To what extent can you analyse a webpage like you do with a piece of art? It is an interesting question because the screen moves us in so many directions, very unlike art, and still maybe not.
It has a composition, no doubt, every product of human labour has, you could say. Each part is ideally ordered according to the whole or may be understood as part of it, and some means of expression are the same as in art.
Each page is of course a piece of layout, many of them resemble paper media. The interactive possibilities and the possibilities of movement are obvious differences.
What purpose a website serves is often something else than in the world of art, even if there are overlapping things. Sales, propaganda, journalism, all these are common in the Internet, many variants of private and professional communication, art itself is there, normally reproduced and (probably, I admit I haven’t checked) art projects in the form of websites, entertainment, portals.
Sight and hearing are the senses that are in play. There is no possibility of actually feeling anything with your skin, other than graphic elements that look as if there is a surface or an object in three dimensions. You have to imagine it. Taste and smell is also absent, but of course, the feeling of all these may appear as you read or watch.
Point, line, colour and shades of colour, shape, direction, texture, scale, the number of dimensions, proportions, the feeling of movement, those are elements in a visual world. If we try to figure out how these elements are treated, we touch upon the way of thinking of the web designer, also of the field of graphic design, and visual aesthetics in general.
Sound is also present, but more often than not the Internet is silent. I think maybe a discussion of music in the digital world to a great extent would be a discussion about the reproduction of music, which might also draw on knowledge on interpretation.
There are, of course, also live pictures, movies, and news with sound, and I am not sure how much the new medium influences the way these are made, compared to pre-internet movies etc. Differences in tempo is an obvious possibility because computer technology is so fast.
In our imagination, the concrete world around us follows us into the screen to a certain extent. Up and down are basic ideas, as in nature or anywhere else. The sense of perspective and a sense of space are always in our heads when we look around, and these things also exist in the different visual worlds we have made throughout the history of art. Even if they usually exist on a flat space, the illusion of three dimensions is often present.
I don’t know if it is true, but you could get the impression that many concepts and ideas in the electronic visual world are considered to be common, shared by everyone. True to life, the ideal of verisimilitude, is one obvious thing.
We can’t always agree on what impression a picture gives us. Especially today it is more and more obvious that a great portion of concepts are conceived differently by different people in different cultures in society.
You could imagine that calmness and unrest, for instance, were unambiguous ideas, and there is maybe sometimes possible to agree on what is what in a picture.
But it depends on how you understand things.
A work of art or a composition rarely contains only calmness or unrest, that would be boring or at least monotonous. There are usually contrasts. Which elements are important and which are not can to a certain extent be defined by tradition, also of knowledge about tradition and knowledge about the artist’s aims with his work, and the style. But in the end also your own taste and personality, your own reactions to what you see matters to you, whatever the tradition says. There’s nothing wrong in that, but sometimes it is good to know whether you have actually understood the rest or not. Of course, your associations are still your own.
Elements in a picture talk to each other, there is a conversation going on, like with different parts, voices, in a piece of music. Parallel, of course, to a normal conversation, but not necessarily the same thing or exactly the same logic. Which element stands next to another means something, and what you yourself perceive as related in the picture and on the screen.
Proportions also mean a lot. The golden ratio is one principle.
Perspective is not without importance.
A designer may deal with those things intuitively, sometimes improvising, but it is an advantage too know basic principles before you start. As art or creative projects usually are, you often land another place than you started. No problem as long as it works.
Since the eyes so far in human history have been mostly used for looking at real things, the graphic elements may be perceived as something that looks like real. Which means, for instance, you can create a feeling of being off balance by drawing a circle with a slanted radius, (possibly) being understood as a wheel on its way round because of the stick that goes through it. It is not a wheel, but it can feel like one when you watch it.
If you see those things in a human perspective you could claim that a face with an expression is also a useful metaphor for what goes on any page, on the web or on paper.
The sound of the voice and the movements of the body are parallel concepts from music.
Secondary, also in a graphic world, you may of course employ whatever metaphor or concept you want to, like rhythm, sound etc. But the face seems to me to contain the whole thing, it is complete in itself and has numerous possibilities of expression. And you see it. Well, sometimes in real life you hear it too, why not.
Historically, the eyes have of course also been used for reading. Texts were often, speaking from a design point of view, pretty simple, but the way printing and layout and now the screen world have developed it has grown
more complicated, with internal connotations and references and everything that follows a development of a genre. Interactivity and the mix of moving and still elements are also new things. You could also say that the graphic side is taking over functions that the text used to have, also crashing parts of the tradition of writing. The “word” YouTube is one example. There is a lot more coming from the creativity of the designers.
As a designer, you probably have a lot of preferences and opinions on how to shape a webpage or a printed document, but there are things to be said in favour of simplicity and leaving the text alone, at least a little. Practical creativity is all over the place these days, and sometimes it runs over the world of thoughts. The more graphic elements you use, the more this is disturbed, and in the end you may be almost separated from the text itself and left to communicating mostly with symbols. It comes out as one of several elements in an object that is essentially a picture, instead of opposite, like a picture being an illustration to the content of a text. You could say that the world has turned upside down.
The way of dealing with this, in your mind, may also change over time, so you end up with thinking of the picture as a landscape, even if it is a small one, so you may want to stretch out your hand and move things from one place to another, instead of employing “tools” like you also do on a computer. I am not up to date with the latest hot news, but the computer world has also moved in this direction.
Computer games is a world of its own, which I explored a little when I was young. I sat on a pub and played Space Invaders until I had no more money or was completely cramped, and in the end found out that it was enough. Since then I have been uninterested.
But addiction is an important element in this world, a consistent feeling of unrest and lack of satisfaction, which it shares with other means of addiction.
Perhaps the world of computer games can also be used in creative ways. I would actually think so, as long as many other “addictives” can be used moderately or to excess.
Addiction is also an important side of or possibility in the Internet itself, since there is always a road going further on, to another page.
Since a webpage or a picture on a screen is a product of human activity, it will somehow get a human expression of some kind, consisting of elements both conscious and unconscious to the maker.
The simple contained or expressed in a complicated context, this is an ideal in art or any creative effort. The opposite, something complicated contained in something simple, I would say is often expressing laziness or clumsiness in the thinking or the practice of whatever you do.
In all cases the purpose will be important – why you do what you do, make what you make?
As readers – viewers? – we also perceive this, consciously or unconsciously.