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Wednesday, August 01, 2007
When I think of art that has influenced me most, it is generally work done by individuals. I can't recall the last time a corporation created a brilliant painting. I find that this also tends to be true in the emerging area of art games. Individuals are not generally driven to create purely for profit, and have more leeway to experiment and create according to their own artistic vision.

I thought it was time to compile a "best of" list for art games, because there has only been one other such list that I recall online. I'm sure someone will correct me on that point if there has been in fact another well drafted list somewhere out there. The first list can be found in an article on Artifical.dk, titled Art Games - Artificial's List [...]. I thought that Kristine Ploug had done a great job with her articles, though the list did leave out a number of titles which I thought should have been included.

This was also about two years ago, and since then more art games have surfaced. In the meantime, some of the games are no longer accessible, which is the unfortunate reason for why I could not include or rate them here. The creations of Geoffrey Thomas (i.e. Left to My Own Devices) cannot be played anymore. Torrent Raiders is still available for download, but I had the game crash on me every time, which renders it unplayable. Last but not least, a collection of mods of games and engines used as art is still up at Selectparks.net, though most links are now dead.

As such, I am providing this list of 27 titles. Some of these are older, while others are quite new. Each game was rated based on mechanics, visual style, and auditory stimulus which then determined it's place in the list. Keep in mind that I used my background as an artist to judge the merit of each category. This means that each games place in the list is not based on whether it was simply "good" or "pretty." It's not a perfect system, but it should hopefully serve as a guide to the indy art game scene.

So, without further ado, I present to you the link... Art Games: Best Indy Titles [via Mentisworks].
42 Comments:
Blogger Paul Eres said at 8/01/2007 09:36:00 PM:  
That's a fairly interesting list, but I think it leaves a lot out. But that's probably inevitable for lists created by a single person, there are more of these types of games than any one person can play. For instance, I would definitely have put Photopia at the top of a list of this sort. Sword of Jade is also extremely artistic as well (it deals with the struggle between giving up hope and persevering, it's a very psychological experience). I could go on, there are plenty of very artistic games this list overlooks.
Anonymous Mosh said at 8/01/2007 10:09:00 PM:  
Yes it does leave a lot out. Lilium also has that artiness about it also (which I posted a while back).
Blogger Pixoshiru said at 8/01/2007 10:19:00 PM:  
Quite surprised there is no mention of Cave Story, despite its graphics/mechanics/sound/addictive alchemy, as the work of one person.
But maybe this game has already have enough covering to now let others get some light...
Blogger Derek said at 8/01/2007 10:29:00 PM:  
Why does it always have to be the "best this" and "best that?" Call it "my favorite games" or something so that you're not speaking for the rest of us.
Anonymous Oddbob said at 8/01/2007 10:40:00 PM:  
What exactly has Noiz2sa got to do with cubism aside from the fact it's got squares in it?
Blogger wourme said at 8/01/2007 10:53:00 PM:  
Does anyone know how to get that "Soup" game to work? I tried opening the LZH file with two different applications, but I got errors and couldn't even identify an executable.
Blogger Tim W. said at 8/01/2007 11:23:00 PM:  
does 7-Zip help?
Anonymous Oddbob said at 8/02/2007 01:07:00 AM:  
Man, the more I read this the worse it actually gets.

Stop bandying around art movements willy nilly where they're not even relevant to the game, and at least try and back up some of the exclamations with something other than catchy sound bites.

What is nineteenth century surrealism in relation to Rainy Day? Is that like the movement that began in the 1920's but years ahead of its time? A secret cabal of surrealists who just happened to have the same style but never broke through into the mainstream consciousness and thus remained ignored until this day?

What precisely does cubism have to do with Noiz2sa or Boidtrancer? There's *nothing* even remotely cubist about them.

Cubism != Squares.

What classic fantasy art does Samarost recall?

Why is Flow a "testament to post-modernism" ? As a phrase in the context of the article, thats utterly meaningless without some substance as to *why* you believe it's a testament to post-modernism.

C'mon man, if you want to frame something in an artistic context - at the very least you can get the context right or back up the reasoning as to why you believe x movement is relevant to y game.

And your own game is in the list?

Man, oh man.
Blogger haowan said at 8/02/2007 02:02:00 AM:  
>And your own game is in the list?

Yeah, I thought that was a bit off too.
Blogger konjak said at 8/02/2007 04:04:00 AM:  
Wasn't it Tim that made Copic Fighter?

Anyway, all the focus in the scene is put on how games can be art these days. Why does it matter? Everyone who's tried to make art games always have their games really low on actual GAMEplay.

But I guess this argument isn't for now.
Blogger Michal said at 8/02/2007 05:22:00 AM:  
I'm not sure what you guys want me to say. I'm sorry? Let me take the list down now since none of you like it? It does make me feel a little sad that there isn't a single positive comment here.

I suppose I will try to address some of your questions as best I can...


