Date: Wed, 14 March 1997
From: Michael Gibbs

Nothing to be learned here about electronic art

Arjen Mulder

Information is no longer a scarce commodity, but insignificance is. The issue around which electronic art revolves is not how you can stuff as much information as possible into an image, but how you can remove from it as much information as possible. Electronic images distinguish themselves from all previous images - from cave paintings to video - by their ability to possess no significance at all. You can go on about how such and such an image is made on a Web site or a CD-Rom, but you’re not meant to have the slightest idea of what it’s actually about. This is a decisive criterium in judging electronic art. An awful lot of strange-looking pictures are, with a little bit of reflection, easy enough to understand but then they no longer count. Electronic images are information filters, not because they impose a particular pattern on the information available, as painting has done since time immemorial, but because they actively reject information, meaning or interpretation. You could fill a whole book with interpretations about any electronic image, but even then you would still know nothing, since every interpretation is patently arbitrary. Electronic art is more than empty, which makes it different from the works of artists from Warhol to Koons. You can’t even be sure whether these images or installations do have nothing to say, since you can’t penetrate them. They are completely transparent, often built up from easily recognisable elements and obvious manipulations, but what’s the point of them being shown to us? If electronic art wants to be convincing, then it has to increase its own absurdity to the highest degree. An electronic artist should analyse his own work to death again and again and then try it one more time. This requires just as much love and knowledge as for making a beautiful painting or a good video. Paintings, as well as photographs and films, can make your life meaningful: coherent, personal, rich. But what about images that are aimed at insignificance and the impersonal? If you only read books all the time, you can lose your concentration and mentally disintegrate as soon as you start consuming magazines. If you only look at photographs and films, your world view can break down when you’re exposed to television. But as soon as you are accustomed to magazines or to television, as we are at present, there is no longer any reason for panic, anger or desperation. The mysteriousness or irritating triviality of electronic images appears completely mild when you enter into the world that they are part of. The more you see of them, the more pleasant their company becomes. Electronic images make no claims on how the viewer is meant to interpret the world, in other words on the way that you have to see the world for it to be meaningful. Electronic art teaches us that all images are meaningless. And in retrospect this liberating insight goes for all pre-electronic images as well, from cave paintings and fine art to photography, film and video. This is exactly what makes images so interesting: for if they are not about the world or about us, what are they about?

First published in the on-line magazine ‘Why not Sneeze?’

Translated by Michael Gibbs (
home page:
editor: Why not Sneeze?

Arjen Mulder (, media critic in Amsterdam and member of Adilkno. In march 1996 the ‘Uitgeverij 1001’ publishing house brought out his book ‘Het Twintigste-eeuwse Lichaam’ (The 20th Century Body). More from Arjen Mulder can be found on the Adilkno-homepage: