Yes, it is art


Game art

There’s been a long-brewing debate in recent years about whether video games fit the definition.

Many critics of artistic expression including film, music, TV and such are, for the most part, against the notion of video games as art. Their reasons vary. Most say games don’t qualify because it’s an interactive medium.

Others don’t really give an explanation. They just say games ain’t art.

My beloved, late Roger Ebert certainly didn’t think it was art either.

Many of the naysayers are quick to point out that they don’t play games often, if at all. That, I believe, is the root of their denial. I don’t think it’s fair though. If they’re going on gut reaction rather than some detailed, thought-out thesis, then I fail to see how they can declare video games art or not.

New forms of art are always dismissed when it appears on the horizon. TV was once called a “vast wasteland.” Film too was not considered art at first. Nobody doubts their art status now.

I would venture to say that if some played video games over a long period of time, not just a few days or months even, but for years, they might change their mind. If they played a shoot ‘em up or a role-playing game and that’s all they base their decision on, then I could see how they feel video games are not art.

But if the only movie you ever watched was Gigli or Grandma’s Boy could you be blamed for saying film isn’t art?

I’ve been playing video games since Super Mario Brothers (yes, the 8-bit version). For the longest time I felt video games were certainly not on the same level as any other art. But as time wore on and games improved with better graphics, better story lines and better audio, I changed. The first time I played Limbo, all I could think of was that its universe was just breathtaking. How anyone could play that game and not call it art is beyond me.

One of the things I notice about those who argue against video games as art is their methodology. Many times they negate it as art because of some aspect that games have, such as keeping score, which critics claim art should not include. I’ve read from one critic who said if video games are an art so is basketball, which would make Michael Jordan an artist. (That argument is ridiculous of course because critics themselves judge art. Hell, and give numerical scores for movies, TV, music and video games.)

So they point to an existing facet of video games to disqualify them. They do not, however, discount video games for anything that it lacks. This is interesting.

Like opera or film, video games contain many important elements to what is considered art: visuals, music, spoken word, text and more. How can mediums that encompass all forms of art not itself be art? If that were the case then museums are not art despite their architecture.

As some proponents of video games have pointed out, maybe it’s a waste of time to define what art is. If people can read great works like Ulysses, look at great paintings by Picasso and listen to classical music and THEN disagree as to whether they’re good or not, then I don’t see how you can proclaim any iron-clad definition of what art is.

Maybe instead of asking what art is, we should ask, “What is the purpose of art?” Why does anyone spend days creating a painting? Why does anyone spend hours walking through a museum to look at them? Why does anyone compose and produce opera? Why does anyone watch opera?

Once we can pinpoint the inspiration for creating and appreciating art, maybe then can we define it.

To me, that will never happen because people will always disagree. Views change over time. Delineating art status to me is no different than language, which also morphs. If the rules of commas, capitalization and language structures shift with the times, so then does art.

My personal favorite response to the question “what is art?”

Jack Donaghy.

“It’s paintings of horses!”




One of the biggest inspirations in my life is James Joyce and his landmark work Ulysses.

The book is about how language can be warped and changed by our drifting thoughts. It is the quintessential “stream of consciousness” work that touched off an entire genre of similar works by writers including Virginia Woolf and William Faulkner.

At the time it was revolutionary. Not just because it was a different style of writing but also because it broke the bonds of literary convention. It toyed with the art of narrative by freeing itself of simple things like punctuation, paragraph formatting and much more. It has several languages in it and even some music. There had never been a literary work like it, at least not until Finnegan’s Wake.

So much about the world has changed since the incarnation of Ulysses. Music, painting and art in general seems took off in directions thought unimaginable. I have a deep respect for Joyce because he was the first artist to stand up and tell the world that they are free to create art as they want to. He told artists they didn’t have to conform to centuries old dogma about aesthetics. Music doesn’t have to be an orchestra. Painting doesn’t have to be realistic. Sculpture doesn’t have to be lifelike.

So is it any wonder that not long after Ulysses was published, jazz music took off? Is it not strange that a young Spanish artist named Picasso took hold of the art world for 50 years?

As any type of artist can tell you, one of the happiest feelings in the world is when you create something spawned from a free mind. That did happen to me once when I was in college. I was in an art class and painting with oils. I always had an image in my mind that I wanted to transpose to a canvas but I would invariably adulterate it once it was painted, often times smearing the paint to tame the stark, broad brush strokes.

Then one day I was working on a painting that was simply a man working in a cotton field. I brushed him in a very 2-D fashion but when it came to the field, I wanted something with high contrast, extreme texture. I didn’t want to screw it up. So I tried something different. I told myself that I didn’t care how it would turn out, I would simply let go. If the painting turned out to be a mess, so what? I vowed to do what came naturally with the brush.

It turned out well. Very well actually. The rest of the class loved it and how the man in the center of the painting contrasted with the thick texture of the cotton field. More than anything though, I loved the painting because I made it free. It was a feeling that I wanted to accomplish almost more than the actual work.

I’ve never been able to do that on the keyboard though. I’m not much of an artist but I love that painting for what it represents. I desperately want to do that with my writing but it hasn’t happened yet.

I want to make my Ulysses.

Joyce shifted the world of art in ways that most could never imagine. Simply put, without him, there might have been no Elvis, no Beatles, no Jackson Pollock, no Hemingway, no Faulkner, no Orwell, no Plath, no Miles Davis, no jazz, no freedom. Joyce forged the path many refused and subsequently opened the doors for all that chose to be different. Maybe some of those things would have come along without him, but not as soon or in the manner that it did.

Anyone who enjoys rock music, wildly off-beat literature, and avante-guarde art owes Joyce thanks. Yet, sadly know one knows who he is and too many in this world deny his genius because they can’t understand his syntax. Woolf, who worked with Joyce’s stream-of-consciousness, dismissed Ulysses as silly. Yet, most literary scholars now consider it the greatest work of the 20th Century.

As for me, I hope some day that I can achieve that freedom in writing, regardless of what anyone thinks of it. Even if it is a literary mess, I hope it can reach some level of artistic freedom.

There really is no other feeling like it in the world.