The Open Art Network
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View or link to the official Try out the Pool's interactive View these sample Open Art projects:
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Click to view The Pool
by John Bell, Joline Blais, Jon Ippolito, Matt James, Jerome Knope, Justin Russell, and Owen Smith. DHTML, PHP, and MySQL

Online environment that stimulates and documents collaborative art, text, and code that is multi-author, asynchronous, and cross-medium.

Click to view The Great Game(boy)
by John Klima. C code for Gameboy console

Interactive game based on the real-world military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Click to view Open Carnivore (Director)
by Mark Daggett. Director

Packet-sniffing visualization software based on RSG's Carnivore project.

Click to view Open Carnivore (Perl)
by Alex Galloway. Perl

Packet-sniffing visualization software based on RSG's Carnivore project.

Click to view Open Carnivore (Java)
by Mark Napier. Java

Packet-sniffing visualization software based on RSG's Carnivore project.

Click to view Open Java
by Mark Napier. Java

Component-based toolkit designed to help Java programmers build and share code components.

More projects are on their way soon...stay tuned!
"Computers are bringing about a situation that's like the invention of harmony. Subroutines are like chords. No one would think of keeping a chord to himself. You'd give it to anyone who wanted it. You'd welcome alterations of it. Subroutines are altered by a single punch. We're getting music made by man himself, not just one man."                       --John Cage, 1969.
The artists who've contributed to the Open Art Network use very different software for very different purposes, yet they all chose to open their code for the benefit of artists at large. Click on the headings at left to find out why.

Mark Daggett is best known for his unsettling browser and peer-to-peer clients such as Blur Browser and DeskSwap. He has released an open version of his Carnivore client written in Director.

A founding member of the Radical Software Group, Alex Galloway has also created innovative works for gaming platforms and written a book on Internet politics. He has released an open version of Carnivore written in Perl.

John Klima has explored the interactive potential of 3d interfaces based on realtime interaction (GLASBEAD) or data (EARTH, ECOSYSTEM). He has released an open version of his war simulation The Great Game written for the Gameboy console.

Mark Napier is best known for interfaces such as Shredder or net.flag, which re-imagine the Web beyond the print-based metaphors of commercial browsers. Napier has released an open Carnivore client written in Java.

In association with the Open Art Network, Napier and Daniel Howe are also at work on Open Java, a component-based toolkit that enables Java multimedia programmers to share code. This project aims to provide a method for building small code components that can be reused in a variety of contexts, sample components that demonstrate a pluggable approach to code design, and a way to "test drive" a component outside of any specific application.

Still Water at the University of Maine is at work on The Pool, a collaborative environment for sharing art, code, and text. Participants include John Bell, Joline Blais, Jon Ippolito, Matt James, and Justin Russell.
The Internet opened the door to new possibilities of democratic access. Artists were among the first to step inside, and since the early 1990s many have been standing in the doorway, holding it open for others to pass through.

But in recent years pressure has mounted from both inside and outside the art world to close that door. In the war brewing over creativity in the digital age, the artists who are standing in the threshold are going to have to choose a side--and a lot rides on their decision.

Click on the links at left to learn more.
Ten years ago, the rich tapestry of interwoven communities and creative practices we call digital culture didn't exist. Ten years from now, it may again cease to exist--not because of stock market crashes or terrorist attacks, but due to our inability to sustain the open protocols that encouraged the growth of that culture in the first place. According to a wide range of experts, from network pioneer Vint Cerf to Google CEO Eric Schmidt, the Internet is at a turning point--a point where the combined pressures of government control and corporate profit threaten to foreclose its democratic underpinnings.

Especially at risk are artists, who have been both instigators and beneficiaries of the digital revolution. An important reason that network culture has blossomed so quickly is that creative advances don't come exclusively from Big Science or Big Industry. A single person can make a difference just by finding the right cultural need and fulfilling it through the philosophy of "DIY": Do It Yourself. And thanks to View Source--the browser feature that allows surfers to see how a Web page is built and re-appropriate the code for their own ends--online artists haven't needed residencies in research universities or high-tech firms to acquire the necessary skills.

Until now.

