4 comments on “Because the Art of Video Games Left a Whole Lot Off the Canvas

  1. This gets to a deeper problem built into the way most art museums function. There’s this conceit that, because the museum exhibits “art” (a sticky term in its own right), the items on display automatically contain enough aesthetic value so as to stand on their own. Context is believed unnecessary in favor of a dogmatic focus on the art-ism within the frame or atop the pedestal.

    Meanwhile, visitors are expected to know quite a bit about the subject matter before we even step inside. Did you go to the Warhol installation at the Hirshorn last year? I don’t really know much about Andy, and the exhibit didn’t do much for me. If anything, I felt more shame for my ignorance (aided in part by the random guy who was name-dropping NYC neighborhoods and Velvet Revolver albums to establish how hip he was.)

    I wonder what you would get out of the Video Games exhibit if you didn’t recognize that stout, pixelated, mustachioed plumber. By focusing on the aesthetic, we’re missing all the other parts of video games that, working together, make them art: sound effects, music, story development, movement, and yes, graphics.

    And what about the part of video games that makes them fun—interactivity? By controlling the little man and directing him to hop on top of turtles, I necessarily involve myself in the game. We get emotional when we play games. We’ve all done our share of screaming at the television. Playing games can make us angry, triumphant, sad, excited, terrified. And that’s a good thing.

    Isn’t that what art is supposed to do, too? Incite our emotions? Create meaning? Inspire thought? That’s awfully hard to do if you need to accept something as art by its face value. Unless you know enough about it to begin with.

    That’s the tragedy of the Art of Video Games exhibit. A lot of visitors WILL have some background in the subject matter before they show up. A lot of visitors, myself no doubt included, will look at that Mario picture and appreciate its aesthetic value alongside the meaning behind a simple two-dimensional representation. We will respond to the art emotionally and intellectually.

    Then we’ll go to the next gallery, and not get it all over again.

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