> I am sure that I have missed a number of titles, though I did search for quite some time. Though not impossible, it would be difficult to try and find every single art game out there, but I tried.

> Cave Story was not included because, though it is an excellent game (and one of my favorites) and a beautiful game, I do not consider it to be an art game specifically. An artistic one, yes, but not an art game.

> I called it a "best of" list because I think it's a more compelling title. It should be clear from the initial paragraphs that this is based on my own subjectivity.

> Noiz2sa's visuals are reminiscent of cubism as far as I'm concerned. Are they not? I'm not sure what more you would like it to be. If it came out of early 20th century France, that would admittedly be more cubist.

> I had no trouble getting SOUP uncompressed using WinRar.

> I only wanted to provide short, and yes "catchy," description of each game. I did not intend to write an article as to why each title had elements of certain movements. I'm not certain as to why that is a problem.

> Yes, my "demo" is in the list. Mainly because it was available. And yes, it was I who created it. Why is it wrong for me to want to include it? I did not review it myself, that would be clearly biased. I asked a fellow art/games blogger to review it (who's properly credited) using the same criteria I used for the other game. Notice it's also towards the bottom of the list (meaning it's not very good ^_^).


So, again, my apologies for not meeting everyone's expectations. For some reason I thought people might find it interesting or useful or something. I suppose I could just take it down to appease the eight people who have objected to it here.

Forgive me for being defensive, yet it seems that your criticisms are less than constructive.
Blogger Michal said at 8/02/2007 05:35:00 AM:  
P.S.: I would be glad to add items to the list if you have suggestions. Please comment on the actual list at Mentisworks, and tell me one game that I have not included which you think I should. In addition, please provide a short description as to why you think it is an art game (but not a very good artfully made game).
Blogger haowan said at 8/02/2007 06:37:00 AM:  
I completely agree about Cave Story - it may be a masterpiece and an excellent game but its primary purpose is not to stimulate thought or comment. I would not personally include it in any list of "art games".

Cubism is (AFAIK) an attempt to represent many different perspectives all in one 2D plane. I don't believe that Noiz2sa does this at all.

If you think your evaluation of artistic merit based on comparisons to historical artistic periods is OK, then leave it that way. But if people are misunderstanding you or worse, if they are getting the idea that you don't know whereof you speak, then maybe you should think about addressing that.

For my part, I would include Cactus's Burn The Trash, Noctis, possibly Notrium, and drop WADF while possibly leaving Knytt. I'd drop a lot of the other games too, probably, due to their being highly stylised games rather than specific artworks.
Blogger Ian said at 8/02/2007 07:54:00 AM:  
Michal,

Posting that kind of list and expecting anything other than the reaction you are getting here is extremely naive.

1) You made a 'best of' or 'top x' list. By their very nature, these do nothing but generate controversy because they are purely subjective. There is no objective way to determine what the best of anything is, any your list is automatically crap in the eyes of the reader if it doesn't have their personal favorite game on it.

2) You try to make a determination of which games are an aren't art. No one really agrees on what art even is. For some people its the Mona Lisa, for others its taking a shit in a goldfish bowl and throwing a crucifix on top.

3) You posted the list on the internet, where 99.9% of everything is negative - there is no constructive debate. Under the guise of relative anonymity and the lack of consequence, any amount of intelligent back and forth is quickly reduced to "i'm right, you are an idiot, and fuck your mother"
Blogger Ian said at 8/02/2007 08:01:00 AM:  
Thats not to say your list isn't interesting, these kinds of lists always are. Their primary use for me is discovering games I hadn't heard of before.
Anonymous lamodrian said at 8/02/2007 08:42:00 AM:  
The list is laugh-out-loud funny, IMHO. We may not be able to come up with a shared definition of art, but even if one agrees that these games are "art," then this is a beautiful essay in support of Ebert's position that games, if art, are bad art. With a couple exceptions, the games on your list are ugly, boring, and uninspired. They are, at best, equivalent to angsty teenage prose with random line breaks and capitalization masquerading as poetry.

"the Game is
something not
for Fun or worth
looking At, with
tinny. . . MUSIC and so
little To-Do;
Why? Art, he
says, and ruined
the Game"
Anonymous Oddbob said at 8/02/2007 09:17:00 AM:  
I *did* find the list rather uninspired, but that's by the by really - its Michals list, Michals critera for what gets included so I'm not going to go with the "x should be in there", "y should be in there" - "thats not art".

90% of them do barely qualify as games, never mind art in my opinion but hey, thats my opinion :D

I think we all know how lists *and* opinions go by now.

What galls me about it, and I'm sorry Michal - is that its filled with factual errors and quite bizarre claims.

Now, if you truly believe that Noiz2sa is cubism in game form, then I can't really stop you believing that - but it doesn't make it any more true than me claiming a kettle to be a horse.

Its the stuff like that which bothers me. You can't suddenly decide that an art movement moves a century into the past and expect someone not to point it out. The same goes for sandwiching something into a movement which doesn't belong there be it either because you truly believe it, or its just a convenient sound bite.

