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12:29am on Sunday, 1st May, 2005:

But is it Art?


I think I've probably calmed down enough to write a few words about this now...

Last night, there was a talk organised as part of the Command Lines conference that concerned digital and public art. The talk was given by Christiane Paul, who is the Adjunct Curator of New Media Arts at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

What she was saying was quite edgy stuff for the Art establishment, because it pushed at boundaries as to what is high concept and what isn't. To those of us immersed in digital culture, some of what she described was mundane, and other stuff was too much Real Art to be accessible. Some of it was, however, interesting to us. Given that she had a broad audience to talk to, I think this is probably a good hit rate.

Let me summarise the discussion that followed her talk:

Ted Castranova said that a lot of what she described was boring.
She said it was challenging.
Ted said that some of what she described completely misunderstood and patronised the medium of computer games, for example the pitiful AgoraXchange.
She said that computer game design wasn't art.
I laid into her with some ferocity.

I have no problem with her describing what she described in her talk as being art. I even have no problem with her saying AgoraXchange is art, although it would be nice if she understood why it's bad art. Where I do have a problem is in her denial that what I myself do is art. Telling an artist that what they do isn't art is almost guaranteed to annoy them, and it did me.

She's used to being abused by flighty artists, so I suspect what I said was water off a duck's back.

She never did acknowledge that computer game design is art. She didn't see any art in violent first-person shooters, so by extension there was no art in any computer games. It's a shame, but there you have it. I agree that you have to play these games a lot to pick up on the art, but if I can accept that art exists that it would take a course in art appreciation to make sense of, surely she can accept the possibility that there is art in games she hasn't played? Or, come to that, in games she has played but not enough to internalise them? All I wanted was an acknowledgement that it was possible, but it never came.

I suspect it'll be a while before Sid Meier gets an exhibition at the Whitney...

There will be 18 BAFTAs awarded for computer games this year.

Referenced by Cahiers des Jeux.

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Copyright © 2005 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).