked and wrong.”

A. Bill Miller October 11, 2010 at 7:24 pm

late to the conversation, but had to say that there is something that I don’t like hearing more than “I grew up with the Internet” – “I do a lot of my research by looking at images on the Internet and I use some of them in my work” – that one blows my mind with awesomeness.

Rydavidbradley October 12, 2010 at 3:23 am

Regarding this topic, it’s always interesting when you can detect the slightest miniscule trace of bitterness in someone’s tone of voice (sic), I’m more interested in what that means.

Anonymous October 12, 2010 at 3:26 am

Why don’t you tell us who you’re talking about and what you think it means since obviously you have an opinion on both.

Anonymous October 12, 2010 at 12:52 pm

To paraphrase a new media colleague: “I meant you, but no one’s feelings were hurt because I emailed everyone else on the thread to tell them I didn’t mean them.”

Rat Frank October 12, 2010 at 1:27 pm

All I can say is that had there been Stickam.com or Chatroulette when I was a tween I would have died a slow and grisly death. I am slightly jealous of the fun crap the younger generation has but I feel like I had a more introverted and slow life as a kid. Again, maybe that is the 40 year old in me feeling the generation divide. I suspect my grandfather felt a similar gap. As a guy raised on radio and having an outhouse he will never quite feel the way I do about Pacman nor Star Wars.

Vera October 14, 2010 at 1:39 pm

Interesting discussion. I’d like to know who the curators are that Tom Moody (is that your real name?) is wanting to shut up about the Internet natives? The only thing I’m getting is this discussion reminds me of the language and then gendering arguments of the 70’s and 90’s, specifically the Chomsky/Quine debate of language acquisition, and, the feminist gendering is a social construct apart from sexual identity queering. The question seems to be: did the context of computers talking to computers create a performative context (role models, behavior restraints, etc.) so that a generation of actors differ from the previous gen.? As one who has taught writing at the college level, more like everday journalistic prose, I would say kids today are in general a little more savvy as far as general culture since exposure to culture is more facile. As some have mentioned the access to porn has made it a different commodity than it was in the days of Playboy, the white male centered-ness just isn’t there as much. In general too, I would say the writing is a little better.

Anonymous October 14, 2010 at 2:42 pm

Vera (is that your real name?), there was a recent exhibit at the New Museum in NY called “Younger than Jesus.” The show was described as “incredibly diverse, with artists moving seamlessly across mediums. Instead of radically breaking from the past, these artists draw from a myriad of influences across historical movements and geographies to highlight the intergenerational dynamics that drive contemporary art.” At the same time a claim was being made that net natives were unique in their ability to move seamlessly across mediums, the museum was assuring us that they weren’t radical in any way. This could use some elaboration.

Vera October 15, 2010 at 12:17 am

Who wrote the quote? I would have to say one curatorial citation is not a consensus, as curators as a class of scholars, runs quite a range of people. At least a third of every class I have exists in a loop of connectivity, where homework is done with IPhone/Blackberry Bold (Facebooking, texting), lap top (Facebook, if white), iPod, and tv with full cable, all being monitored simultaneously. This has become the bane of psycho-sociologists, communicus interruptus. Some brain neurologists have recently claimed e-mailing, checking facebook, texting all while watching tv has had a detrimental effect. So, this would affirm the claim of moving seemlessly across mediums/platforms. However, if concentration is lost, shouldn’t we see a diminishment in writing or painting? Not from what I see. In fact, I have students who on average have a much more encyclopedic depth to their information sources since research is so much faster. What use to take a trip to the library to cross index in the card catalogue, mull thru bound periodicals, check out the requisite books, blah blah, now takes simply a google to get u going hopefully past Wiki.

Sorry about the name, it’s just they use it in Californication for Hank Moody, the sex fallen writer, and I was just wondering if u played off that.

Anonymous October 16, 2010 at 11:56 am

My point was there isn’t a consensus, it’s Net Gen Skeptic vs the New Museum (which itself can’t definitely state a thesis). It’s Paddy vs Duncan on the relevance of childhood experiences to adult work. One could argue that all the multi-tasking and “moving across media” you describe are conditions the modern techno-state is forcing on everyone, regardless of age, and imagine a counter-exhibit to “Younger Than Jesus” called “Techno-Paternalism and The Cult of Youth.” If you want to argue that there is a radical break in the type of work being made between generations (sounds like you do), I would start with the New Museum exhibit and the writers cited in its 512 page catalog.

˚∆˚ November 2, 2010 at 6:27 pm

I don’t get why we are hung up on second hand semantics.. unless, “I’ve grown up with the Internet” is a direct quote from somewhere/someone it seems like a poor lynch pin for the argument at hand.. which really is “INTERNET ART – YOU’RE NOT DOING IT RIGHT!!!!!”

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