And as a reader - I'm left completely unsure which of those two it actually is.

When that situation arises, and you're asking people to take you and the list seriously - it becomes difficult to do that.

I honestly recommend getting in a good proof reader (having made a couple of nob ups on the Remakes 100 myself, its not something I'm entirely not guilty of so I understand) and doing some fact checking and referencing for the article/list and sure, it won't stop people disagreeing with the list - but at least no-one can say "well, thats just out and out wrong".
Blogger Paul Eres said at 8/02/2007 10:29:00 AM:  
There were positive comments. I called it a fairly interesting list. It's always nice to see games that I never heard of.

But I agree with most of Oddbob's comments. My father is a painter in classical styles and our apartment building is an art collective, so I grew up with discussions of the various art movements around me, and this list sounds like the writer only has a very cursory familiarity with the different art movements, perhaps through a basic "history of art" class in college or something.

The approach is wrongheaded too. Let's take the review of Anna:

"Minimal and atmospheric, the artistic vision of Anna comes through very clearly. Though perhaps not universally accessible due the puzzles in the game, it becomes more engaging with perseverance."

That review uses extremely abstract terms: "atmospheric", "minimal", "engaging" -- those are exactly the kinds of terms you use when you don't want to say anything concrete and are just expressing a vague positive evaluation. Why not go into more detail about why that is an art game? I agree that many games on that list are art games (The Endless Forest for example), but the reviews should say why they are, instead of being hand-waving.
Blogger Paul Eres said at 8/02/2007 10:31:00 AM:  
In simpler words, I think this list and these reviews are exactly the kind of thing that give ammunition to those people who (incorrectly, but understandably) say "you shouldn't even talk about what art is, games are just for fun".
Blogger Joe said at 8/02/2007 02:20:00 PM:  
I wouldn't say I'm quite comfortable with the idea of "art" games, since the most important element in a game is the gameplay. While certain games can have engaging aesthetics or effective atmosphere or fairly evocative symbolism (the Marriage), there's no functional way to label a game as an art game. Is Silent Hill an art game for its Freudian imagery? Is Within a Deep Forest an art game because it's kind of quiet and dark? Perhaps Halo 2 is evocative of the campy adrenaline of a Roy Lichtenstein? A game is a game. Sometimes games are pretty, but to call a game an art game is putting yourself out too far.
Blogger Paul Eres said at 8/02/2007 04:12:00 PM:  
I guess what it comes down to for me is that art games take more "work" to appreciate than other games do. It doesn't take much work to appreciate Cave Story, it's fun no matter who you are or how hard you think about it, but to appreciate most art games requires that the audience think about what it means.

An analogy is Transformers vs. Ikiru (by Akira Kurosawa). Both are art, technically, but Ikiru is an art movie, you have to think about things hard before you appreciate it, whereas Transformers is an entertainment movie, it's intended to be fun to watch rather than mean anything.
Blogger Derek said at 8/02/2007 05:24:00 PM:  
"I called it a 'best of' list because I think it's a more compelling title. It should be clear from the initial paragraphs that this is based on my own subjectivity."

Exactly, you named it that not because it's an accurate title, but because it's a title that you felt would generate the most interest and hits for you.

I'm just really tired of these "Top" or "Best" independent game lists, I guess, especially because they're usually created through what I feel is a very narrow view. And you saying that just confirms my suspicion that people are just trying to get hits by adding "Best" to the front of the title.

My biggest concern, really, is that someone is going to open the link, skim the list, and go "oh, this is what indie games are about. Lots of artsy fartsy, ugly games with no gameplay. *close browser*" (Not to say that all the games on the list are like that, but...) If you simply named your list "My Favorite Art Games" it would resolve that problem.
Anonymous lamodrian said at 8/02/2007 05:35:00 PM:  
Paul, you're confusing "art" for "art house." Throughout the vast course of history, the artifacts we now regard as high art (Puccini's operas, Beethoven's symphonies, Shakespeare's plays, Michelangelo's sculpture, Goya's painting, Brunelleschi's cathedral, etc.) were all widely and pleasurably consumed and most were commercial ventures (or at least aimed at winning or maintaining a wealthy patron). Only in the last hundred years have people come to think that to be art something must be dense, obscure, unprofitable, and unpleasant. And even that's primarily a fringe movement. Most consumers of art prefer non-post-modern art, music, and the like.

The obvious alternative idea--that an art game is a game that is about something more than "gameplay"--is equally untethered from a historical notion of what art is. Great artists may have bent conventions to some extent, but the virtue of Shakespeare's plays was not that they were un-playlike. Even in modern media, like film, the films generally regarded as monumental (Casablanca, Citizen Kane, whatever) are film-like. It's only modern art-house films that try to be uncinematic.

When you look at The Kiss or listen to The Four Seasons or whatever you don't need to think about them before you enjoy them. The experience is inherently enjoyable, whatever additional richness can be extracted by reflection. So if Ikiru is to be found more "artistic" than Transfomers, that has to be on some basis other than its impenetrability.

