Wow, look at that title! It would seem to be clear that I’m going to step to the side a bit for these next few posts, as this has been knawning at me for a while now: i have finally been convinced that video games can be art, and the game that did this was Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
I wanted to put down here in some form of print as to how i came about that decision. Indeed, how do i myself even classify art? Its something that i’ve spent a great deal of time thinking on, and even defending, but never solidifying for myself as to what defines a piece of art for me. I’m sure this is a huge can of worms to open up but, i’m gonna do that here.
I’m not very well versed in video games. Sure i’ve played them regularly since my Ma bought me my Sega Genesis for my 5th or 6th birthday (thanks ma!), but their inner workings are lost to me. I know very little of game design, as my education is in cinema. So i’m very hesitant to declare something as art when i don’t really know the inner workings of the medium, or enough of its history to make an informed argument.
I can’t quite nail down the first time i heard the “video games are art” argument. But what i can say for certain is that i dismissed it when i first heard it, whenever i read a thread or article/column that brought the subject up, it always brought up 2 points of classification that i always thought were rubbish:
A: Escapism (how video games provided this, and how that is necessary in being human)
B: That if the medium could evoke emotion it was art (aka if it makes you cry then art it is)
Granted i haven’t read every single article on the “Video Games are Art” argument (nor will i, i’m already convinced) and i’m sure there are more insightful views to be found. However these points are awful, garbage arguments to hang the classification of art of a medium on.
Escapism isn’t art. escapism can be art sure, just like anything can be. But people don’t need it to be fulfilled in their lives, its not a fundamental need in a well-adjusted person. As i can find out just as much, and indeed more about myself and my humanity in doing good old day of hard work. I don’t need Skyrim to be able to cope with the problems in my life, if it was suddenly inaccessible along with every other of my video games and movies i wouldn’t be less of a person.
Neither does art just make me cry. This argument infuriates me the most, as it’s so narrow-minded, so juvenile, and so constricting to a subject that doesn’t really have limits. Something that makes me cry isn’t automatically a form of art. Guernica or the Vitruvian Man don’t make me cry, they are still a pieces of art. Fernando Pessoa’s poems in A Little Larger than the Entire Universe don’t make me cry, it is still filled with art. The photographs of Man Ray and Ansel Adams don’t make me cry, but they are still art. People need to stop bringing up this one point as an argument; good drama will bring a tear to my eye, but good drama isn’t art unto itself.
Roger Ebert, rather infamously pointed out his quantifiers for art, or at least why he could never see how a video game could be. In this article, he argues against the points made by Kellee Santiago, as she tries to come up with universal rules and examples in defense of games. Honestly i think her arguments are garbage as well. She tries to box what art is into clearly defined rules, how art is art because this, this, and that.
Why? Why, try to box something as universal and powerful as art in its myriad of forms into one hard definition? Ebert’s article has him essentially failing to do the same, bringing up Plato’s definition but acknowledging how there are exceptions to everything. I really wanted to side with Ebert on this one, since Ms. Santiago fails so miserably in trying to convince me (someone who is quite receptive to the idea that anything can be art mind you) what art is.
But i couldn’t, i still can’t. The definitions laid out by Ebert and others don’t satisfy me. They don’t make me agree that the works of Beethoven, Picasso, and Pablo Naruda can all be defined in the same way that you can define “Flabbergasted” or “Onomatopoeia” in a dictionary. In my opinion if you could use a set of rules to define art universally you would then be able to convince me Free Jazz is art, or how that one person who was selling prints of photos he took of Ansel Adam’s galleries and claimed that his photos were art themselves (can’t find a link, but trust me it happened). You wouldn’t be able to convince me of either if you held a gun to my head. I can accept that they are art for some, but to me the former is just irritating chaotic noise (yes i know there are patterns in there, but i don’t give a shit) and the latter is just a mendacity.
So what are my views on art? What is my definition or set of quantifiers? What makes something art for me? Well to me, art isn’t just a point of view, it should offer insight. Art shouldn’t just evoke emotion, it should also evoke thought and contemplation. These two things are present in anything i can consider a piece of art. These two points are the way art enriches me when i experience it. It tells me about who the person who made it is/was and ultimately helps tell me who i am. If a piece of media doesn’t do these things for me, i cannot personally consider it a work of art.
These are my quantifiers, i’m not going to try to put them in a nice neat definition as art and it’s appreciation is perhaps the most subjective of works people can experience and debate. Someone reading this may think i’m dead wrong, and that’s fair. Many people who are much smarter than i am have tackled this subject, and have come up with their own definitions (who am i to argue with Plato?). But, i can’t pull myself away to do so, i feel if i do that i lose what the very nature of art is to me, and i don’t bother to be very objective in anything i write anyway.
To be more serious on the chance someone may disagree though, i would offer an alternative definition for a lack of better term:
Think about one great piece of what you consider art, it can be a dance, painting, poem, graffiti, music, a chair, a table, a fireworks show, anything, and consider it for yourself. Don’t use what other people have told you art is via definitions and their own subject authority, but think about how it makes you feel, or how it makes you think, why it’s so endlessly fascinating, and perhaps even beautiful. That’s the feeling i’m trying to describe in mere words, and that is what art is to me.