Noise on the Line:Emerging Issues in Telecommunications Based Art

by Stephen Wilson, Art Department, San Francisco State University


The author explains that telecommunications based art breaks new ground by using the technology to create totally new contexts for art. He identifies a series of issues that must be addressed in order to make this form of art work stronger: clarity about the conceptual rationales for focusing on telecommunications, attention to the sensual format in which information appears, the need for editing and craftsmanship and consideration of the appropriateness of local versus global works in some situations. The article then introduces artitistic opportunities for working with related technologies that are converging with telecommunications: artificially intelligent agents, groupware, telepresence, and virtual worlds.

Note this article originally appeared in the Journal Leonardo Vol 24:no.2 (The 1991 special issue on Telecommunications edited by Roy Ascott and Carl Loeffler.) Leonardo is published by  MIT Press.


Much computer art fails to address the radical cultural changes being brought forth by the new technologies. Frequently, it is merely an attempt to use new toys to create images, sounds and objects that do not fundamentally differ from those created by artists previously. At its best, telecommunications based art tries to do something much more profound. It uses the new technolgies themselves to address the cultural changes being provoked by the technologies. For example, it comments on the new possibilities made possible or it extends the technology in directions that are likely to be ignored by commercial interests

In attempting to invent new art forms and contexts appropriate for this radical critique and extention, telecom art takes risks because the art created and the issues focused on vary from those historically validated by traditional art institutions and critical communities. This willingness to forge new art contexts and approaches is a provocative prototype for other artists searching for powerful ways to work with culture changing technologies.

For the last several years I have been creating telecommunications based art. (See the article "Interactive Art and Cultural Change", Leonardo 23, No 2).  Like others working in the field, I am excited by the potentiality of this technology. It can radically alter our sense of the world and our connections with each other. It is an area of cultural foment that cries out for artistic reflection.

Through my work and that of others, I have become aware,however, of certain emerging issues that keep this art from being as strong as it might be .. For a while, anything goes in an area of new artistic experimentation. Eventually, however, hard questions must be asked about artistic purposes and effectiveness. Below are some of the issues I see in current telecommunications based art.

Telecom art will grow increasingly important as the world becomes more interdepedent and everyday life comes to depend even more on telecommunications technology. Artists can help to explore the frontiers of this technology and its implications. To be effective in reflecting on these trends and in demonstrating new roles for artists, the art produced must be as strong and conceptually focused as possible.

- This page created by Stephen Wilson, Professor Conceptual Design, SFSU (
- More information about the Conceptual Design program is available at (
- It is a resource used in Art511 Art&Telecommunications course (
- A comprehensive guide to Web design is available in the book World Wide Web Design Guide (Hayden Books) by Stephen Wilson
- The url of this page is (