Roger Ebert once said “video games can never be art.” He compared video games to competitive sports, because all these activities involve a winner and a loser. In contrast, Psychology Today blogger David Lundberg Kenrick explored aesthetic philosopher Dennis Dutton’s theory of art and applied it to how people view video games. Dutton says art appreciation is linked to several evolutionary factors including depictions of environmental cues, solving adaptive problems, and expression of sexually selected traits. According to Kenrick, all these evolutionary factors appear in video games. Whether you agree with Ebert or Kenrick, artists inspired by video games are popping up everywhere. The art exhibition Into the Pixel (ITP), co-hosted by the Entertainment Software Association and the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences, explores and celebrates the art of published video and computer game artists. This annual exhibition, juried by a group of interactive entertainment veterans and art professionals, includes no more than 20 pieces and travels around the globe. For the artists, one of the most exciting aspects of Into the Pixel is the positive feedback they receive from the most acclaimed voices in the industry. Lin Ran’s 2010 submission “The Boy Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was,” from Spicy Horse Games, received rave reviews. Louis Marchesano of The Getty said of Ran’s piece, “It’s very playful, very much like the style of Tim Burton … but it didn’t go all the way … the artist really stuck to his own style.” Van Gogh may have given his left ear for a review like this.
Artists not using video games as their artistic medium still find inspiration in playing and viewing video games. A contemporary artist I admire, Brandon Bird, happens to have a painting titled “No One Wants to Play Sega with Harrison Ford.” Seeing Bird’s work featured in a review of the art exhibition i am 8-bit led me to the story of Jon M. Gibson. At age 21, Gibson worked on a pilot for a television show in Los Angeles, where he met many artists. Gibson told Kotaku “these kids were really into games and there was no real showcase for this stuff on a wall.” And so he formed i am 8-bit, which drew a crowd of 1,500 on opening night. The following year, Chronicle Books published an official collection of pieces from the show. The book, like many other pop art treats, sold at Urban Outfitters, Barnes and Nobles, Giant Robot, and other hip stores.
Gamers and art enthusiasts alike celebrate art inspired by video games. Spec10 Gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona, recently hosted a show by contemporary artist James Barnett titled Fauvism: Landscapes and Portraits of Video Games. Burnett considers Team Fortress 2, Half-Life, and Fallout 3 among his muses. However, he takes pride in the fact that non-gamers can appreciate the pieces too. He told the Phoenix New Times about selling a painting of the game Team Fortress 2 as a wedding gift. The buyer asked Burnett to include the following message: “Lisa: please enjoy the painting of the covered bridge. Brad: shhh.” While the gifter jested about the bride’s lack of video game knowledge, the artist reached a wider audience. Acting on a feeling of art appreciation I imagine resembled that of the gifter in Burnett’s story, I recently gifted a piece of video game art to a friend after I came across comic artist Nicholas Gurewitch’s, “Game Boy.” My friend loved it.
Although I would never have the courage to challenge Mr. Ebert to a film critique, I do ask him to reconsider his statement. Video games thrive as art and inspire artists. Do you have a favorite piece of video game art? If so, please share it with the CHEGheads.