Jens Oliver Meiert

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The CSS Art Paradox

Post from April 28, 2022 (↻ July 4, 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.

A 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.

About Me

Jens Oliver Meiert, on September 30, 2021.

I’m Jens, and I’m an engineering lead—currently manager for Developer Experience at LivePerson—and author. I’ve worked as a technical lead for Google, I’m close to W3C and WHATWG, and I write and review books for O’Reilly. I love trying things, sometimes including philosophy, art, and adventure. Here on I share some of my views and experiences.

If you have a question or suggestion about what I write, please leave a comment (if available) or a message. Thank you!

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