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by on Sep.16, 2011, under Art

The debate on whether video games should be considered art is long running and controversial.  The debate has been a hot topic with parents and movie critics and now, even the supreme court.  Notably, the supreme court has decided quicker than the others; perhaps we should have simply asked them in the first place.

The most infamous discussion on the topic would be Ebert’s April 2010 blog post, Video Games Can Never Be Art, where he states that games are games and are not, in any sense, art.  Ebert retracted his statement a few months later with his post Ok Kids, Come Play on My Lawn; where he essentially threw up his arms and admitted that he just doesn’t get it.

Ebert’s issue against video games as art demonstrate his narrow view on what art is and what art can be.  First of all, he references statements from Kellee Santiago, who likens video games to being closer to chicken scratches and cave paintings rather than resembling the Sistine Chapel, a reference to their perceived lack of creative complexity.  Disregarding the fact that every art history survey course begins with cave paintings, who is anyone today to judge the true complexity of an art piece when we have the gift of hindsight?  Those charcoal and berry paintings in a dank cave in France may have taken months to conceive:  from gathering materials, conceptualizing the story and imagery, not to mention the very idea to do it in the first place.  I find Mondrian’s grid paintings to be boring as hell, and as far as I’m concerned Pollack just splattered a ton of paint on things.  However, I’m viewing them from present day, and fully acknowledge that these pieces were revolutionary during their time and paved the way for abstract imagery in art.

What if we created a museum that exhibited art not based on theme or time period but on complexity.  Moreover, arrangements aren’t based on actual complexity but perceived complexity.  That would ruffle some feathers.  Not only would an artist be offended if he spent weeks, months, or even years bringing a piece of art to life that ended up in the ‘so-easy-I-could-paint-this-in-my-sleep-and-I-don’t-even-know-the-color-wheel’ gallery but museum patrons would inherently bring their subjective experiences and inevitably disagree with the curator’s classifications.  Sometimes an artist is just so talented that they can create something seemingly impossibly complex with very little effort, while other artists slave over their craft and only after much hardship does something so simple yet beautiful come to life.  Are they both not artists?

Games also have a complexity to them that is not apparent to people today.  Those 8-bit, pixellated caricatures of the 1970s and 1980s got their start with soldered wires and circuitry; far more complicated than what we can do with the developer kits and high-end software programs we use to make games today.  However, to the untrained mind, it looks simple.  Anybody could replicate Pong or Space Invaders today with PhotoShop and Flash.  The product of which couldn’t compare to the output of fancy modelling software that the big game development companies have.

Point is, complexity isn’t the definitive quality of art anymore than a requirement that art be a 2-dimensional, roughly squarish object that you hang on your wall and stare at (mirrors aside – now that’s a beauty).  With the advent of the internet and the rise of Net Art, art doesn’t even have to physically exist.  It just is.  At its basic level, it is merely 1s and 0s.  It can be interactive because the technology now exists to make it so.   Peruse to see how far art has come from those square-thing-on-the-wall days.

The argument that games aren’t art because they are interactive is counter intuitive.  First of all, when you view those square wall objects, you are still interacting with it.  You are judging it, examining its texture, wondering how it was made, pondering what the artist meant.  We are always trying to discern what the artist is trying to tell us.  Our conclusion may be far different from the artist’s intent; they may not have even had a concrete point.  Art Museums even have interactive exhibits; places where you not only can touch the artwork but places where you can help create and be a part of the artwork.  Interactive installations actually involve the viewer as a part of the art piece.   Not only can viewers walk into the exhibit but frequently, they are a necessary element of the art.

Games are entirely capable of appealing to our emotions.  Who wasn’t sad when Aerith died in FFVII?  Who wasn’t awestruck by the environments in God of War III?  Who didn’t feel utter catharsis by blindly killing all townsfolk in Baldur’s Gate before the Flaming Fist stepped in (oh the days of save files – how I miss thee).  Games can imitate life as it is, such as human interactions in The Sims, or it can exaggerate it and make it larger than life , like shoulder pads in WoW.  Similarly in traditional art, it can represent life as is (John Audubon’s wildlife paintings) or make it more grandiose (Albert Bierstadt’s paintings of just about anything).

