I often wonder why am I able to instantly distinguish cheap art from expensive art. I don’t even have to analyze the materials of an artwork, speculate on the temperature or environmental conditions under which artwork has been brought to life, nor question how grand the idea behind its concept is, in order to say that its high quality justifies its price. I also wonder why, from time to time, my guts get suspicious of art’s high-quality looks. Simply looking at a price tag will not justify this feeling.
What makes me hesitate to declare an artwork cheap? What lies underneath these judgments?
Please open this link: https://bologna.cc/(Wayback) in your browser. What you’re looking at is a website of a project space in Amsterdam that organizes exhibition events. Upon entering the website, you may instantly think that you’ve been directed to a Facebook page from your personal account, but re-reading the URL to check if it’s a subdomain of Facebook will show that that’s not true. The interface design is a replica of Facebook’s dashboard. The left side of the page shows your name(bologna.cc) next to your profile image of a dog, and the toolbar below is customized by the gallery. In the middle, there’s a lot of content to be scrolled down, just like on Facebook. However, on this newsfeed, Bologna.cc is the only user posting images from the gallery’s recent events/shows. If you look at the scrollbar all the way to the right, the scroll thumb is tiny. This gives an idea of how long the page is. The scroll is long. Without scrolling, we can understand that the newsfeed is the gallery’s whole archive organized chronologically. Recent events are at the top of the newsfeed and the oldest ones are at the bottom. To the right of the newsfeed is a suggestion to add Ivan Cheng as your friend. Ivan is the initiator of the project space. On top of the website, a notification says that you have one new message. Although we all know that you don’t have access to Bologna’s account, therefore their private messages, access to privacy is what you’re expected to flirt with in your user experience.
The design of bologna’s website tells me that they want to be seen as conceptually creative rather than organized in their archival management (such as designs of museum websites like stedelijk.com). This tells us their scale is small. Ivan is probably the only person behind digital archiving, or an intern whose name does not appear on the website. This website is not trying to lure people into traveling to Amsterdam just to visit Bologna and probably aims to stand out only in the local scene of cultural production.
Bologna’s website is an example of a cheap website because it imitates a globally recognizable interface of Facebook’s 2019 design. It hasn’t been updated to the current design and is stuck in its past. But aesthetics from the past are not exactly what makes it cheap. It is the lack of funding for the maintenance of the website.
In “The problem of Forgeries in Chinese painting”, Wen Fong gives his readers clear instructions on how to authenticate a painting (according to a Chinese critic). He advises examining closely the following:
- Material of the painting
- Artist’s signature, inscriptions, and seals
- Previous collector’s seals
- Records of the painting in ancient catalogs
- The painting itself
Reading through the pieces that construct a Chinese landscape painting, we can almost imagine its flat surface turning into a stack of layers. Each part contributes to the size of the pile within the borders of the painting. Each part has its own logic.
The imagination of a stack is what led me to associate its construct to that of a website. Similarly to a Chinese painting, a website is made of parts that have their own logic/function and are brought to the terrain of web development in order to make a website alive. Whether a website is ready for a public gaze, functional, affective, secure, or the opposite, all factors that make it alive certainly refer to the website’s aura.
A website’s life can be viewed in many ways (click the sentence).
- Its life can be determined by its deployment state. An offline website is as alive as an online one. An offline website can be fully finished and ready for deployment in a developer’s local machine. In contrast, an online website, already in use by the users, could be missing a few screws and be considered as unfinished.
- Its life can be determined solely by looking at it from a functional perspective. Does its newsletter work? Are all links clickable? Are images loading slowly? Can the user copy the text from it?
- Its life can be determined by the emotion they trigger in the user. Does it make users passive? Are they sucked by it? Are they welcomed by it? Are they asked to act on it? Does it annoy them? These questions are somewhat related to user experience but exist beyond the standards of user experience in the current state of web development.
- Its life can be determined by its security. And its security depends on its service to the user. What can a website do to make its users trust it? Could that be its reputation throughout the history which is now maintained by user recommendation? Or can its choice of cybersecurity company attract the users into buying the commodities it represents?