Sorry to ramble, but this is a point I consider pretty important and one that is often lost in the search for intellectualness or sophistication.
Blogger Paul Eres said at 8/02/2007 06:56:00 PM:  
Thanks for the reply lamodrian. I didn't say that art games are not fringe, I think most of them are, and I think it's because most of them are bad games. I didn't mean that art games have to be inherently unpopular, only that they take some work to understand.

I also didn't mean that Ikiru was impenetrable -- go watch it, it's on Google video, it's anything but impenetrable. Anyone can understand it. It was very popular. But it does take some work.

I'm not sure what you mean by a search for intellectuality. Art isn't even primarily appreciated by the intellect, there's more to it. By work I didn't mean intellectual work, I meant time and effort.
Blogger Michal said at 8/02/2007 07:15:00 PM:  
First of all, I would like to thank you all for posting your thoughts in a more civil manner compared the first volley. It makes it easier for me to reply when it doesn't seem like people are just being contrary for the sake of being contrary.

> You are of course right that the creator of Noiz2sa probably didn't have the intentions in creating the game that the cubists did. I do believe that its appearance share some qualities with cubism, and I also believe that different perspectives are present within the stages of the game. To say that it does not have cubist attributes "at all" I think is incorrect. Yet I may concede that it does not share a great number of attributes with it.

> Thanks also go to those who took the time to write something constructive or positive.

> One of the most common problems that I see brought up with that my list is subjective. I must say that I find it odd that this has been pointed out so many times, since by the very nature of this lists presence being on my own blog means that I put it together and that it represents my views. Should its subjectivity not be quite obvious and understood?

> Meanwhile, comments such as "the games on your list are ugly, boring, and uninspired," "90% of them do barely qualify as games," "the most important element in a game is the gameplay," and such are very subjective as well.

> I think the other main objection is that I have not provided sufficient evidence for my premises. Though each short description of the games provides premises for the argument as to why I may consider the title an art game, you are correct in that I have not explained the premises. In order to provide sufficient explanation in order to satisfy most of you, I feel I would need to spend many paragraphs discussing every title. Such elaborate analysis was clearly not the point of this list.

> While some of you have questioned the statements and assertions I have made, which I appreciate and respect, others seem to also be interested in attacking my character. Presuming that I don't know what I am talking about, that I have no knowledge of art, or even assuming that I am naive and whatever else, feels a bit unnecessary. It is also a subjective statement which proposes that your character/expertise is superior. I would rather not make this kind of discussion personal, and I would simply like to state that I believe my background in art to provide me with a suitable perspective from which to comment on the subject of art games. Of course I cannot speak about any of you, but I would think that not each and every one who has commented has been doing and studying art for most of their life or career. This doesn't mean that I know better, just that I would hope for the benefit of the doubt.
Blogger Paul Eres said at 8/02/2007 07:36:00 PM:  
I'm not saying I'd be any better at picking such a list or describing each (I might, I might not), it was more like I felt that the list didn't have much work was put into it, or that a competent knowledge of art was being displayed.

It's not subjective how much someone knows about different art movements: if someone thinks that cubism involves the use of cubes, that's objectively wrong, it's not subjective.

It's not a character attack to say that someone who makes that mistake probably shouldn't be making a list like this (or at least, not putting the list up in front of thousands as was done here).

Nonetheless, again, I enjoyed this list, it brought new games to my attention. I'd just have preferred if it were done better or if it was less of a "these are the top art games and here are some vague comments as to why" approach and more of a "I like these art games and these are my detailed arguments why" approach.
Blogger Jeremy said at 8/03/2007 01:17:00 AM:  
Good job inspiring discussion! This is very important.

However, if I may, perhaps a solution would be to call the list "interactive art", and expand it as such. I know when I am just standing around in an art gallery, occasionally I will want to be able to interact with a piece on something other than a cerebral level. Just kinda dull %100 of the time, you know.
Anyway, at the same time art that may be physically interactive goes practically unheralded. I think what we are witnessing here is a case of growing pains for either, and nothing to do with you personally Michal.
Blogger haowan said at 8/03/2007 03:15:00 AM:  
That is such a great idea. Art galleries don't present their collections as "the best of art", they just have a collection. This would be an excellent way to present a list of games like this, just like an art gallery. "Copic Fighter (Mentisworks, 2007, Code and Pixel Art on PC): [Analysis goes here]" for each piece; no "order" like a list but presented as more of a collection.
Blogger Michal said at 8/03/2007 06:02:00 AM:  
Thank you again for your comments. It is true that I did not spend multiple weeks working on the list. I wasn't planning on having it take up quite that much of my life. If I do end up updating the list I will try to give it more polish.