The only knock games have against them is that they were coined as child’s play, and adults are loath to accept that objects of childlike fancy can be taken seriously and address topics relating to real life.   Even the title of Ebert’s retraction post signifies that he sees the matter as an adults vs kids issue.  Scores of parents groups try to ban ‘violent’ games because they see the medium as entertainment for children even though the average age of the modern video gamer is 37 years old.

Thankfully, the supreme court ruling saw through the fire and brimstone claims and announced that video games deserve the same protection as other forms of media and the violence inherent within them are just as present in fairy tales, like Hansel and Gretel, and ancient epic poems like The Odyssey.

More and more, video games are being accepted as a serious medium.  International peer-reviewed journals exist on the topic.  Net artists are using existing game and creating new ones for the sole purpose of their art practice.  Even the Smithsonian is getting in on the action and is planning an exhibition called “The Art of Video Games” in 2012.      I’m game, are you?


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Google’s Calder Doodle

by on Jul.22, 2011, under Art

Google has once again pushed the envelope with an interactive Google Doodle commemorating the American sculptor Alexander Calder.  To Google doodle reacts to mouse clicks and drags, but that’s not all.  If you have an accelerator equipped device, you can influence the digital mobile but just moving your laptop.  Major kudos to Google to celebrating art in this highly visible way while also demonstrating the power of HTML5.




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Musical Googles

by on Jun.10, 2011, under Art

The Google homepage today featured a sweet audio logo celebrating the electric guitar pioneer Les Paul.  In addition to spelling out ‘Google’ you could drag your mouse across it and actually play guitar sounding music.  Moreover, google allowed you to record your riff and save it!

My song.

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Adobe Museum of Digital Media

by on Feb.10, 2011, under Art

I received in my inbox today, a Rhizome editorial about the Adobe Museum of Digital Media.  Since the editorial was presented first, I read it, completely unwittingly ignoring my training by essentially reading the placard before examining the work.  Naturally, after reading the article, I had a skewed view on the website, museum, whatever…what it represents and what its value is.   Afterwards, I clicked around a bit; I looked at the current exhibit, then took a ‘tour’ of the building, before finally listening to the curators message.

I have issues with it, yes, but I don’t think it’s all that bad.

First of all, I’m very much intrigued by the idea of artists creating work especially for the museum.  One of my favorite exhibits at the Denver Art Museum was  when several artists created works inspired by the museum’s new wing, even painting on the walls themselves.  For me, art is about a reaction, whether that’s a viewer’s reaction to the art or the artists reaction to something that inspires them.  I love the idea of art museums encouraging the creation of art as much as the collection and connections of existing works.

However, I was turned off by the coldness of the museum.  It may be an artifact of the ‘uncanny valley’ that the first exhibit is based off of, but I’ve always had a problem with digital art being inherently unhuman.  When creating digital works, we have a tendency to separate it from humanity.  We forcefully emphasize the computerness.  The presentation of this museum is no exception.  The virtual tour of the ‘building’ is overly futuristic and cold.  The curator’s video has tv scan lines and keeps blinking in and out of existence like an electronic connection that just can’t stay connected.  The tour guide appears to be an eyeball squid creature with the computerized voice of Isabella Rossellini.  Is it impossible to make digital art seem approachable and human?  Wouldn’t a more interesting artwork about the uncanny valley be one that manages to eliminate it?

Finally, since this museum is only online, it’s intentionally excluding any digital works that cannot be accessed through a computer with a live internet connection.  Digital art can be sculptural and physical as well but this exhibit places sole emphasis on intangible digital works created for the screen.  It would prohibit any tangible work, any work that required non-access to the internet, and any work that requires a physical space to be experienced.

The museum, website, whatever, is interesting.  However, in its current state, I see it more as a digital work in itself rather than a place that conserves and furthers the field of digital art.

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Musical Data

by on Feb.02, 2011, under Art features a musical rendition of the New York City subway map.   It may not show you which train you need to board but it provides a unique view (sound?) of the data.  As you load the page, the system begins by drawing any trains that left a minute before you arrive.  It then progresses rapidly through a 24 hour cycle, drawing new train lines and playing a note whenever lines cross.  The viewer is free to collaborate with the system music by clicking and dragging through existing lines to play additional notes.  The sound each line makes varies, depending on the length of the line.

It’s similar to the laser harp, only more digital and dynamic.

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