If we consider Internet art to be a distinct category of art making that uses the Internet as its primary medium or platform, we necessarily distinguish it from other forms in which the Internet does not play a primary role. The objects of Internet art are necessarily immaterial, and it is this immaterial quality that makes them so notoriously difficult to exhibit and archive. For some artists this has led to a kind of hybridization of Internet aesthetics and real world objects, such that they might be purchased or viewed in a real-world setting such as a museum or gallery space. For others it becomes a matter of the careful curation of digital images and documentation in an effort to brand oneself and build cultural capital where there is little possibility for financial compensation. After all, how do you monetize an object whose natural setting is a networked space that encourages many-to-many distribution practices? How do you sell a website, a .jpeg? These are responses to a crisis in image making and distribution in which older curatorial models that rely on the limitations of physical space and the exchange of physical objects are increasingly undermined by distanced, virtual, and distributed viewership online.
For art collective JOGGING - artists Brad Troemel and Lauren Christiansen - this crisis is not limited to Internet art, but has instead become the normative condition under which art is produced and viewed today.
Watermarking or tagging images that appear online is a common security measure meant to prevent the circulation of a particular image without attribution. The ease with which images may be copied, dragged, screengrabbed, or otherwise extracted from their original context and distributed through platforms such as Tumblr means that those interested in selling images or otherwise controlling their distribution often rely on digital watermarking as a blunt proprietary tool.
Digital watermarking can be accomplished in a variety of ways, but is most commonly a name or phrase placed over the image itself, thereby disrupting its visual continuity and making it undesirable to copy. The most recognizable watermarks are those of stock photo agencies such as Getty Images, and many artists, such as Guthrie Lonergan, Kevin Bewersdorf, and Aleksandra Domanovic, have used Getty photos as a means of reflecting on issues of copyright as they apply to affect and art making.
That said, the practice is hardly limited to artists and large corporations, and has become particularly prevalent on eBay for users selling "authentic" or "vintage" photos and prints. The simultaneous need to display the image for the buyer but prevent the buyer from simply copying the file itself makes watermarking a widely agreed upon convention. How this marking is accomplished varies widely, and in some ways produces a kind of self-reflexive visual poetry, one primarily concerned with questions of authenticity and attribution.