> I want to provide some evidence as to why I find Noiz2sa to share attributes with cubism. First, "[Cubists] adopted Cezanne's suggestion that artists use the simple forms [...]," (Gardner's Art Through the Ages, 11th Ed.) Secondly, "Authentic Cubism [is] the art of depicting new wholes with formal elements borrowed not from the reaity of vision, but from that of conception," (Guillaume Apollinaire). And thirdly, "In simplistic terms, Analytic Cubism involves analyzing form and investigating the visual vocabulary (that is, the pictorial elements) for conveying meaning," (Gardner's...).

These are certainly a part of why I made that statement. They may not apply in every sense of the word, but they do apply in part. Though it is true that Kenta Cho is not likely to have intended the game to represent objects that he saw before him, they are nonetheless representational of something. In a more immediate sense, the game shares compositional and visual characteristics with specific cubist works such as one by George Braque, this painting at the Kazuya Akimoto Art Museum, and more modern interpretations like this piece by Mirek Wojtowicz, and multiple works by ePlum Software.

In the end it is up to you to decide whether any of these examples suggest something about cubism in Noiz2sa.

> To be honest, my posts have never garnered this much attention. I thought it possible and likely that this list would get more exposure, but I did not think it likely to have quite this many people viewing it. I ran it by a couple regulars on my blog who found no problems with the list, and that was that.

> Suggestions to rename the list to anything else, once again on account of it being subjective, is valid. Yet is it merely arguing semantics. If a future version is going to happen, I will call it something different just for the sake of peace. But I know that there will be inevitable complaints about whatever I post then too.

> I did consider being more minimal, and posting just titles/links and images without comments or place numbers. But I did want to provide my perspective as to which of these titles I found to be more successful as art games. Unfortunately, it would seem that I was not successful in doing that.
Blogger Paul Eres said at 8/03/2007 07:57:00 AM:  
Thanks for the reply.

I think those quotes are taken out of context -- using those quotes, what game is *not* cubism? Why are the games you used the word for any more representative of cubism (as defined by those quotes) than any other game?
Blogger Paul Eres said at 8/03/2007 08:06:00 AM:  
To be more precise, there are plenty of games that look like the images you posted. Pretty much every abstract shooter shares visual similarities with those images. Most of those games would not be considered art games, because it's just their visual style, not a part of the gameplay.
Anonymous Michael Samyn said at 8/03/2007 10:23:00 AM:  
I think it's a great list because our game is on the second place. ;)
Blogger Jeremy said at 8/03/2007 09:40:00 PM:  
I didn't mean to imply that you literally rename this particular list. It's fine. Only that it would bear more weight as a statement if you included some art, already in galleries, that was physically interactive. Maybe next time.
Blogger Jason Rohrer (jcr13) said at 8/04/2007 03:28:00 PM:  
quoting lamodrian:

Paul, you're confusing "art" for "art house." Throughout the vast course of history, the artifacts we now regard as high art (Puccini's operas, Beethoven's symphonies, Shakespeare's plays, Michelangelo's sculpture, Goya's painting, Brunelleschi's cathedral, etc.) were all widely and pleasurably consumed and most were commercial ventures (or at least aimed at winning or maintaining a wealthy patron). Only in the last hundred years have people come to think that to be art something must be dense, obscure, unprofitable, and unpleasant. And even that's primarily a fringe movement. Most consumers of art prefer non-post-modern art, music, and the like.

I would say that the whole game changed in the 20th century... that a whole new door was opened. With that change, some people "got it" and jumped on board, while most people scratched their head for a minute and quickly decided never to come back to the art museum.

You want proof that the game changed in the 20th century? Who is the single greatest artist of the 20th century? Who can be touched by no other? Whose name is more well known than any other 20th century artist, even by mainstream folks who detest modern art? His name is perhaps even more famous than the names of all of the great artists from previous centuries.

Picasso.

The funny thing about Picasso is that, as famous as he is, his artwork is largely unfamiliar to most people. You don't see it popping up in advertising, being used on the covers of novels, or hanging in poster-form on dorm room walls. Maybe there's some licensing issue ('cause the copyrights haven't expired yet, and after all, the Mona Lisa is in the public domain. But what about Nighthawks? Same era as Picasso, but we see that puppy everywhere.)

Okay, I can't really speak for everyone when I say his work is unfamiliar, but I'll speak for myself. I'm not an art history major, but I know a bit about art. I recently got some Picasso books out of the library---on my first flip-through, I was stunned. Most of the stuff (and there is tons of it out there---over 13,000 works) I didn't recognize at all. In fact, after the Blue and Rose period, almost everything was completely new to me. I showed the stuff to my wife, and she didn't recognize any of it either (and for her, even the Blue and Rose stuff didn't ring bells).

So, what does this mean? The greatest artist of the century, and most people are completely alienated by the work?

lamodrian, Picasso is probably your worst nightmare. I guess we'd have to call him "fringe," 'cause I certainly never saw his work hanging in my parents' main-stream suburban home. What hung there instead? A dupe (albeit hand-retouched with real dabs of paint) from Thomas Kincade, the Painter of Light (tm), who has a chain of franchise outlet "galleries" gracing the shopping malls of America.