Together with the increasing privatization of the Web, pressures from inside the art world have led many contemporary digital artists to migrate to closed rather than open media. In particular, a number of prominent artists have been experimenting with models for selling digital art, and dealers who smell money are scrambling to help artists package work into closed, exclusive forms. While there's nothing wrong in principle with making money off art, in practice this pressure has led some artists to move toward formats where code is hidden from view and where access is controlled by private collectors or gated communities.
For the rest of artists working online, this leaves a choice between View Source or Black Box. In the first vision of the future, open protocols prevail and usher in a second generation of online creativity dispersed among people of many classes and geographies. In the second, closed formats prevent surfers from looking under the hood, and digital media become the sole instruments of an artistic elite with access to esoteric training or equipment.

Digital artists are not the first artists to feel the pressures of enclosure. Despite the variety of experimental approaches explored by Conceptual artists in the 1960s and 70s, most of their work has entered museums in the form of anemic photo-collages and other documentation, which represent at best a pale reflection of the radical immateriality and spirit of the original performances and installations.

Nevertheless, some creative cultures that have managed to stave off enclosure, if not defeat it. Until the late 1980s, software programmers had been accustomed to exchanging code without restriction as a matter of principle. When AT&T decided to enforce its license over the Unix operating system, programmer Richard Stallman proposed the legal paradigm of copyleft to preserve access to the fruits of collective labor. Stallman's conceptual monkey wrench in the gears of monopolism enabled GNU/Linux, Apache, and other Davids of the software industry to foster gift-based communities that offer an increasingly attractive alternative to Goliaths like Adobe and Microsoft. Yet the "Open Source" movement ultimately owes its success to the efforts of a few people who extrapolated an informal ethic into extensible principles.
Copyleft now has an acknowledged legal incarnation in Stallman's GNU Public License and its variants, yet such licenses are at bottom simply the codification of ethical practices of attribution and transparency that were already mainstays of the computer science community. Valuable contributions like CreativeCommons rightly aim to offer new license options for artists, but such efforts are hampered by the difficulty of jump-starting the legal process before ethical conventions have been firmly established in the art community itself. The Open Art Network aims to fill that gap, by devising and promoting open standards cultivated from within the community of online artists.

Media politics aside, artists have another incentive to pursue open formats that doesn't apply to the average open source programmer: their legacy. Since browsers and plug-ins go stale in a matter of months, code-based artworks are especially vulnerable to technological obsolescence; for such art to have a lasting impact requires that the artworks outlive their manifestation in any particular medium. The variable media paradigm developed at the Guggenheim Museum holds out a potential solution to this accelerated obsolescence, by empowering artists to specify how their code might be migrated or rewritten in the future. When the code running an artwork is closed, however, such efforts are hampered or well nigh impossible. In this sense, the Open Art Network will be a natural--and necessary--complement to the growing Variable Media Network that currently supports the preservation of new media art.
In today's bewildering climate of rapidly changing technical and legal structures, the opportunity to create open yet enduring standards--and most important, a community ethic--offers creative individuals a chance to take control of their destiny and help shape the culture that nourishes them.

The Open Art Network aims to empower artists working in digital formats by devising and promoting standards that encourage an open architecture for the Internet and digital media.

The links at left offer more details on such open protocols.
At left are some examples of the protocols the Open Art Network will explore.
For code to be re-purposed also requires that it be recombinant--that is, that parts can be copied and recombined to make new programs based on the old ones. If a program is modular in structure, it's much easier to understand and to extract whatever components may be useful to another artist's project.

For these reasons, the Open Art Network will encourage artists to code their work whenever possible in an object-oriented rather than procedural style, and to offer the modules that might be the most useful generally--or conversely, the most unique--to others in the online community.

The Open Art Network will also encourage artists to work in recombinant World Wide Web Consortium standards such as Dynamic HTML. This combination of HTML, Cascading Style Sheets, and JavaScript is well implemented in contemporary browsers--both commercial and open source--but few Web developers take advantage of the flexible visual and kinetic environment it offers. Unlike Flash or server-side protocols, DHTML is searchable, selectable, and modular, which encourages the re-purposing of elements from one online project in another.

