December 01, 2005


To kick off the new month let's have a big old internet brawl!

The basic question is: What is art? This came up when, in a recent column, Roger Ebert said that games are "inherently inferior" to film and that the nature of the medium keeps it from being "true art". This, of course, sent the internet nerds of the handle, though it really doesn't take much. Still, since nearly every nerd was arguing that games were an artform, I felt it was far more interesting to talk about whether there are any examples of "good" art in the medium. Do video games have a Hamlet yet? A Godfather? A Sargent Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band? If so, what aspects make a game trancend to that level? If not, why not?

So I tried to convey my dismay to Drew about how rediculous it was for a couple dozen nerds to carry on a, at last count, 16 (!) page conversation where they all basically agree that games are art instead of tackling what I saw as the much more important question for the medium, but we ended up talking about the definition of art, among many other tangents, instead.

So again, I ask you, what is art and, probably more importantly, what isn't art?


Unknown said...

I think art is in the eye of the beholder. I think the concept is so broad as to make conversations like this totally unworkable.

The best way to evaluate Ebert's statement is to flesh out the ways video games are similar to and different from films and literature. The question of whether or not video games are art doesn't really get you anywhere.

Noumena said...

I'd have to agree with drew to an extent -- the concept seems way too broad for me to just come up with even a good moderately useful definition without anything to draw on.

It seems Ebert doesn't give a definition, just says that video games cannot be art because a certain amount of control over the experience is in the hands of the viewer, not the author. If this is an accurate gloss, then it's a monumentally stupid criterion, as interactive installations have been in highly respectable museums (including a couple that I went to in Chicago) for decades now.

Further, the distinction Ebert makes between 'mere craftsmanship' and 'fine art' has been challenged for even longer; Roy Liechstenstein (sp) and the Pop Art movement were serious critics of the elitism that declares this to be the work of an artist and that to be the work of an artisan. Ebert's perfunctory dismissal of video games becomes a perfunctory dismissal of one of the major aspects of art in the twentieth century.

MosBen said...

If people are universally convinced that art as a concept is sufficiently broad that just about anything can be included in it, feel free to move the discussion on to thinking about video games as art, where its Hamlets are or what they will look like if they don't exist yet.

Of course, if someone still wants to take issue with the broad definition of art they are certainly welcome to.

Unknown said...

So where are it's Hamlets? It's an intriguing question. But what exactly do we mean? Do we mean "What are the video games that have been most influential and enduring in the annals of video games, as Hamlet is to literature?" That's not a hard question. Pong, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Super Mario Brothers, The Legend of Zelda, etc.

Or do we mean "What are the video games that have had the same cultural impact as Hamlet?" There are none. Perhaps there will be one day (and perhaps one or more of the games mentioned above will one day achieve that level), but there aren't any right now. That is not so much to criticize video games as it is to point out just how much cultural force the greatest works in other artistic endeavors have had.

I think Ebert probably meant something more along the lines of the second question, but from everything I've seen of the actual comments, it is ambiguous on this point.

Jenna said...

I agree with Drew that it is in the eye of the beholder. I could shit on a canvas and call it art, and you could say that it is foul and repulsive and certainly not in way shape or form art. Different forms of art appeal to different people and I don't know if you can really define it in any way. I would say yes it is art, just a different form.

Geronimo said...

I think it is pretty much a given that the term "art" is completely subjective. Never mind that film often receives the criticism that books are inherently better than their film counterparts (I can only think of one example where the movie was better than the book, Forrest Gump. The movie was excellent, in my opinion, but the book was a steaming pile of ox dung.)

Comparing "art" across the board, or saying that one form of art is inherenty superior to another form of art is comparing apples and oranges. Yes, we label apples and oranges fruit, but they are inherently different fruit.

As for videogames being art, I think recently there are games that have reached a pinnacle where they can seriously affect the person enjoying them, like good art should.

Recent games like Shadow of the Collossus and Katamari Damacy (for the Playstation 2) I would definitely classify as art, the first one for it's visual and musical style, as well as the context in which the game is played; and the second one because of it's quirky, 60's style.

Some older games like Fallout 1 & 2, and Planescape: Torment are considered art because of their amazing storytelling. Just this morning I was relating to my wife some of the storyline of Torment, a game I have not played in five years, simply because it affected me so deeply.