Se magnifique!

Art is one of those words that just can’t be defined, or, rather, as a million different definitions.  A visitor to the Art Institute of Chicago, gazing at the “Portrait of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler,” would surely not protest if I called it art.  On the other end of the spectrum, a football fan would heartily agree if I described Barry Sanders an artist.  Scores of outsiders, however, would.  And there is the beauty of art.  Every individual can, and is expected to, describe it for themselves.

I present, for your consideration, the following screenshot from the wildly popular 2010 Game of the Year, Red Dead Redemption.

Are you kidding me?  That’s gorgeous.  Just try and tell me that’s not art.  I WILL FIGHT YOU.  Alright, chance to redeem yourself…try this.

That’s what I thought.  These two games, RDR and the Assassin’s Creed series, have taken my breath away on multiple occasions, as have plenty of others.  The amount of time the designers put into these games is staggering, as are the results.  Can we please show the respect deserved?

Deathly Hallowed

But is it Art?

Take aside any random person on the street. Go ahead, do it; they won’t mind. Ask them a simple question, “Are video games art?” What will their response be? Unless their either a gamer, a techie, or fairly young, most will answer with the same thing: no. After all, how profound can something like Halo or Grand Theft Auto be when compared to Michaelangelo’s David or Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony? It seems obvious that video games are purely entertainment, and hold little more value, artistically or otherwise. While this may be true, our definitions of “art” change drastically over time, whether it’s caused by advancements in technology, philosophy, the natural sciences, or any of a number of reasons. Because of this, it will only be a matter of time until society’s views on video games change and they are seen as a fine art.

This has certainly been the case historically. Painting, for example, has evolved so much, just in the past 600 years, a wink in the eye of time. Up until the Italian Renaissance, paintings were for the most part limited to flat, two-dimensional Madonnas.

Italo-Byzantinischer_Maler_des_13._Jahrhunderts_001.jpgMedieval Mother and Child

However, from that point on, Artists experimented with many new techniques, including linear perspective, as illustrated by Raphael’s Madonna:

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The School of Athens

The evolution of painting did not stop there, though. Impressionism, made famous by Vincent Van Gogh, discarded realism in favor of wide, sweeping, emotional brush strokes. Pablo Picasso’s cubism, which throws reality out the window, borders on absurd. Both movements, like video games, were highly criticized at the time, and yet today they are hailed as some of the greatest works of art known to man.

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Self Portrait - Vincent Van Gogh

Historically, as new forms of media have taken rise, they have not been met with the kindest of welcomes. As feature films grew in popularity, they were seen as a threat to the theatre industry, and hardly qualified as art. Yet today, classics such as The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, The Godfather, and Dr. Strangelove: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb are seen as artful masterpieces. Likewise, many had the same attitudes toward television as it was introduced to the public. However, both fiction and nonfiction pieces alike (Roots, for example) are virtually unanimously agreed upon as works of art. Therefore, it is inevitable that video games will follow this same cycle. Are they works of art today? That’s a stretch, but what about the future? It’s almost certain.

-Matt Thumser