One hundred years hence, will Kincade be remembered as the greatest artist of the 1900s, while Picasso will be lost in the dustbin of history along with all the other fringe movements like math rock and boxing painting? Is my parents' "Pretty Cottage at Dusk," undoubtably a popular choice for suburban dining rooms, the Citizen Kane of 20th century painting?

I hope not, but not because I'm pushing for something more "dense, obscure, unprofitable, and unpleasant," as you say, though I understand how modern art, especially bad modern art, can feel to all the folks who don't "get it."

The problem, I think, is that modern art lowered the bar of entry. If photorealism is the requirement, you automatically rule out 99% of the would-be painters who will never be able to develop that kind of skill. But once you say, "anything goes," then it's much harder to differentiate the good from the bad, and what you end up with is lots of bad all over the place (look at the sculptures gracing the quads on any college campus).

But even the good, like most of what made Picasso famous (from cubism on), probably feels "dense, obscure, unprofitable, and unpleasant" to a large number of people.

What's great about the best modern art, for me, is that it is complex, challenging, and thought-provoking. It's like classical art with an extra dimension added---art that is about more than what it appears to be about on its face. Once you get hooked on art that has that extra dimension to it, if you can grasp it, there's no going back to the old stuff---it just feels bland and boring.

I'm going to come right out and say it:

Long live intellectualism.
Anonymous Oddbob said at 8/04/2007 05:45:00 PM:  
The whole game changes constantly - not just in the 20th Century. Art is in forever in flux as the landscape and the world around us changes.

You could claim the same argument for the rise of any of the different art movements across the years. What occurred post WWI is always going to be a different game to what occurred during The Renaissance, and the same goes for us here and now in the technological age. Times change, as does the art that represents that time and at any one time in history there will be many different styles of art in play.

Some will rise and find their place in the history books and some will languish in relative obscurity. Some will never be known to future generations.

There's far too much supposition and "a=x because I said so" in your argument that its really hard to know where to start picking up the discussion from, but I'll have a go anyway even if this is all getting a bit to willy waving for my liking.

"So, what does this mean? The greatest artist of the century, and most people are completely alienated by the work?"

Not in the slightest, I'd wager. It merely means that you were unaware of it.

Its not a great leap to assume that there's also a fair few people who are also unaware of the entire body of Picasso's work. What it doesn't do is follow that they're alienated by it.

I'd guess its far more likely that they don't really care one way or the other. Its not that they don't get it, its just simply they have no interest in delving deeper.

"One hundred years hence, will Kincade be remembered as the greatest artist of the 1900s, while Picasso will be lost in the dustbin of history along with all the other fringe movements like math rock and boxing painting?"

Apples and oranges, they'll both be remembered and documented for different things. I can't say what knowledge will still be hanging around in 100 years time, for all I know we might be plunged back into the dark ages in 50 - but because something is populist, it doesn't mean it's bad or any less deserving of a place in the history books.

"But once you say, "anything goes," then it's much harder to differentiate the good from the bad"

No, no, no. My good may not be your good. Your bad may be my good. Subjective, see. Humans are brilliant like that. We're all different. Its neither more difficult nor any easier to tell because believe it or not - people tend to know what they like ;)

Personally, I get a boner for Brutalist architecture yet a proportion of the Brutalist buildings over here in Blighty often appear on "buildings we'd like to see demolished" lists.

Different strokes, see. But I don't feel superior or part of a special club for my tastes. They're just a part of what makes me "me" and I don't begrudge others theirs. I don't think "damn, if only you 'got' Brutalism like me"...

Your criteria for what is good art is no more or less valid than mine or the next persons.

Boiling it down to an us versus them argument sits very uncomfortable with my snobbery sensors. "You either get it or you don't" is a horribly elitist attitude to take and takes me back to Sixth Form where there were a few kids who would sit and sneer at any music that wasn't distributed on 100 pressing 7"es with hand drawn sleeves and if something so much as dared to get airtime on commercial radio or god forbid, chart, then they'd move on to the next obscuritae.

Its not about "getting it", its about what you as a person like and appreciate. There is no special club and something being popular does not mean it has any less artistic value.

I don't see why games should be viewed any different.

I think we should all also learn to tell the difference between intellectualism and elitism ;)
Blogger Moshboy said at 8/04/2007 07:58:00 PM:  
Well said Bob. Couldn't have written it out that well if I'd tried.
Blogger Paul Eres said at 8/05/2007 02:20:00 AM:  
My position's somewhere in the middle of Oddbob's and Jason Rohrer's regarding fringe/elitism: I think that great art can be enjoyed by anyone and everyone, but that it very often does take some time and effort to appreciate and can't be understood at first sight. I think there's more substance and artistic value in Picasso's body of work than Kinkade's, even though I actually enjoy Kinkade's more.
Blogger Jason Rohrer (jcr13) said at 8/05/2007 08:12:00 AM:  
Okay, Oddbob, some great points in there.

