Artistic Merit is Irrelevant

| Wednesday, October 10, 2012
I wandered across another "games are not art" article.  My first reaction was to argue that they are, or some are, or some are and some aren't.  But then I thought of a more fundamental question: "Who cares?"

Who cares if they think it is art?  I'm not a fan of people who act as if they are an authority on what is and is not art.  Sadly, the law does not contain exceptions for "people who think they are authorities on the definition of art", so I am not allowed to punch them, and my punches wouldn't be all that authoritative anyway.  But my point stands: "Who are you that anyone should care what you think?"

Alternatively, who cares if it is art?  Let us assume that art is some objectively defined thing, or something on which we can and do have a universally agreed-upon subjective opinion.  Even then, should we care if games are or are not art?  If they are, does that make them any better?  I see no reason why "art" should be better than "non-art".  They serve different purposes and should do those well.  My laptop, while designed for some sort of visual appeal, isn't something I'd call art, but despite being not-art, it is still extremely useful and far more valuable to me than any art.  On the other hand, if you gave me the Mona Lisa, it would have little value, except that I'm sure it would resell for more than I am likely to earn in quite a few years.

In either context, the declaration that games are not art is as irrelevant, as meaningless, as the declaration that games are not gazlookic.


Michael said...

Just looking at visual art, paintings and such, there are items that I find unpleasant that are called art, items that I find very pleasant and enjoyable that are called not art, and even items considered art that I greatly enjoy, but that the art community disdains as bad.

What people call art and what I find aesthetically enjoyable does not overlap very well. Not for me, and I believe not for most people. Mass appeal is seen as a pejorative in the art community, with many trying to outdo each other in being edgy and shocking.

I worry about it because art is important, it's what gives society its texture. Culture is a part of a society's greatness. I view it as a very badly distorted market, caused by too much free money given for doing things, instead of for doing desired things.

I'd advocate for letting artists make a living based on how many people are willing to pay how much to own an item they create. Then artists will want to make things for the greater enjoyment of society. There will be niche markets, of course, but perhaps art as a whole will cease to be a niche itself. Art can be for everyone, not just for the cool kids who have learned how to 'appreciate' art they don't actually enjoy.

Doone said...

I think art shows us that there's very little objectivity to reality. Whenever we say something is an "art", usually people just mean that it's open to interpretation, subjective, containing no scientific value. You get the picture.

So why should we care if someone thinks games are art ...I kinda agree with your sentiment, yet I think there's something important there :) The same thing that caused you to want to respond in the first place. There's something suggested by calling games art and something suggested by saying they aren't. In the latter, it's like saying there's a right and a wrong way to make a game, and it's a way to say that some media *aren't* games. It's a slam on gaming as a medium either way, and its offensive to anyone who enjoys it.

I think alot of things in life are an art but most are probably a fair mix of art and science (I can't think of a better term atm). Not sure what happened to us humans, but somewhere along the line it became direly important to rigidly define everything and place it in a nice box, the bounds of which define truth and reality. But art is scary because it shows us that there's a lot of subjectivity in our truth. I've played games that could only be described as a work of art due to what it achieved (Sword & Sorcery) and others which are pure rationality (SpaceChem) and others which are a great balance of both (Fate of the World).

Klepsacovic said...

@Michael: You've gotten to a problem in art: much of it is not purchased to be art, but to be conspicuous consumption. For that, artistic value and cultural value are secondary to cost.

@Doone: We like categories because if properly constructed, they can assist in communication. And they make it easier to think. We'd be incapable of functioning if we couldn't categorize and generalize; our brains do it naturally just to have some control over the information from our senses.

Of course then something goes into a different category than we want it to and then we have to argue endlessly. The cultural notions of color are fascinating, such as red vs. pink or green vs. blue; where does one start and are they even truly distinct?

Doone said...

DONT YOU DARE ATTACK MY BELOVED GREEN! Green is clearly, clearly very distinct from blue and very awesome to boot.

But srsly, you're right about the categories. I just think there's some kind of like ancient battle going on between art and rationality, and in the 21st century its looking awful much like they are part of the same value. I don't like when people say things like "games arent art" too, but thats because the sentence just doesn't mean anything. Now I'm not saying what you have ("who cares"), I'm saying the statement "games aren't art" means ....nothing. The converse is true as well. I think art is one of those things thats descriptive so true/false statements dont work for a number of reasons.

Anyway I'm just making conversation at this point, heh. I miss the blogosphere and I've been scarce for months :) Good topic.

Klepsacovic said...

If it were art vs. rationality then it might almost make sense: they appeal to different types of thinking. Instead people are trying to claim that they have rationally and objectively defined art and not-art.

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