Jeremy Liew on Web aesthetics

Jeremy Liew · April 30, 2008 · Short URL:

 The NY Times magazine this weekend notes that Flickr has developed its own ideas about beauty in photos, very different from the art-school aesthetic.

People don't upload to the Web words and images they had fashioned apart from the Web; they fashion their stuff specifically for online platforms and audiences.

Consider photography. As art-school photographers continue to shoot on film, embrace chiaroscuro and resist prettiness, a competing style of picture has been steadily refined online: the Flickr photograph. ... amid the more than two billion images that currently circulate on the site, the most distinctive offerings, admired by the site's members and talent scouts alike, are digital images that "pop" with the signature tulip colors of Canon digital cameras.

While pretty and even cute, these images are also often surreal and prurient, evoking the unsettling paintings of de Chirico and Balthus, in which individual parts are beautiful and formally rendered, but something is not quite right over all. Flickr's creamy fantasy pictures, many of them "erotic" (rather than sexy) portraits that have been forcibly manipulated with digital tricks, stand in contrast to the rawer and grainier 35-millimeter photography that's still canonized by august institutions like the International Center of Photography.

Blogs too have developed their own unique writing style, different from the writing of newspapers or magazines, and often influenced by the dictates of SEO best practices, headline focused RSS readers and the short attention span of web readers. Writing has become more like advertising copy, with no room for a surprise ending as the reader may never get to it. It becomes all about the attention catching lead.

Online video is another clear example of how the medium has changed best practices. As Comscore's recent video data shows, short form videos such as those on Youtube and MySpace completely dominate the longer form videos from, Viacom, Disney and the other TV networks.

Even music is starting to change - Rolling Stone recently noted that songs are now written to sound good in compressed MP3 format and on small speakers, rather than being optimized for absolute sound quality.

These changes are not for the better or for the worse, but they are further evidence that the web is not just a distribution channel for other forms of media, but a new medium in its own right, with its own best practices, use cases and aesthetics.

(You can read more from Jeremy Liew at

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