The scale, complexity, and labor behind a website’s stack bring me to say that no website is authentic in the traditional sense of the word. None is made from scratch, and not because they refer to the external influence, but because they wrap external sources from the open-source market in its code. For an authentic website to exist, all parts of the stack must come from one developer.
Please click [here] and [here]. Let those two websites be the neighboring tabs on your browser. What you’re looking at are two websites that serve the same function: to represent a cultural body. By jumping from one tab to another, can you guess which one is more expensive?
Rijksakademie is a two-year artist residency based in Amsterdam. With a fixed big R in the background, the main content falls in the middle of the webpage where news, events, residents and staff names, subscription to the newsletter, and contact details can be found. The layout of the grid is designed to the point that all the questions that arise as I scroll are soon answered as I scroll a bit further. Everything seems to make sense.
Antikythera is a six-month research program based in Los Angeles. The layout is divided into two halves: visual to the left, and textual to the right. At the beginning of a scroll, a moon-looking circle that’s been present since the beginning slowly disappears as information about the research topics appears on the right side of the webpage. Each topic is accompanied by an image in which a similar circle to the main one in the beginning appears. After the topics, a long list of affiliate researchers rolls out, followed by the program’s methodology, partner’s logos, organizer’s names, social media icons, and newsletter subscription.
Rijksakademie’s website is built in a programming language called Ruby on Rails, not the first choice of language. Although open-source, Ruby on Rails is considered one of the hard programming languages that require an understanding of several easy languages and patience from the developer. This immediately applies that the developer who chooses to build websites in Ruby will be the only person who’s able to maintain them. The website costs about 45 thousand euros. The price includes the development and design of the website, and maintenance is to be paid separately per day rate. It is made in three months, by a developer whose initial expertise is graphic design, and two of his assistants whose names we can find on the Colophon page of the website.
If you inspect the code of this website, you’ll find out that the content management software is custom-built.
The typeface(univers-selectric) is owned privately and cannot be pulled for usage on other websites.
Antikythera’s website is made by a design technologist whose role shifts between appreciating the code(not necessarily coding) and designing for the user experience. They fly above the various departments of the tech industry in order to make decisions on technologies they want to use for the interface of the website. A design technologist doesn’t need to understand the codes behind certain technologies in order to use them in a website. Antikythera’s website costs the time it took to build it. It was built in about one month, while the design could have been developed over a longer period of time and in between other projects.
If you inspect the code of this website, you’ll immediately see a comment code:
Running on cargo.site
before any other code component of the webpage. This means that the website runs on a content management service that charges an annual subscription for maintenance costs. In that case, there’s not much work to be done during the website’s online state. In such cases, the website’s template is declared as final. When the template is declared as final, it is meant to serve as the subject’s graphic identity forever or for a long time. Should anything change about it, it will be the content within it.
The website’s typeface is pulled from GoogleFonts archive, on which all fonts are accessible for free.
To help you guess the right answer, I suggest looking at the funding behind the two projects.
Rijksakademie is funded by the Dutch government which allows the institution to afford ongoing determination of their template. If we look at the annual reports in the Open Archive, we can see that their pdf reports imitate the graphic identity of the website. Since 2019, the graphic identity only changed color, which tells us when the current developer in charge was employed. It also tells me that they’ve stored and organized the files carefully, as if knowing that this assignment will take place again next year. From the graphic changes in the annual reports archive, we can tell that the institution went through one ‘new website’ phase since the day it went live.
Antikythera is funded by Berggruen Institute, a think tank based in Los Angeles that financially supports new ideas for a changing world. It is very hard to find an archive with annual reports, unless one types it in manually and ends up on either a 5th Year Anniversary Report or 2021 Annual Report. In terms of graphic identity, the two differ from each other greatly. They both look as if they’ve been crafted on online platforms and exported as pdfs. What I read from this is inconsistency; there’s no designer in charge of the institute’s representation.
From these two examples, we can see how the value of the website is affected by the proximity to the code. The more the web developer understands the logic of the code that they are copying, the more expensive the website is. The more the template splits into other digital containers (pdfs, related event platforms, social media platforms, newsletters) the more expensive. The more closed-source the open-source code is, the more expensive. I can now confidently say that the website of the Rijksacademie is more expensive.