The Open Art Network will also encourage artists to make modules in any language available to the general public, either by posting them to an "/open" directory, or by registering them in an online code archive. As an example of the latter, artist Mark Napier has proposed such a "codebase" for the online art platform, and artist Christian Ryan has proposed a similar protocol for peer-to-peer networks. The Open Art Network could advise and support artists and activists on the creation of such protocols.
Since the turn of the century a number of the most prominent Internet artists have turned away from HTML and toward compiled code such as Flash and Java, which prevents viewers from seeing the code. To be sure, communities of Flash and Java developers commonly post or trade the code that runs their projects behind the scenes--but you have to be a member of those subcultures to know where to look for this code. If a convention existed for "outing" this code, many artists and other software developers might readily adopt it--but so far no one has proposed one. The Open Art Network will bring artists and technologists from the Open Source movement together to propose recombinacy standards such as the following:

* Post Flash source files in the same directory as compiled files. For example, someone who wanted to see the Actionscript behind would know that the source file was located at

* High-resolution sources for online audio or image files might follow the same convention. For example, the source image for might be found at

* Post Java source code and libraries in an "open" subdirectory of each project page. For example, the source for a Java applet running on might be at

* Design client-side rather than server-side programs whenever possible. Proprietary authoring tools bias many programmers in favor of server-side databases and scripts rather than client-side arrays and JavaScript. While there are technical reasons to support the latter, more important are the political reasons for doing so: client-side code is easier to access and less of a security risk when publicly accessible.
Viewable source code is useless if it's incomprehensible. For programmers and artists alike, inline comments like "This function opens a new window" are often an afterthought, and there are no formal conventions for their frequency or style.

The Open Art Network could establish a minimum standard for annotating source code--either inline or in a "/open" directory. We will also explore the possibility of devising a software tool for maximizing the collective advantages of annotation. This tool might facilitate the process of annotation itself; an add-on to popular authoring programs like Homesite or BBEdit could permit drop-down annotations that correspond to machine-readable standard phrases. In another implementation, this tool might permit artists who are learning a programming language to find or compare sites that employ a function that, say, "opens a window." One of the goals of the Open Art Network will be to establish meta-data standards to drive such implementations.
A legal innovation the Variable Media Network is exploring in response to the increasing prevalence of art in ephemeral formats is the concept of deferred rights. Many artists want to maintain control over source elements of their work during their lifetimes: photographic negatives, video masters, Java source code, or the rights to modify or redistribute online works. Yet it is crucial for those same artists to realize that their legacy will be lost to history if those video masters are lost in a fire or their source code becomes corrupted before they are able to transfer it to a public trust.

The Open Art Network will explore with such artists the legal possibility of deferring rights to source materials. According to such an agreement, a video artist might deliver to a collector or museum a duplicate master along with the artwork, with the understanding that the artwork's owner cannot access the master until the artist gives permission or dies. A neutral third party could serve as an artistic escrow account, into which an artist might place source code until such time as a need for open access outweighed their own proprietary interest in keeping it secret. There is some precedent for this in the custom software industry, where owners of a software copyright put their source code in escrow with a third party, so that a licensee can access it if the owners go out of business. In the case of an artwork, it may not be a licensee who gets access, but a cultural organization--online or off--or the public at large.
Museums and other organs of artistic culture are organized on the model of the single artistic genius, but this paradigm is especially inappropriate for work in digital media, where collaboration and dispersed authorship is the rule rather than the exception. The Open Art Network will establish standards for documenting the various roles collaborators play in artmaking in everything from inline HTML comments to museum labels. The Network will also explore the possible development of tools to automate the attribution for projects based on copyleft, modeled perhaps on the CVS system currently applied to open source software development at networks such as
In line with its mission to explore new standards to spur the sharing of online culture, the Open Art Network has proposed the creation of a new flavor of open license that guarantees that a work's source, as well as its executable version, will be available to others for re-use.

This new legal instrument, which has been variously referred to as the "Open Art" or "View Source" license, would apply retroactively to the works solicited to date by the Open Art Network but could also enable a broad new practice of sharing the most powerful version of a digital file rather than simply its end product.

To date, the Open Art Network has received valuable feedback from Creative Commons and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, along with John Bell, Jerome Knope, and Justin Russell at the University of Maine.

Choose a link at left to learn more about the current state of the proposal or view examples that demonstrate the power of digital source files.

Latest version

The Open Art License version 1.0 is available for use here. To use this license, just add this text to your file or Web site a citation like this:
This work is available under an Open Art License (
If you want an icon and link, as in this example:
This work is available under an Open Art License.
then please add this code to your HTML:
<img src="" style="float: left; width: 20px;">This work is available under an <a href="">Open Art License</a>.

