Jens Oliver Meiert

The CSS Art Paradox

Post from April 28, 2022, filed under and .

The most sophisticated CSS being applied to the most meaningless, bloated, and unmaintainable HTML; i.e., the best CSS on top of the worst HTML: That is the paradox of CSS art.

Examples abound when you search for “CSS art.” Take one of the many examples on, like the CSS apple—review the CSS in the respective pen but note the “compiled” markup here:

<div class="page">
  <div class="shade"></div>
  <div class="p2822rv"></div>
  <div class="l599e51"></div>
  <div class="ps71z87"></div>
  <div class="t12tali"></div>
  <div class="ceirzn5"></div>
  <div class="o2y113n"></div>
  <div class="x7v5222"></div>
  <div class="zj236i7"></div>
  <div class="light"></div>
  <div class="tgm4e57"></div>
  <div class="tagz83w"></div>
  <div class="skvdej8"></div>
  <div class="green"></div>
  <div class="bx1kjk8"></div>
  <div class="il43qyi"></div>
  <div class="lyrzy76"></div>
  <div class="pl22445"></div>
  <div class="spot"></div>
  <div class="el6n2ea"></div>
  <div class="stmvru9"></div>
  <div class="l3io43b"></div>
  <div class="f7yb6z1"></div>
  <div class="pid71b1"></div>
  <div class="xz8v76a"></div>
  <div class="e225745"></div>
  <div class="saltd54"></div>
  <div class="d647a82"></div>
  <div class="zv75fuq"></div>
  <div class="d43148u"></div>
  <div class="df137vj"></div>
  <div class="f658w41"></div>
  <div class="qh52b36"></div>
  <div class="y29do7c"></div>
  <div class="vlvi791"></div>
  <div class="eg711ml"></div>
  <div class="r9p89ys"></div>
  <div class="a2ktzjo"></div>
  <div class="n4y74ix"></div>
  <div class="lh6o94s"></div>
  <div class="bottom-shadow"></div>
  <div class="bottom-shadow2"></div>
  <div class="leaf"></div>
  <div class="leaf-shadow"></div>
  <div class="leaf-highlight"></div>
  <div class="j86g1kn"></div>
  <div class="ucfi66b"></div>
  <div class="k9w65sk"></div>
  <div class="stem"></div>
  <div class="rs6451i"></div>
  <div class="i2r51mh"></div>

It may sound harsh, but markup like this is meaningless junk.

(This is not geared towards the artist—their work is respected and appreciated, as their focus has been on the CSS. This example serves to illustrate the HTML downside.)

You can rightly marvel at the CSS that CSS artists write; but shudder when it comes to the markup it’s usually based on.

That is the paradox of CSS art.

Are there exceptions? Yes! Single-element artworks are usually an exception. Their small HTML footprint is defensible even if these art pieces have no content (some single-element art is even accessible). Lynn Fisher’s A Single Div offers a great collection of single-element artworks. If you want an example from myself, I submit The World’s Highest Website, a 2006 CSS experiment based entirely on the premise of a single element.

Then, does good CSS art require good HTML? Similar to how a great artwork may need a quality canvas or frame? That’s a great question! Let’s discuss it on Twitter.

Tweet this? (If it changed your life, you delight me with a coffee.)

About Me

Jens Oliver Meiert, on April 29, 2020.

I’m Jens Oliver Meiert, and I’m an engineering manager and author. I’ve worked as a technical lead for Google, I’m close to the W3C and the WHATWG, and I write and review books for O’Reilly. Other than that, I love trying things, sometimes including philosophy, art, and adventure. Here on I share some of my views and experiences.

If you have questions or suggestions about what I write, please leave a comment (if available) or a message.

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