letter from the editor: 001

The Start of Things


This site begins as an endeavour built on hope, with a fair measure of frustration. There are cracks in the skills and resources available to artists. Venture into a number of Arts degree programs in higher education and you’ll begin to spot them.

Finalfinal.art aims to be a lot of things for artists, creatives, and wandering borderlanders. But, above all it seeks to help.

A large focus, but one area among many, will be helping artists grow their web skills. And that’s where we’ll begin.

There was a time when the web was a place built by technologists. And the confines of what we could do was bound by an imposed austerity. Text was first. Images didn’t come until much later. But where there’s humans, there’s bound to be creativity. We want to do something, and when we can’t some of us tend to push anyway.

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                   Art by Joris Bellenger

In the absence of images, we got ascii art. A rather clever creative tool that blossomed into an array of use-cases. People pushed, and with the tools available we got more than we thought we had.

We did eventually get images, and over the years a wealth of other tools to do things the early days of the web only dreamed of.

Microsoft FrontPage 2000[1]

In the early 2000s, the web had a bit of a creative explosion. Print Designers began to dramatically embrace the web, to focus on what was coming, the future of publishing in a digital space. The Print Designers came in ready to learn, ready to make. And they had expectations.

A List Apart 01/15/2006

They expected to be able to arrange things on a grid, do asymmetrical layout, rounded corners, drop shadows, adequate typesetting, custom fonts, and oh so much more. And what they found was severely lacking. The web didn’t have most of these things. In fact it wasn’t until really this Spring (2018) that we had a true layout system for websites. Until now, that was handled with proverbial duct tape and bailing wire, clever hacks and tricks to get what you wanted, even if it wasn’t using things the way they were meant to be.

Those hacks and tricks came in droves, as the Print Designers pushed to do creative stuff. And just like before we got more than we thought we had out of the tools available. Walls were hit and the creativity didn’t stop, it just spilled over into areas that promised more flexibility. Flash rose and fell. Javascript bloomed. Eventually though the early expectations of Print Designers faded away, replaced by a drive for efficiency, for task oriented austerity. Areas where video games and animation had begun to infiltrate the web began to become less a movement and more an intriguing minority—tools, not philosophies. The creative aspects were drowned out with technical function.

Dave Ellis[2]

A number of things pushed the web away from being artistic and creative, and closer to its current utilitarian form.[3] The 2008 financial crisis, larger companies eating smaller creative agencies, the death of a number of creative blogs, the push for consistency and for a flatter, less personal aesthetic across the board, consolidation of platforms for content creation and discovery. WYSIWYG editors became more common place. Entire services like SquareSpace marketed themselves as “drag and drop” marvels. No need to worry about design, whatever you put here, whatever you do here will look good enough. We traded control for convenience.

What we got were sites that functioned, that looked presentable, but we lost that spirit and soul of inventive experimentation.

The tools in the armoury of the current web are modern marvels. The means by which to allow a site to flow to fit differing devices and situations are firm and stable. We now have an adequate and expansive grid layout system. Custom typefaces are a possibility, animation is baked into CSS with a myriad of javascript libraries to continually expand that. We can meet the needs of those with disabilities in new and helpful ways. The list goes ever on. Things that had to be clever work-arounds are now just a part of the spec. But tools, they’re not enough.

Uniformity of aesthetic and vision was certainly not an intended trait of the early web, instead it was based on personality. And we made some hideous sites, but that didn’t make them any less interesting. We could see that there were people behind the pixels.

The arrival of the Print Designers pushed the web forward not just aesthetically, but philosophically. The expectations of one medium colliding with another.

danmall.me 06/16/2018

Large sections of the web have, for years, become devoted to the expectations of software, tech, and advertising. I believe it is time we shift those expectations again. There are other creative mediums the web has yet to be driven fully by, but if we are to even attempt that then we’re going to need to equip the professionals from adjacent creative mediums with broader sets of web skills. That means artists learning to code.[4] That means artists growing their digital skills. That means artists becoming borderlanders. That means a new chapter, an evolution of sorts.

You can print a book out on standard copy paper, held together with brads in a simple typeface and no design. The story IS what matters after all, right? Except that we DON’T do that. We bind the book in a pleasing and lasting material. We choose colours, and papers, and type, and textures. We arrange and design the book. We package it into a vessel that amplifies the experience, where the story still matters, but now so much more. The function of the binding is to create a doorway for the reader. That’s the first piece of magic. It begins to tug on you. It invites you in, and says “I hold wonder. I hold worlds.”

Websites can still be tools. Twitter is a useful tool depending on the day and your following list. Google is a good tool for finding things. Wikipedia is a grand tool of knowledge. But not all websites need to be tools. Instead, some of them need to be doorways, rooms, spaces.

This site hopes to be a place that revives a sense of personality, that invokes a need for humanity to be baked into the things we create on the web. Philosophy and inspiration will help, but the true scope of this endeavour is to give artists an applicable set of skills and understanding about building here on the web.

Perhaps you are an illustrator who creates large sweeping images of vampires, and you want a site that doesn’t just hold those images it seems to give birth to them. It embodies you and your work in a cohesive way. It doesn’t fall completely way, it amplifies the impact of that work.

Perhaps you are a cartoonist and you want to make a comic that is easily readable on even a small phone screen. You want the site to be a gateway into the world you are building, not just a flat wall to hang panels on.

Perhaps you are an animator who wants your site to be an environment itself, to embody a space that allows your work to shine and for the site itself to delight in a way that is not intrusive but instead intriguing.

This place wants to help. It wants to give you the tools to make these ideas a reality, whether that’s a DIY approach or having the insight and vocabulary to hire a professional to do it. Or maybe it gives you just enough to cobble together an inventive method of execution, just like the ascii images from long ago. Whatever your aim, my hope is that this site allows artists to begin taking a firmer ownership of the web. To create in new and inventive ways. To grow into digital spaces. To be better artists.

The web doesn’t have to just be for Twitter, Google, Facebook, or Amazon. This should be a place not just of tools and function, but one of experiences and experiments, art and poetry. A place not just for bots, but for humans.