Future specifications

In future versions, the specification for the Open Art Network's source license may require a compressed version of the file, files, or directory containing the source be accessible via a link from the license notice. Under discussion might read something like this:
This work is licensed under an Open Art Source License.
Clicking on Source would prompt the user to download the source file or files as a single zipped download. Clicking on License would return the text of the actual license--which might for reference also be included as a .txt file in the zipped directory to download.

The Open Art Network is currently working on a formal definition of "source" for digital media as well as a list of potential source formats to go with executable formats (.ai for .png, .psd for .jpg, .flp for .mp3, etc.).
In the meantime, if you have any questions or feedback please send them to Still Water.
The Open Art Network has begun to solicit examples of the kinds of remixes that can be accomplished only with access to a work's source files. Among the first is Justin Russell's remix of Creative Common's original Flash animation Get Creative.

Because Creative Commons made the original .fla file available for re-use, Russell was able to twist the tweens and timelines of the original movie into a clever remix that serves as both an argument for and example of source licensing.

Original movie

Source remix

Please visit us in the future to see other examples of remixed sources, along with documentation to show how easy it is to build upon others' work if you have access to the source.
Establishing standards is one thing; convincing a community to adopt them is something else. The Open Art Network will adopt a number of strategies to educate its constituency.

These efforts have been made possible by the generous support of the Rockefeller Foundation.
The Network will establish an online resource explaining the history of open and closed art--paralleling, for example, the political innovations of composer John Cage and programmer Richard Stallman. This Web site will also feature news and links to help chart the current state of technical and legal developments affecting working digital artists. Links will range from reports on the status of current legislation such as the Hollings bill to surveys of open source operating systems, browsers, licenses, and programming languages, along with comparisons to their closed-source competitors. Contributors to the Network could also post or review the latest Requests for Comment (RFC) documents and other precursors of meta-data standards for open art standards.
Aside from its educational resources, the Open Art Network will link to selected artists who employ Open Art protocols. The goal is to establish legitimacy within the artistic community, exert "artistic peer pressure" to raise consciousness among artists who have not yet chosen to move to closed formats, and highlight the different possible stances artists can take on open versus closed culture.

We expect more links to be added soon!
Finally, the Open Art Network will organize an online listserve and a series of workshops to draw attention to the issues surrounding open art and stimulate debate over the best protocols. A public conference in a major city will then bring together artists and art professionals to assess the standards that had been proposed thus far. Portions of the conference will be archived on the Open Art Web site.

The audience for these events will expand well beyond artists to include media specialists, archivists, and lawyers. The new paradigms explored by the Variable Media Network have sparked interest in the legal community, as reflected by recent articles in Intellectual Property and other trade journals. It can only help the community of artists and art professionals at large to broaden the awareness of lawyers in both the ways variable media challenge the legal conventions governing traditional art as well as the solutions that leaders in the field are devising to adapt to these new forms of artistic expression.
Aside from its most important resource--artists--the Open Art Network will draw on expertise from a wide variety of curators, legal innovators, archivists, and technical standards advocates. Click at left to see a list of candidates.
From the Variable Media Network
Alain Depocas, Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science, and Technology
Steve Dietz, independent curator
Jon Ippolito, artist/University of Maine/Guggenheim Museum
Thomas Mulready, Performance Art Festival and Archive
Richard Rinehart, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive
Rachel Greene,
Martha Wilson, Franklin Furnace

From other disciplines
Keith Frank, Oxygen Media
Wendy Seltzer, Berkman Center for Internet & Society
Lawrence Lessig, Stanford Law School
Yochai Benkler, Information Law Institute, NYU
Antoine Schmidt, Artlibre
Volker Grassmuck,
Creative Commons
Chilling Effects
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Internet Society
The Web Standards Project
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)
The Open Directory Project
Like all projects featured in the Open Art Network, this page enables you to download the code that makes it work. However, it is already written in an open standard--client-side DHTML--so in most browsers you need only select Save Page As and choose "complete Web page" to see and/or modify the code directly.

The main code modules that will download are:
Like most open code, these modules are constantly being improved and re-released; check the version number at the beginning of the document when you aren't sure if you have the latest upgrade. offers free online tutorials and reference pages to help you learn Hypertext Markup Language (.html), JavaScript (.js), or Cascading Style Sheets (.css).