With over 400 million internet users, China's population of netizens is the largest of any country in the world, and the number continues to grow as internet access and services improve. Regarding contemporary art, the internet has facilitated artists and art appreciators in documenting, discussing, and spreading awareness about contemporary art in China; however, from initial observations it seems that while there is a wealth of information about the art world in China, there is limited information about online art communities in China. Through investigating the accessible communities and conversing with online artists, I hope to shed light on how these communities operate and what type of artists participate in them. As documentation I intend to create a mock website containing both graphic and written information to reflect my findings.
With a very active user population, Chinese websites dedicated to contemporary art are not difficult to find. Especially in terms of information, most art museums, galleries, and artists have a presence online. In fact, according to Adam Schokora from Neocha,
The Chinese creative community is “digitally native.” It has grown up turning to the Internet as a primary channel for information / entertainment, and to learn about the local and global creative community at large. It also uses the Internet to showcase its work and connect with other creatives for collaborative projects (domestically and internationally). The Internet is the medium of choice for anything and everything. 1
However, narrowing the scope of research to Chinese online art communities has been a bit of a challenge.
After investigating several Chinese websites dedicated to contemporary art and seeming to be focused on online communities, it seems that only a few websites are purposely for social networking and community development while many of them are actually used as part of businesses or to represent an existing community or collective. Art sites that center around forums and discussion boards tend to focus more on the community while other sites, despite emphasizing their connection with the art community, are not platforms for the online communities themselves. Another type of art site involves using the internet and the internet user community as media for creating art. This last type of website is not an online art community as intended for this research, but it is a type of art community with an online presence worth investigating.
Sites such as Art-Ba-Ba and 21Art.cn have forums where any internet user can create a username and post information. These discussion boards rely on user input to provide information about contemporary art events including gallery and museum events and new artworks. In addition to sharing information, sites like 21Art.cn users also have the opportunity to post their own artwork and receive comments from other users. Of the two, Art-Ba-Ba is the more popular, with almost fifty thousand users.2 Although Art-Ba-Ba is owned by the Bizart Art Consulting company, the website relies mostly on the participation of its users. Similarly, Leewiart.com has forums for sharing artwork and critique, although it also has a business-oriented goal. In this sense online communities are a tool for both social networking and keeping up with news in the art world. However, many art communities use the website medium as a tool to help generate profit and branding.
Although Leewiart.com has a forum open to any netizen to participate, it actually has a commercial nature; although the Chinese website has an open sign-up where any internet users can post to forums and share news and work, the website actually also serves as a way for the site owners to recruit talented digital artists. Via forum critiques and sharing educational tips and tutorials, artists can improve their work and potentially work with the “elite” members on commercial projects such as animation and computer generated artwork outsourcing. What is even more interesting about the way Leewiart.com operates is that it has an English version of its website, but the English version is a completely commercial site. It showcases and markets artwork by artists that are contracted with the company, and the website claims to provide art education and services to computer graphics companies, but there is no open participation for general site visitors. Another interesting case study is Neocha, or more accurately, NeochaEDGE. The website originated as a social networking community website for artists with a discussion board open to anyone interested in the Chinese creative world; in fact it could be comparable to MySpace in terms of its social networking priorities. However, once the site began to receive heavier traffic, the creators decided in 2009 to relaunch it as NeochaEDGE, a “boutique creative agency” representing the EDGE Creative Collective, which is essentially the creators themselves, who are artists, as well as talented local artists who have been recruited by the company.3 So actually Neocha has evolved from an online art community to a creative agency representing an artist collective. These websites, despite some attempt to create an online artistic community, basically use the internet medium as another marketing tool in order to boost business.
Unlike both these community-based and business-oriented websites, there are Chinese art sites which utilize the internet as a means to create artwork. Hipic.org is a website that takes photographs submitted from visitors and displays them as part of a slideshow.
After observing these websites for the past week, it seems that the most active websites are Art Ba-Ba, NeochaEDGE, and Hipic. It is encouraging that a website such as Art Ba-Ba is so active, since it shows it is a robust online art community that is interested in reading about and sharing art, but by having a regular user base, it is also a platform for networking and connecting with others with the same interests. In that light it is unfortunate that NeochaEDGE is now solely for promoting the art of its own artists, rather than providing a platform for young and new artists to connect and showcase themselves in an appreciative community.
1Zhu, Jenny. "China’s Creative Community and Youth Culture: Interview with Adam Schokora « Jenny Zhu." Jenny Zhu: A Voice from China. 25 May 2009. Web. 14 Dec. 2010. .
2Art-Bo-Bo. Art-Ba-Ba. Web. 14 Dec. 2010. .
3Edge@neocha.com. "Neocha Website Research." Message to the author. 15 Dec. 2010. E-mail.