Going back to that point about "most people don't know Picasso"... are you familiar with Picasso's work?

Perhaps you can pick out (and link to, hopefully) a Picasso work that you feel is well known---his most famous work, perhaps. Then we can look at that work and talk about it. I think that might add to the discussion here. I could pick out a few that I'm guessing are "the most well known," but I'd rather see your Picasso pick.

Like I said, I can only speak for myself and my own experience, but I really don't have the feeling that I was seeing any Picasso "hanging around," not in the way that I saw works from other artists hanging around. Like Van Gogh's "Starry Night" or "Sunflowers." Like stuff by Monet and Renoir. Granted, that stuff is a bit older, so perhaps there is more penetration. But Dali and Escher are from the same era as Picasso, and I really saw their stuff all over the place. For the impressionist stuff at least, perhaps it is "prettier," so it makes better calendar and poster fare.

And I'll still hold that there are aspects of certain works that you need to "get" before you can fully appreciate the works. It's a bit like with jokes. If you don't laugh, the first question might be, "Do you get it?" You might answer "no," in which case you won't be well-positioned to judge whether the joke is funny or not---you just don't get it, that's all. On the other hand, you might say, "Oh, I get it, but it's not funny." That's different than calling it bad without getting it, right?

So it's more than just a matter of taste and enjoyment, I think, at least for certain works. Like if you watched the movie Memento and found it to be disjointed and confusing---you might simply say that it's a bad movie. But someone might come along and say, "Don't you get it? The scenes are shown in reverse order to give you the experience of not being able to remember the past---to put you in the shoes of the main character." With that new understanding, you would be in a better position to judge whether the movie succeeds, I think.

You might call all the stuff that you might "need to get" about a work gimicks, little "a ha" moments that are short-lived and shallow for the viewer, like solving a mystery, but I think they can be more than that, in the best works. It's not really about the a-ha moment in these works, and it's impossible to ruin the works by "getting it" ahead of time. These are the "extra dimensions" that I was talking about in my previous post.

What I told you above about Memento will not spoil the movie for you, in other words. But there's certainly more to the movie than what's can be seen on its face---a bunch of scenes shown in reverse order.

Oh, and one more thing. I don't believe "good" and "bad" exist in isolation for each person solely dependent on individual taste. Instead, I think our tastes are affected by the tastes of others in society around us. It feels more like we come to some kind of consensus about what the best works are. That's why we're so fixated on awards (like Oscars) and lists (like the Modern Library's top 100 American novels of the 20th century). You might say these awards and lists are crap, but just because they're popular doesn't mean they're bad. I find them to be useful. I also find professional reviews to be useful. On rare occasions, Ebert has changed my mind about a movie after the fact---he pointed out something about the movie that I hadn't noticed, and I came to understand why the movie was good after all.
Anonymous Oddbob said at 8/05/2007 11:24:00 AM:  
Paul, I actually agree. Maybe I haven't made myself clear enough - but I wouldn't suggest for a second that art *has* to be an immediate thing.

Jason - I have no idea what me pulling a random piece of art out of the bag and saying "I think this is the most popular work" would achieve, in relation to anything, never mind this discussion. I'm not in this discussion to indulge in any willy waving, so please excuse me if I don't take you up on that invite.

You can reset assured though that yes, I know the works of Picasso thanking you.

"...perhaps it is "prettier," so it makes better calendar and poster fare."

Well, quite. I find that for the most part people don't want paintings of a haggard madame hanging over their fireplace for example.

Your declaration that somehow a gap in your knowledge or the lack of availability of this work in a high street store means that an artist has alienated the public or is automatically "fringe" doesn't follow at all.

It is to all intents and purposes a logical fallacy and a huge one at that.

"And I'll still hold that there are aspects of certain works that you need to "get" before you can fully appreciate the works. It's a bit like with jokes. If you don't laugh, the first question might be, "Do you get it?" You might answer "no," in which case you won't be well-positioned to judge whether the joke is funny or not---you just don't get it, that's all. On the other hand, you might say, "Oh, I get it, but it's not funny." That's different than calling it bad without getting it, right?

So it's more than just a matter of taste and enjoyment, I think, at least for certain works. Like if you watched the movie Memento and found it to be disjointed and confusing---you might simply say that it's a bad movie. But someone might come along and say, "Don't you get it? The scenes are shown in reverse order to give you the experience of not being able to remember the past---to put you in the shoes of the main character." With that new understanding, you would be in a better position to judge whether the movie succeeds, I think."

Could you rephrase that to be a bit more patronising? No, I didn't think so.

You seem to be of the opinion that people need things explaining to them in order for them to truly appreciate something, and thats an assertion I couldn't disagree with more.

You could explain in great detail what Kubrick was trying to achieve with 2001 to me and I'd still think it was an overlong, boring rubbish film. It wouldn't make me a lesser person or, crucially, not in a position to judge the film whether I was in possession of the facts around Kubricks intent or not.

