How art will be categorized 20 years from now

by phil on Tuesday Mar 27, 2007 11:47 PM

I just saw a screening for the documentary 8 Bit. It's about video games, and how there is a subculture repurposing old video game equipment and turning it into art.

The filmmakers fielded questions afterwards, and there seems to be this nagging issue: is this just a fad? i.e. Are we just excited that it's a video game? They wanted to say no, but they'd eek out the famous McLuhan quote, "The medium is the message," as a consolation.

I think that art created in the medium of a video game will always be about the medium more so than about the stories it tells within that medium. Video games are the perfect artform for "medium is the message" art because almost every video game is an entirely new medium. The only exceptions are straight expansion packs or sequels. Think of every new game as a brand new instrument that teaches you how to play itself.

The filmmakers mentioned that there's a confusion in the art community as to whether to categorize 8-bit art as post-modern or modern. The filmmakers' stance is that it's neither. So what is it? I'd say that the mid-20th century will be a boundary point between pre-McLuhan and post-McLuhan art. (or pre-Medium or post-Medium, or pre-Meta, or post-Meta, whatever). Around mid-century is when Jackson Pollock became famous. When his work was coming out, everybody kept talking about how his art was about the paints and the materials themselves. I think art going forward will be about the inputs themselves. Almost everything I see in "modern museums" now are totally concept pieces, where you think about the process that made it, or the genre that that is supposed to be. Nobody paints in genres anymore, people create their own genre everytime they hit the canvas (or the keyboard, or whatever). It's too multimedia now, and the genres are too diverse. But I think that's the message, every artistic act is unique in ways that they weren't before the 20th Century.

You see these funny pieces in museums nowadays. For example, there's a painting in a museum in Pittsburgh that's just a blue grid on canvas. You read the description, and it says that this artist has been painting for years to try to find the perfect grid. If you don't read that, you think to yourself, "what the hell, that's not art!" But clearly it is, on some level, and then you realize it's only art when you imagine the artist, and think about what's going on their head. Then you realize that "hey, if this artist spent decades drawing grids... this grid must be some definition of perfection."

The implication is that maybe we should judge Meta art by the standards by which we judge performance art. You include the artist's process in what you evaluate.

The best piece I saw during the screening of 8-bit was Treewave's performance of a racing game where each lane was a different chord. The thing is, he had to play the game in order to unlock the music. And if he lost the game, the song would end. And so he played the game in front of us, played a perfect game. And it was a wonderful performance. The music sounded alright, but the beauty was in the act.

Creative Commons License