You can't spend your life trying to convince people they should like something because it's your bag. Sure, you can make your case as to why you believe something is worthwhile or not if you want - thats the beauty and art of criticism but please, it is ultimately up to the individual to decide whether they like or appreciate something.

And that goes for whether they have the knowledge of intent behind the work or not.

"Oh, and one more thing. I don't believe "good" and "bad" exist in isolation for each person solely dependent on individual taste. Instead, I think our tastes are affected by the tastes of others in society around us. It feels more like we come to some kind of consensus about what the best works are."

It may feel that way for you, it doesn't for me. Where does that leave us?

Ah, thats right. It means we have differing tastes ;)

Sure, there is a degree of herd mentality to some things but maybe, just maybe - these people really do just like what they like?

Long shot I know ;)
Blogger Jason Rohrer (jcr13) said at 8/05/2007 12:57:00 PM:  
Sorry, not trying to be patronizing (whatever that means---vocab is not really my strong point). I was just trying to come up with the simplest, clearest examples possible to illustrate my point.

And 2001 is a perfect example. Examples help to ground the discussion, I think, and aren't just senseless "willy waving," as you say. I saw that film, or at least part of it before I bailed out, with my mother when I was a little kid. I didn't get it. I read the "novel" version when I was in college and was impressed by it---and certainly felt like I "got it." This year, I saw the film version again, really for the first time. I still don't feel like I get it, but I found the movie to be visually and emotionally grand at certain points. I found it to be long and boring at other points. The ending was confusing, and I couldn't mine any meaning out of it, no matter how I tried.

But I'm still not ready to dismiss it as rubbish, and this is (one of the many places, perhaps) where you and I differ.

I wasn't sitting there in the theater in 1968 seeing something like nothing I'd ever seen before at a time when the nation was enthralled by its recent advances in space exploration. I was born in 1977. So, for this one, I throw my trust toward others who know better than me. For some reason, lots of trustworthy people think 2001 is one of the greatest films of all time. So, I wouldn't miss seeing it, and I'm glad I saw it, and it made me think a lot, even though I'm not one of those who gets it personally.

To sum up my perspective, I think there is something bigger going on here than just my personal taste. The collective appreciation and acknowledgment of humanity's greatest works is an important part of the human experience, somehow greater than the sum of our individual tastes.

And the very fact that you're having this discussion with me lends weight to the notion that taste can be very social. I care about what you think, Oddbob, and you must care something about what others think, or you wouldn't bother posting comments here.

And I must say, honestly, that I truly enjoy these kinds of discussions, and even though I don't know you at all, I feel grateful to you for your friendly participation. No hard feelings, I hope.
Blogger Paul Eres said at 8/05/2007 07:17:00 PM:  
I think there's a slight difference between good/bad and like/dislike. It may not be a major difference, and the two are very much connected, but I don't think that everything I like is good or that everything I dislike is bad, nor do I think if everyone on average likes something that it's necessarily better than something else that everyone on average dislikes. Some things taste good but are bad for your health. I think art's a bit like that.

Nietzsche (sorry to throw in philosophical references, I know some people don't like that) had a an argument that art is good for people in exactly the way that food is: good art makes people's minds healthier and stronger, bad art makes people's minds weaker and sicker. I think that is a possiblity: it could be possible that art can be good in that sense (making your mind stronger and more healthy) even if it doesn't taste good, like broccoli. I don't think that is an elitist position, because I'm just as likely as anyone else to prefer ice cream art over broccoli art (and the best art would *both* taste good and be good for you).
Blogger Michal said at 8/06/2007 06:48:00 AM:  
I don't know that I can address everything brought thus far, but I will try not to derail you too much ^_^.

At the core, I think were still talking about what defines art. After that, it seems that the discussion changed into what makes art good or bad.

So first, I think it obvious that each one of us defines art as something different. And I would wager that for every person we might ask, we would get a different definition of what art is. This is something that has preoccupied me for a long time. While some have said that any CAN be art, depending on your perspective, I see it somewhat differently.

This is what I intend to blog about in the future, but my thoughts are that EVERYTHING is art. This is probably because I'm an artist, and all things I see are art in some form. To make further unsupported statements, life itself and all things in it are art to me. So the distinction lies not in external objects and their attributes, but in the perception of the viewer.

The determining factor then, what constitutes art, is whether you perceive it as such. I feel that arguing about our attribution of our subjective definitions of art giving it that quality is very anthropocentric. The world exists whether we are in it or not, though that may be a different debate in itself ^_^.

If it is indeed true that all things are art, and it is up to us to see that quality in things, determining whether something is good or bad art becomes more difficult. I don't know that I'm prepared to tackle that yet, but my inclination is not to try and define it in such absolute terms. I don't think we believe it to be quite so black and white, as most things in life aren't.

Perhaps the notion of good and bad is not appropriate all together. Instead, different terminology which allows for the multitude of experience that can be derived from art is necessary.

P.S.: Say what you will about my list, but it would appear that it had the intended effect.